With their third annual Icebreaker Tournament in the books, the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite AAA hockey organization is garnering attention for having one of the premier amateur hockey programs in North America.
Over Labor Day weekend, CONSOL Energy Center and RMU hosted some of the top youth players in both Canada and the United States for the PPE Icebreaker Tournament sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Twenty-six teams from 14 organizations competed for five championships held across five divisions.
The Pens Elite had a team participating in each of those five divisions, and the 2002 team took home the championship trophy for their age group on Monday by defeating the Chicago Fury 5-3. The 2001 Pens Elite team was a single shootout goal away from securing their championship, but the Chicago Mission netminder proved to be too much for the boys.
The Mission also won in the 2003 division over Team Comcast and Mid-Fairfield topped Detroit Honeybaked in the 2004 grouping. The Scarborough Sharks were the victors in the girls’ division after routing the Mission six to nothing.
Milo Cermak, head coach of the victorious 2002 Pens Elite team, feels that tournaments like the Icebreaker have been nothing but beneficial to these players.
“As a home tournament backed up by the Pens, it’s great exposure for the kids,” he said. “Playing in the rink and playing where the guys they look up to play, they feel like they’re part of that. Winning it on top of that means a lot to them.”
With the success that the Icebreaker Tournament brings to the organization, Cermak believes this program has nowhere to go, but up.
“Every year it’s attracting more and more kids and it’s growing with the backing of the Penguins,” Cermak said. “It’s just upward and upward and everyone’s more excited as the year goes on.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite had some high-profile coaching on the bench this past weekend, as Penguins player development coach Mark Recchi and assistant general manager Bill Guerin served as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, for the 2001 Elite team. They are just two of the coaches that give a great deal of their time to the PPE in order make sure the players can be their best on and off the ice.
“What the Penguins give back to the city of Pittsburgh and how they want to do the right things for the youth and hockey here is important,” Recchi said. “Giving these kids every opportunity to develop like they have and get proper coaching and proper development has been an outstanding job.”
“I think for them to be able to wear the logo and for them to be able to play on Pens home ice is a big deal for them,” added Guerin. “They have the backing of an NHL team, and Dicks Sporting Goods and the support that the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite gets is incredible.”
Guerin’s right, as getting to skate under the bright lights of an NHL arena was enough to make this tournament a memory the players won’t ever forget.
“It’s amazing to play at CONSOL,” said Sam Szweda, who plays under Cermak on the 2002 Pens Elite team. “Everything is so nice and the ice is perfect. I’m so honored.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Pittsburgh Penguins founded the PPE in 2012 in order to create a new era of top-tier amateur hockey in Pittsburgh. The organization currently fields nine boys’ teams and five girls’ teams.
Paul Oravitz, whose son Cole was a part of the winning PPE team, praised the Penguins for the execution it took to pull off an event like this off.
“Everything is taken care of so well by the organization,” Oravitz said. “It’s a first-class tournament. We go to about seven or eight a year, and this by far is the elite tournament.”
Oravitz was also thankful for what the Penguins and Dick’s Sporting Goods were able to accomplish by coming together just a few short years ago.
“It offers our son and the rest of the team a chance to compete at a very high level,” he said. “We have so many benefits as far as the coaching staff, the training facilities, and the ice time. Dick’s sponsorship is huge to us because a lot of families wouldn’t be able to do it without their support.”