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Pens continue ticket delivery tradition

by Pens writing staff @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

Last weekend, A.J. Dickson and his daughter Aila celebrated their 39th and 8th birthdays, respectfully. But it was on Monday afternoon that they received an unexpected birthday surprise. 

Penguins forward Jake Guentzel arrived at their home via a FedEx truck to hand deliver their season-ticket package, along with a birthday cake and gift bags. 

"It was a birthday I'll never forget," Dickson said. "I was excited. It was definitely a cool experience."

Guentzel was one of 14 Penguins players to hand-deliver ticket packages to season ticket holders, a longstanding team tradition that began in 2007. It's part of a weeklong series of fan promotions being dubbed "The Season Begins With You."

"Whenever you can deliver tickets to someone special, who supports us throughout the year through the good and the bad, it's exciting to do something like this," Guentzel said.

Guentzel also came equipped with a birthday cake featuring the Penguins logo and gift bags. The gathering sang happy birthday, and Guentzel gave A.J. and his two daughters gift bags. A.J.'s bag included a Guentzel jersey. 

Video: Players deliver tickets to season ticket holders

Dickson has been a season ticket holder since 2005, sharing the seats with friends Matt and Nick Olbry.

"It was my first big purchase as an adult, not a car, not a house," Dickson joked. "It wasn't the most responsible decision, but I saw three Stanley Cups. So, I'd say it was the best decision."

All three ticket holders and their families were on hand to greet the Pens forward. Guentzel posed for photos, signed autographs and even gave school absentee "excuse" letters to Aila, her sister Elise, and Matt Olbry's children Elisabeth and Joey.

The Dicksons showed Guentzel their basement, which was decked out in Penguins paraphernalia, with everything from posters, jerseys, banners, blankets, bobbleheads, pucks and hats. 

"That's Pittsburgh, they're so passionate about their sports," Guentzel said. "You go into the basement and it's all hockey, from bobbleheads to jerseys. It was pretty cool to see all the years they put into that."

* Like Guentzel, Rust pulled up to all of his houses in a FedEx truck. But Rust took it to another level as he was dressed head-to-toe in a FedEx uniform, wearing their short-sleeve shirt with the signature purple side panels, shorts and a ball cap.

While the season ticket holders were all expecting deliveries, it did take them a minute to recognize who Rust was.

"It was pretty funny," Rust said of not being recognized right away. "At the first house I went to, one of the kids said, 'FedEx man, go away!' or something because they were waiting for the tickets to be delivered by a player and they didn't expect me to come up in the truck (laughs). That was cool. It was definitely different to see how a few of them were a little bit shocked and confused. It was fun."  
The families were delighted by the disguise, with Rust joking that he had found his Halloween costume for the year. They all got a kick out of posing for pictures outside with Rust in the FedEx uniform.

"We were laughing because our neighbor was out pulling weeds and we were like,'They're going to think we really like our FedEx driver,'" Cathy said. "That was fun."

* John and Cathy Peoples told their two sons, Connor (13) and Justin (11), that they were taking them out of school today for an orthodontist appointment. While the boys weren't thrilled, Cathy told them they could maybe get McDonald's afterward, so they were happy about that.

But then, she revealed a much better surprise.

"I was told that a Penguins player was coming and I just forgot about everything else and was really, really happy," Justin said. They were especially excited that it was Bryan Rust who walked up to their front door, as the boys are big fans of his.

"This was amazing," Connor said. "He's one of my favorites on the team."

"I even made up my own nickname for him. I call him B. Rusty," Justin added. "It's just really fun that people that might not have a lot of time to do all this stuff come around and give back to the community."

Once inside the house, the boys peppered Rust with questions - what's it like being a hockey player? Was that always your dream? What's the best part?

"Everything," Rust replied with a laugh to the last question before adding, "I guess it's just waking up and being able to have fun every day."

Cathy thanked Rust as they walked outside to take pictures after their visit, telling him what a role model he and his teammates are to the boys.

