Sandy Darling has been a Penguins season-ticket holder for over 40 years. And that’s how long it’s been since he’s dreamt about one day meeting one of the Penguins.
So one can only imagine Darling’s emotions two weeks ago when the Penguins notified him that a member of the Penguins would be visiting him Monday afternoon at his Squirrel Hill home to deliver his season tickets.
“Every day gets longer,” Darling said. “I’m elated. I’ve been thinking about it for 40 years and finally got it.”
Darling was in near tears and shaking when he saw Penguins captain Sidney Crosby standing at his door.
“It was amazing,” Darling said with wet eyes. “You can’t imagine. The surprise was absolutely great.”
“It was really exciting,” Darling’s wife Carole said. “This is his dream come true, to have one of the players bring us tickets.”
Darling did have one request: “Can I arrange for next year? Does he need a chauffer? I have a driver’s license.”
Fourteen Penguins players visited season-ticket holders at their home or workplace to hand deliver their 2013-14 season-ticket packages. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Brandon Sutter, Beau Bennett, Craig Adams and Simon Despres took part in the sixth annual Penguins Season-Ticket Delivery.
“Sandy has been a season-ticket holder for over 40 years, that’s a long time,” Crosby said. “It’s nice to personally meet fans and have an opportunity to do this.”
Crosby met with the Darling family, discussed hockey and signed some autographs. But the Darling family also had a gift for Crosby, a piece from the Civic/Mellon Arena roof.
“This is not something you get everyday,” Crosby said. “Not everyone gets a chance to have something like this so I’ll definitely cherish it.”
Crosby also met with Karon Siewiorek, a Saskatchewan native. The two bonded over stories about their home country of Canada.
* Evgeni Malkin has a funny personality, as his followers on social media can attest, and some lucky fans get a chance to see it for themselves on the season ticket deliveries. For example, remember when Malkin met Lucky the cat back in 2011? (If you forgot, fast-forward to the 1:15 mark in this video). That remained the case this season.
* At the first house Malkin visited, season ticket holder Sean Salem was using his lunch hour to return home and meet the Penguins center. Malkin exchanged hellos with Sean, his wife Amanda and their 4.5-month-old daughter Lyla, who was absolutely adorable in her Penguins onesie. Malkin gave them their tickets and thanked them for coming to the games. His first question once he got inside? “How’s lunch? What’s cooking?”
* As Malkin was signing autographs for the family, he discovered that Sean plays in an adult hockey league at Neville Island. “Are you tough? Do you have a couple fights?” Malkin asked him. (We know Malkin got in one this summer: watch it here). Malkin then asked what position Sean played, and when he found out it was center he high-fived him. “I hate the D. They never pass,” Malkin joked.
* As Malkin was leaving, he leaned down to say goodbye to the baby, telling her, “Remember my face. I’ll be back next year. You’ll be bigger then!” She just stared up at him. It was precious.
* Malkin’s second visit was to Jessica Russell, who splits her season tickets with Dan Rafferty – who actually got struck with a puck at the first Penguins game he ever attended and needed 10 stitches. But that didn’t scare him off, and now a few years later Evgeni Malkin is personally delivering his tickets. “It’s not every day Geno comes to your door,” Jessica remarked as they posed for pictures. “If you want I can come every day,” Malkin replied. The two of them loved getting to experience Malkin’s personality firsthand, with Dan saying, “you can tell he’s a funny guy, cracking jokes, so it was good.”
* Malkin enjoys meeting the fans and making them happy by dropping in for a visit, saying, “It was great. I just see how excited people are. I like to see smiles on their faces. People love hockey. It’s so exciting. (Our fans are) always great. We see what’s going on in the building every game, it’s a full building and I’m so proud. It’s an amazing feeling when you step on the ice and play a game. … I’m ready for the season, too.”
* Before leaving, a friend of Jessica and Dan’s asked if Malkin would call his girlfriend in the Air Force stationed in Turkey. He gladly obliged, and as soon as she heard his voice she freaked out. “Come to Pittsburgh! Why are you in Turkey?” Malkin said. He made her day, and it was a solid way to end the visit.
