When head coach Dan Bylsma gathered his team at center ice at the beginning of Wednesday’s morning skate, it wasn’t just to go over the first drill with them. He was giving the players, wearing camouflaged Army jerseys and socks to honor military veterans, their individual “ranks.”
“I think they snapped to attention,” joked Bylsma, whose rank was, fittingly enough, Major.
The Pens took a team-bonding trip to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York during training camp, and their experience there influenced what they did today with the special jerseys that they wore as well as the ranks Bylsma called out.
“Our jerseys were Army jerseys and had the Army camouflage. We really, from the West Point theme, went down that road,” Bylsma said. “And we’ve got the theme of West Point in terms of the rankings and how we got the rankings.”
The Pens enlisted the help of their friends at West Point as well as J.B. Spizzo, a retired sergeant major who has run the guys through team-building drills here in Pittsburgh in the past, to hand out the ranks.
“You got your ranking based on your years in the league,” Bylsma explained. “We had three commissioned officers, our captain (Sidney Crosby) and two assistant captains (Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik). And then the rest of the rankings were based on years in the league. (In addition), each guy had a unit patch over their right breast area to signify the units of the Army and had the flag going forward on their right shoulder.”
“Sid has gone through officer training so he gets a higher rank,” said Tanner Glass, who was listed as a Sergeant First Class.
Some of the other ranks called out included: Second Lieutenant Pascal Dupuis, Sergeant Major Craig Adams and Sergeant First Class Marc-Andre Fleury.
“(My rank) was pretty high, surprisingly,” Dupuis said, jokingly adding, “I think I’m old, that’s why. It has a lot to do with age and experience, games played. I guess age was on my side on this one.”
While the veterans were ranked high, the Penguins rookies – Jeff Zatkoff, Jayson Megna and Olli Maatta – were all listed as Private First Class, one of the lowest ranks the Army has.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Zatkoff laughed. “I’m at the bottom of the food chain right now. We started going through all the ranks and I saw mine had a few less lines. I was like uh oh, when we get to this, it’s got to be at the bottom.”
“Everyone had like five stripes on their patches and I just had emptiness,” Maatta joked.
Regardless of where they stood, the guys had a lot of fun with the camo jerseys at practice – “It was tough to tell who you were passing to at times, but I think we looked good in them,” Glass joked – and it meant a lot to them they were able to show their support for the veterans who were watching.
“We don't (often) get an opportunity to wear something like that,” Crosby said.
“We appreciate what everyone does for us. The men and women that are here, we had a great opportunity today to meet them and show off some nice jerseys. We enjoy this and it's a great experience for everybody.”
Note: The Pens also wore stickers on their helmets recognizing all of the armed forces, and they had special name tags above their locker stalls that honored the different branches of the military.