"We were really shocked because we're partial season ticket holders and just assumed that that was a full season ticket holder thing," Cathy said of the visit. "But knowing the Penguins organization, they're just top notch. They do everything so well. Our excitement was for the kids. We knew what impact this would have on them."

While Connor and Justin had to return to school after the visit concluded, Rust wrote them an excuse for the time missed. They were looking forward to telling their friends about their experience after they got back.

"A lot of my friends are hockey fans, so they're probably going to be jealous and also pretty happy," Connor said.

* Leah Lindenfelser was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer on April 13, 2017, just a few days before her 33rd birthday. The next night, the Penguins were hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets for Game 2 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At first, she debated whether or not she should go, but ultimately ended up attending the game with her young son, Eric - and it turned out to be the right decision.

"The playoff hockey was such a respite and a wonderful opportunity to get away from all of the treatment and just be a normal person for a while," she said. "It was just fun to get all of my worries and aggression out screaming along with 18,000 other people."

Even when Leah was in bed laid up not feeling well from her chemotherapy treatments, she was watching the games on TV. So when Alex Galchenyuk walked through the door of her father-in-law Paul's house, who has been a season ticket holder since 2005, it was an opportunity for her to welcome him to the team that had helped her get through an incredibly tough time.

"It's a wonderful organization," Leah told him, holding back tears as she relayed her story. "We're really happy that you're a part of it now."

When Leah was first diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to her spine and liver, and in January it came back to her brain. But she credited her doctors at UPMC for doing an amazing job and said as of now, there's nothing there.

Right now, she's trying to stay positive and is looking forward to watching Galchenyuk and the rest of the Penguins this upcoming season along with her whole family - Paul, his wife Chris, her husband Mike and their kids, Eric and Kaitlin.

"Hockey is our thing," she said. "It's the thing that bonds us all."

*Matt Murray was welcomed to an Allison Park home by a sprinting hug from 4-year-old Keira Pater. After taking pictures and signing autographs, Keira approached the Penguins goaltender and coyly asked: "Matt, would you play hockey with me?" Keira was able to snipe a few one-timers into the mite-sized net in the front driveway.

* Murray was also welcomed by screams from Judy Deer in Gibsonia. "This is the best delivery ever!" she exclaimed. "You're welcome here any time."

While Deer hosted the goalie, she did note that her own children weren't goaltenders in any of their sports, rationing: "Most goalies are nuts." To which, Murray responded: "I'll back you on that."

Deer shares her ticket package with Paul McLeister. The two were part of the original student rush group in the early 1990s, and have been lifelong fans.

* Kimberly Hrivnak attended her first hockey game in 1973, and has been a team season ticket holder for 19 years. She loves hockey in general, and the Penguins in particular. Hrivnak's appreciation for Murray travels well back to watching him play in the 2013 Subway Super Series in Guelph with Sault Ste. Marie.

* Erik Gudbranson played some ball hockey in the driveway of Lee Carson with a youngster in goal. When the preteen said, "Take it easy on me," Gudbranson responded: "Take it easy? I'll be lucky if I hit the net?"

Speaking of not hitting his shot, Gudbranson played season ticket holder Brent Grinnell in a game of pool in his mancave. Gudbranson ran the set early, but missed several chances to finish the game on the 8-ball, only to fall in the end.

* Zach Aston-Reese visited the home of 66-year-old Peter Vaugh, who started playing hockey at the tender age of 45. Vaugh even participated in Mario Lemieux's yearly Fantasy Camp. "I had to take skating lessons and all this stuff, so I wasn't much of a player, but I had a blast. … That time I when I skated on the ice and Mario was standing there - that was something out of a movie. It was cool."

Vaugn had Aston-Reese sign a special jersey. Every player that has signed the jersey has won a Stanley Cup, either before or after signing. Vaughn is hoping to pass that luck on to Aston-Reese. 

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