* After we finished with Malkin, we went to pick up Kris Letang. His first visit was to Alan Stadler and his 14-year-old niece Anna and 16-year-old nephew Chris, who go to games with their uncle as much as possible now that they’re older. Alan has been a season ticket holder since 1972, so it was a cool sight to see Letang autograph his seat from Mellon Arena. “We won the Cup there in that building,” Letang said as he signed.
* Letang’s last visit was to Kathleen Russell and her family: husband Cannon, 13-year-old twins Cooper and Brynn and 5-year-old son Kieran. They also had a gorgeous Husky-type dog and two cats waiting to greet Letang at the door. They didn’t know who it was going to be ahead of time, but had an idea because Brynn had been following the Penguins Instagram feed at school and narrowing down the options. Not going to lie, that’s some very clever detective work there.
* After they all took photos and Letang signed jerseys and other memorabilia, Kathleen presented him with a box of black and yellow macarons they got special from the French bakery by their house they’ve been going to for years. Letang thanked them and but said he would have to try not to eat too many now that the season is starting. He’s going to share them with his fiancée and nine-month-old son.
* Kathleen said she’s watched the season ticket delivery videos before, saying, “I thought it was such a nice thing that they do and I just get a kick out of it, especially seeing the Pittsburgh people and what they’re going to roll out and do and stuff. I watch them every year and think, ‘they’d never come to our house.’ So it’s amazing to get the call the other day. This is really, really awesome that they do this.”
* Letang signed an eight-year, $58-million contract extension in July. One of the reasons is his love for the city and the fans, so to have the chance to give back by doing this means a lot to him. “It’s fun to meet all those fans, see where they live. They’ve been true fans for so many years, so it’s fun to do that for them and have the chance to meet them in person. You can ask any player, what they love about Pittsburgh is the fans, people in the city. So just to come to their house and just spend a little bit of our time to get back to them, I had a lot of fun doing that today.”
* Fleury's first stop was at the home of Rob Miller in Bellevue. Rebecca, the daughter of Rob and Gail, was told by her parents that she had to stay home from school today for a dentist appointment. As it turns out, there never was a dentist appointment but the fourth grader was pretty happy with the result. After Fleury signed jerseys, pucks and pennants for the Miller’s, he said jokingly to Rebecca, “Wow, fourth grade and you are already skipping school?!”
* Rob offered to have the entire Penguins team over to Sidelines, a bar and grill he owns and operates in Sewickley. When he mentioned specifically about an “end of the year” celebration, Fleury responded, “I’ll keep that in mind for sure.” To make sure he did not forget the name of the restaurant, Fleury wrote down the name on his forearm in permanent marker.
* “I think it is great to see the families up close, and talk about family stuff,” Fleury said. “It is pretty cool for us also to meet the families and on a personal note, to see how they are. Again, today was a great experience.”
* Fleury also visited the home of Mike Scarlatelli and his family, where he was started to shake off some rust in net. Scarlatelli’s two youngest daughters took a handful of slap shots and posed for pictures with the goaltender.
* Orpik made his first stop of the day at the Lamb residence, where he signed some memorabilia and played a little street hockey with Tyler, Tucker and Trevor Lamb. Orpik had no trouble using a cut-down junior hockey stick, scoring on his only shot attempt of the afternoon.
* Don Lamb and his son Jason have been season-ticket holders since the 1986 season when they moved here from Manitoba, Canada. Don and Brooks have previously played together in the annual Summer Sticks golf tournament the Penguins play at the beginning of every season (this year’s tournament will be played Tuesday).
* The final stop for Orpik came at the home of Rob Randall, who has been a season-ticket holder for the last four years. Randall reminisced about also having season tickets in 1967-68 when Penguin greats Schinkel, Bathgate and McDonald were members of the team.
Written by Sam Kasan, Michelle Crechiolo and Dave Uhrmacher