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Pens host 7,500 students for Open Practice

by Nicole Jelinek @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

"Let's go Pens, let's go Pens!" That cheer is no ordinary thing to hear in a practice at PPG Paints Arena, but that is what flooded the facility on Monday making Feb. 27 no ordinary practice.

Over 7,500 elementary and middle school students from over 50 schools throughout Allegheny County piled in to participate in the Penguins' annual "Open Practice" event where they got the thrill of watching a NHL practice and learned about hockey.

Kayla Fleming is a speech therapist from Propel Homestead and said that her kids have been prepared and ready for practice for quite awhile.

"We have been talking about it all week and they are really excited to be here," Fleming said. "Some of them have never been to a Pens' game or don't know much about the Penguins, so just teaching them about a new sport and new event and team to be excited about is great. They are thrilled."

To give the kids some background on the sport and science behind it, educational videos were shown on the screen before practice started that showcased ice facts, skating and hockey as a whole.

PensTV host Celina Pompeani got the kids even more ready for the day by asking students ice hockey trivia to win some autographed pictures.

While the kids got an educational lesson, it was clear they were most excited about seeing their favorite players out on the ice.

"It is amazing. I like when they get the puck inside the net," 3rd grader Marya Browa chuckled. "It is actually really cool that they can get to skate and do tricks."

After a little bit of waiting, the lights went down and it became a great day for hockey as the Penguins opening hockey video played on the big screen. The place was hyped up and the kids knew that was the signal for what they were waiting for: practice.

One by one, the players made their way onto the ice, getting their names announced and got hit with huge waves of screams from the kids. Not a normal practice experience, but the Penguins players thought it was wonderful.

"It was great. It is always fun to see all of those kids coming," right winger Patric Hornqvist said. "They were getting loud and excited and I think the players get excited too. It is a really good thing the Penguins do and shows what kind of class this organization is."

Once all of the players made it on the ice, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan got a little surprise when his birthday was announced followed by a few kids in a nearby section singing happy birthday to him.

Penguins talents Josh Getzoff and Phil Bourque provided some play-by-play during the practice and explained drills to the students.

Throughout the whole practice, the intensity of the young fans did not die down. They rallied through the whole practice with non-stop chants, cheers, dancing and smiles. This practice meant so much to them.

Two fourth graders from Wyland Elementary School, Gianna Kuhlmann and Rachael Biggler, had the best seats in the house, right where the Penguins entered the ice.

"It is very cool, I got a picture of Sidney Crosby's back," Gianna exclaimed with the biggest smile on her face.

Rachael was just as excited because she got the chance to high five all of the players.

"It is really awesome," she said. "I'm excited to see them practice. It is really fun watching them."

As practice game to a close, the kids were given a Penguins activity book and a thank you from the captain himself on the big screen and another thundering round of applause.

"It can be loud at times when they are all yelling, but it sounds like they are enjoying themselves," Crosby said. "For us, it is nice to have a little bit of energy at practice so hopefully they had a good day."

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