Local high school and college students started lining up in frigid weather along Fifth Avenue at about 9 a.m., nine hours before tickets went on sale, for the Penguins’ game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, for a chance to purchase discounted Student Rush tickets.
The Pens decided to give their young fans an extra surprise. Continuing a past tradition that is unique to the Penguins, head coach Dan Bylsma, Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Deryk Engelland hand-delivered pizzas to the students in line at 5 p.m.
“They’re out there since like 5 in the morning, so to be able to go out there and show our appreciation for them, that they’re out there for 12-plus hours just waiting for tickets to watch us,” Engelland said. “So, anything we can do for them is big for us.”
Neal, Dupuis and Engelland also took part in the first pizza delivery of the 2011-12 season. This along with a DJ, prizes and giveaways showed that the Pens appreciate the students’ support and dedication.
The players even took some time to autograph signs and take pictures with the students. A pair of Duquesne University students, Ashley Sutaria and Erin Seiner, took a photo with Dupuis, while Sutaria, who turned 20-years-old Monday, received a happy birthday wish from Neal.
“It was really exciting because I’ve never actually seen them bring out pizza before,” Seiner said. “Dan Bylsma was the person that gave me the pizza and I got my picture with Dupuis, so it was definitely exciting.”
Bylsma also took some time to chat with the fans before heading back into the American Eagle gate. He said he thought delivering the pizzas was the least he and his players could do for the students and that the fans’ excitement would translate to a big-game atmosphere during the game.
“I walked by them for lunch and they were all excited and pumped up,” Bylsma said. “We took some pictures. I think they’re a little more excited to get the pizza from Deryk Engelland and Matt Cooke. These guys are true fans, young fans, excited fans. It’s great to see them out here and it means we’re going to have a loud building tonight.”
The Pens will also hold an expanded Student Rush on April 2 vs. the Buffalo Sabres and April 17 vs. the Montreal Canadiens.
The team showed that it appreciates the fans, and that feeling was mutual.
“The Penguins organization as a whole is just great. They’re doing so many good things for so many people, for the (military) veterans and now us as students,” said Nick Salak, a student at Pittsburgh Technical Institute. “They’re great people.”