The Penguins players donned tuxedos and passed plates instead of pucks on Thursday at CONSOL Energy Center as they hosted the “Skates & Plates” Charity Gala presented by Trib Total Media to benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, the Western PA Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
Since 1986, the team’s annual benefit dinner has raised over $5 million for Pittsburgh area charities with an emphasis on medical research. Last year, the event grossed over $350,000.
“This is our signature event,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “And it’s a very special event.”
The event featured Penguins players donning tuxedos – complete with vibrant green vests and green ties in honor of St. Patrick’s Day – and serving as waiters for the evening. Each player was assigned a table (or in some cases, two) and served beverages, salads, entrees and desserts.
“For us, it was for the charity, to do the cystic fibrosis, but also to meet the Pens, of course,” attendee Karie King said of attending the event for a second-straight year. “They do such wonderful work and do all of their donations and spend all of that time. But just to be able to meet them on a personal level, you just become such a more avid fan. It’s really cool.”
King had Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
as her server last year. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
waited on her table this time around, which also seated Bylsma and his wife, Mary-Beth.
“Just to interact with people, and it’s for a great cause,” Fleury said of what he enjoys the most about events like this. “People are very generous, usually, when they come down. Just to be a part of it and helping raise some money, helping this cause, I think it’s good.”
Fleury won top tip honors and bragging rights two years ago with Maxime Talbot. Last year, it was Sidney Crosby
and Brent Johnson
who earned them.
“I take pride in getting the best tip, because it’s all going to charity,” Talbot said. “We’re lucky to have good tables as well, where they don’t care how good the service is sometimes.”
Talbot said that with a wry smile, as he actually spilled soup on himself his first year doing the event.
But although the Penguins are more deft with pucks than plates, they understand the importance of this event – and enjoy every minute of it.
“It’s awesome,” Mike Rupp said. “When you get an opportunity to see firsthand the difference it makes in people’s lives, I mean, that’s what we all do it for – to make a difference.”
“It’s vitally important,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said. “This is the 26th year that we’ve had this dinner, and this is the first year in the CONSOL Energy Center and it’s also the first year that the newly created Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation is also part of it. We think it’s important, it’s a part of who we are in giving back to the community.”
Everyone in attendance had nothing but nice things to say about having the event at CONSOL Energy Center for the first time. In previous years, the gala had been held at venues such as the Carnegie Music Hall and the Pennsylvanian.
“I actually enjoy it more here at the arena, because out here on the ice, it’s a little bit special,” said Jim Crockard, who sat at a table being served by Zbynek Michalek
. “Usually you’re up there in the seats or up in a box watching the game. Down here you kind of feel like you’re a little bit more connected to what’s going on here with the team.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero agreed, saying “This is, I think, by far the best venue so far by far. This has been great. We’ve had a great time the past five years I’ve been here, but today, taking a look at this, everybody’s really impressed with what they did here and we’re looking forward to many more here at CONSOL Energy Center.”
“It’s events like this that enable us to go ahead and give more money to the community. This is what does it,” said Tom Grealish, President of the Mario Lemieux Foundation. “It’s incredibly generous of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, incredibly generous of the players to give their time on a night off. They’re all banged up and continuing to give their time to us. It’s great.”
All in all, it was a fantastic evening for everyone involved.
“We’ve got a group of friends with us here tonight, that we all enjoy coming out to these kinds of events,” Crockard said. “We like supporting these organizations. And this is about the most fun event in town, so you can’t say no to this.”RELATED ARTICLE: 2011 Skates and Plates Charity Auction >
84 Lumber Company / Nemacolin Woodlands Resort; AEC Group, Inc.; California University of Pennsylvania; CleanTown USA; CONSOL Energy Inc.; Crockard and Petrelli Families; Dick’s Sporting Goods; FedEx Ground; McKamish, Inc.