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Pens make wishes come true

by Nicole Jelinek / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins' Saturday morning practice was unlike any other, starting with a media conference held by general manager Jim Rutherford who confirmed the addition of five very young members to the team, all thanks to a big assist from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Wyatt Hunt, 8, Jastin "JJ" Darts, 11, Tyler Palmer, 14, Noah Turner ,15 and Jacob Bradley, 17, are the lucky new members who got the opportunity to live out their dream of being Penguins for a day and hanging out with some of their biggest idols.

"This is the heart of our mission," Dana Antkowiak, Marketing Communications Manager from Make-a-Wish of greater West Virginia and Pennsylvania,

said. "It is making wishes come true for children with life threatening medical conditions. A wish has such a profound impact on our kids. It may be just a moment in time, but it has the power to impact that child and their family forever. When a child receives a wish they replace fear with confidence, they replace anxiety with excitement and sadness with hope. That is really what Make-a-Wish is all about."

The day started with the kids and their families having breakfast in Suite 66, spending some one-on-one time with their favorite players and then attending an official media conference that was held by Rutherford, where they became official members of the team.

From there, the kids watched practice before gearing up to get on the ice with the guys.

While some of the attendees played hockey themselves, it was something new for Hunt. Wyatt knew he was in for a challenge saying, "ever since I saw my first game on TV with my dad, I'm like, 'well that seems challenging and I want to challenge my life trying to balance and skate and with trying to shoot at the same time."

Nick Bonino was quick to help Wyatt by getting him a chair to help him keep his balance, which turned into him being pushed around sitting in the chair, stick in hand, by Bonino who gave him the chance to work on stick handling.

"My arms are burning," Bonino joked. "He was holding onto that stick pretty good and he got better at stick handling as it went on. You can see how much fun they are having. I know every guy on the team, every guy in the organization from the staff to the players are happy to help out."

The interactions didn't stop there as Crosby tried to give pointers on scoring on Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin helping tape sticks and get the kids' gear on and a group of the Penguins tried to score on goalie JJ Dart.

"It's very nice," Malkin said. "We do a lot for kids, for charity. Sid too, he's always nice to kids. It was good to see them this morning. They're so excited. They tried to tape (their sticks) like me and Sid. I hope they have fun and I hope we do it again too."

The day had the kids smiling from ear to ear and Beth Hunt, Wyatt's mother, and the other families could not have been more thankful and excited to see their kids live out their dreams.

"It makes everything worth while," Hunt exclaimed. "It is absolutely unbelievable. Everything that he has had to go through… he is 8 years old. This has just been absolutely amazing, just to see him so excited. He said to me, the other day, that this is the best thing that has ever happened to him."

See more photos from the day. 

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