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Pens, Kids Have a Blast at Project Bundle-Up

by Bryanna McDermott / Pittsburgh Penguins

While the Pittsburgh Penguins may be a great hockey team, their shopping skills may need some work.

The Penguins joined together with the Salvation Army and Project Bundle-Up to host their 10th annual "Personal Shopping Day" to bring winter gear and smiles to kids at DICK'S Sporting Goods in Cranberry Township on Monday afternoon. 

Project Bundle-Up's mission is to help both children and senior citizens from low-income households across western Pennsylvania receive warm winter clothing, along with building self-esteem through shopping with friendly volunteers.

"Our partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins has been amazing," said Kira Kellner, the Director of Project Bundle-Up. "Every single one of their players is going to be here today to take these kids shopping. It's an amazing experience for these kids to look back on as grown-ups. It's just really exciting and it shows the type of organization that the Pittsburgh Penguins are and that they really care about the community."

The event is close to the hearts of many Penguins players as well, especially those who have their own children at home.

"It's awesome," said Matt Cullen, whose son Wyatt joined him on the trip. "It's fun, especially with kids. You can see the light in their eyes and a smile on their face when you give them a gift like this. As players, we have all been really blessed to be where we are. To be able to share that with some kids, it's awesome."

"Obviously it's important to make sure the kids have the right things to wear, but to also build that little bond or relationship with the child," added Chris Kunitz, a father of three. "Whether it's a half hour or an hour, just get to know them and what their interests are and hopefully put a smile on their face and talk to them a little bit and meet one of the kids you're trying to help."

Pens players were matched up with 22 elementary and middle school students selected by the Salvation Army and set out to search for new winter coats, hats, gloves and boots.

What wasn't on the shopping list, but found by all involved, was laughter.

Eric Fehr and 13-year-old Tavan were having an especially good time. As it turned out, Fehr taught the teenager some lessons about his native country of Canada.

"He was really funny," Tavan said of Fehr. "He taught me that in Canada they call winter hats toques! Today was really fun, amazing."

Fehr also had an interesting way of finding Tavan's glove size, using his own hand pressed against Tavan's to decide.

Tavan's twin brother, Tesan, was teamed up with Evgeni Malkin.

As the pair discovered the boot aisle was taken over by other players, Malkin spotted something Tesan could substitute.

"Let's buy skates instead," the Russian laughed.

Another particularly fun duo was captain Sidney Crosby and 6-year-old Taylor, who decided shopping for winter coats was also a great time to play hide-and-seek.

"She was trying to hide on me all day," Crosby said with laughs after the pair checked out.

The reason for the game was pretty simple. "I wanted to," Taylor said through fits of giggles as she clutched the pink and purple stuffed animal the captain had bought her. "I wanted to see if he could find me. He never could!"

While Crosby and Taylor had success finding the perfect winter gear - determined to get everything in either pink or purple - Kris Letang was hitting a wall.

"She doesn't like my choices," Letang said to Crosby as they crossed paths, adding to his shopping partner, "I'm going to let you do everything, I'll just hold the bag." 

Something new to the kids was the amount of cameras following players around to capture the heartfelt moments. While some embraced this fact, others made it their mission to avoid cameras at all costs.

"I've never been shopping with so many cameras around me before!" said 16-year-old Tryan as she fixed her hair.

But Nick Bonino knew just what to say.

"I told her she looks great and not worry! Also, I told her I'm not even a real famous Penguins guy, but it's better than nothing."

Marc-Andre Fleury and Aallyan ran through the winter apparel section at the store in fits of laughter as they dodged the PensTV crew behind them.

"I was nervous," said Aallyan about not just meeting Fleury, but by all the cameras. "It was fun though, and he was helping protect me from all the cameras."

"We hide, we run away from cameras. Duck behind things. Just try to hide from them." Fleury said with a smile.

At the end of their trip, the kids and their respective Penguins partner took a silly picture in a photo booth, which included a Viking hat and mustache sunglasses.

"I'm going to make a funny face!" exclaimed Taylor, as her and Crosby headed to the booth.

"You better make a funny face," Crosby said. "We had a good time. I'm just glad I didn't lose you."

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