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Pens help soldiers play hockey overseas

by Nicole Jelinek / Pittsburgh Penguins

Sports have a way of unifying groups of people and providing an escape from the harsh realities of today's world.

In the NHL, there are players in the league from all over the world that share a common love of the game, which extends from the players to the fan bases, and reaches places and people across the world. 

An example: Specialist Shane Luba who was in attendance as a Hometown Hero for Tuesday night's Fan Appreciation game at PPG Paints Arena. Him being there was made possible thanks to a bond that Luba and the Penguins formed over Twitter stemming from a simple tweet he posted. 

It read:

Does anyone know of a hockey store or company that would be willing to donate hockey sticks to deployed soldiers? #WeWantToPlayHockey

Luba has done three deployments overseas, all of them in the Middle East. And every time, he made sure to keep up with his beloved Penguins. He and other Penguins fans in his unit even tweeted out photos from their base during last year's Stanley Cup Final, including one from himself that read, "I can handle deployments, but I don't think I can handle a Game 7!"

Over this past summer, Luba and his fellow soldiers wanted to play hockey on concrete at the base, but they lacked hockey sticks.

"We are all from Pittsburgh, we are all huge Pens fans," Luba said of him and his fellow soldiers. "Some of us actually play hockey in the local area whether it is dek, roller or ice and you get bored. (Hockey) was something to pass the time and keep morale high, so we reached out."

With no response to his first tweet, Luba sent a follow up that read:

Still no luck on the hockey stick front would it change the minds of companies in Pitt if they knew our unit was from Pittsburgh? Who knows.

This Tweet caught the attention of Penguins fans, and in turn got the attention of the Penguins, who responded with a tweet that expressed their desire to help and to just let them know how many sticks they needed and where to send them to.

The Penguins connected with DICK'S Sporting Goods and were able to send Luba and his unit more than just a few hockey sticks. The unit received 12 hockey sticks, two goalie sticks, hockey tape, 14 autographed pucks for the soldiers and a signed Evgeni Malkin jersey

"It was awesome," Luba said. "I love the Penguins. I have been a Penguins fan for years. When they said they wanted to help and send sticks it was awesome, and that was all I expected when they responded. To turn around and open this big box and not only were there sticks, but there was an autographed jersey and autographed pucks and there were enough pucks to go around to everyone in my platoon, that was so awesome. Everyone loved it."

Luba responded with an email stating that he would fly a flag overseas as a thank you to the Penguins, and that he would love to give it to them in return.

"Every time we have been deployed we have been able to fly flags, whether that was on the base we were located at or with the Air Force," Luba recalled. "My first two deployments, we were able to fly it. We gave the (Pens) flag to the Air Force and they would put them in the fighter jets and fly them on missions. The pilots would sign them and we could dedicate them to whoever we wanted-family, friends, anybody. Once the Penguins did that for us and our platoon it wasn't even a question. I instantly went and got a flag and had the Air Force fly it for us."

During one of the TV timeouts in the Pens' 4-1 win over Columbus, Luba appeared on the big screen - where he presented the flag that was flown overseas for the organization to Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse and then rode the Zamboni as the team's Hometown Hero.

Luba described Tuesday night's experience as "surreal," and was so grateful that his little brother helped him get there for the game.

"All he would tell me was that 'I got a surprise for you when you get home,'" Luba smiled. "Leading up to it, I had no idea what was going to happen. The scheduling was almost conflicting, so he had to tell me. He told me about at least the Zamboni ride and I knew that was the perfect opportunity to reach back out. I had the flag I flew for them because of everything they did and they said okay. If it wasn't for my little brother it wouldn't have happened, so that was awesome."

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