Eighteen-year-old Eric Terwilliger of Grand Rapids, Michigan was nearly disowned by his family.
Back in 2004, Terwilliger converted to a Pens fan in a house filled with Detroit Red Wings fans.
“There’s a process of not becoming a Red Wings fan in a Red Wings household,” Terwilliger explained. “My dad wasn’t really happy about it.”
To complete the transformation, Terwilliger was randomly selected to receive forward Daniel Winnik's game jersey during the “Shirts Off Our Backs” promotion after his dad told him there was no way he was going to win anything. On his birthday, nonetheless.
“This is my first Penguins game,” he said. “For my senior spring break and my 18th birthday I could go anywhere I wanted and I wanted to see a Penguins game for the first time.”
The popular “Shirts Off Our Backs” promotion is the highlight of Fan Appreciation Night, which takes place during Pittsburgh’s last regular season home game. The members of the Pittsburgh Penguins present their jerseys to lucky randomly selected fans to cap off their Fan Appreciation Week. Every single guy on the roster participates, including the injured ones, and they go in numerical order.
The giveaway rewarded new fans like Terwilliger as well as diehards like Edward Mills, a Pittsburgh native and season ticket holder, who won defenseman Kris Letang’s jersey.
“I was shocked. I’ve been here forever. I’ve watched bad teams, I’ve watched good teams, I’ve watched horrible teams. And to come down here and stand down here with him? That’s something I’ll tell my kids,” Mills said.
Mills made sure to wish Letang good luck in the rest of the season and beyond. He also told him he was lucky his daughters weren’t there.
While the Pens missed an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot in their 3-1 loss to the Islanders, much like the other winners, Mills is standing by his team.
“But we’ll be back next week. I’m not giving things up just yet.”