While the chillier temperatures and dark skies of Friday afternoon served as a reminder of the emerging winter weather, the second floor of the DICK'S Sporting Goods located in Cranberry was buzzing with warmth and energy as Penguins players took part in The Salvation Army's "Project Bundle-Up" program.
As part of the annual "Penguins Personal Shopping Day," local middle-school children were paired up with Penguins players, who were given shopping bags and directed to browse around to find the kids new winter clothing including coats, hats, gloves and boots.
"Every time you can connect with kids and be involved with the city and everything, is special," Derick Brassard said. "It's a good thing I think that our foundation is doing. They're doing a really good job at it. It's just good to get involved and put a smile on their face. Christmas is coming up and however we can help, we're always going to be happy to do so."
While this was Brassard's first time participating in the event, this marked the 12th year that the Penguins' corporate partner DICK'S Sporting Goods hosted the Salvation Army's Project Bundle-Up event.
"The partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation means a great deal to us here at DICK'S Sporting Goods," said DICK'S Sporting Goods community and corporate relations specialist Shelby Allen. "The Pens are so great in the community, and we love how they come and support the Project Bundle-Up program and work with the Salvation Army and us here at Dick's Sporting Goods to come and get the kids nice and warm for winter."
The players trickled in following their practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. The kids awaited their shopping partner after devouring lunch, which was donated by Emporio the Meatball Joint.
Once the players arrived, the kid wasted no time in picking out their new wardrobe to help brave the nearing winter. Some players, namely the fathers on the team with a fair amount of shopping experience with younger children, streamlined the process by picking out the items in order rather than bouncing around the entire floor.
"This is one of our favorites, probably our favorite event of the year as players," Matt Cullen said. "We get to spend some time with them and obviously shop for some important gear. I had two little girls, they were unbelievable. They were lightning quick, it was like bang-bang-bang, picked this out and we were out of there in like five minutes. I have three boys at home and it takes them 40 minutes to do the same thing (laughs)."
Other players without kids of their own like Jake Guentzel, Olli Maatta, Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon, were running around in disarray trying to track down the proper boot size and jackets that both fit and were a specific color while deciding between mittens versus gloves and so on.
"It's fun, a little bit of a workout, but it's fun to see the kids, you know?" Simon said. "Making them happy is great and they get to get some clothes. It feels really good to be able to help like this. I don't know much about girls' stuff, so it's different. But it's fun."
Fortunately for Simon, 7-year old Jaclyn was confident in her choices and didn't have a tough time making decisions on various selections. Sheahan, on the other hand, was paired up three separate times. His first pairing with Zoey and Alyvia was particularly rambunctious as Sheahan was often seen running across the store as he tried to cater to the two firecrackers. Yet even through the chaos, the Pens forward was grinning.
"It was a blast," Sheahan said. "The guys who don't have families and don't have kids of their own don't get to spend much time with kids. They're fun, they put smiles on your faces. I think especially with the point of the season we're at right now, we need something to brighten our day. The kids did a great job of that."
Eight-year old Madison, Sheahan's third and final pairing, was glued to his side.
"He's my favorite player!" she exclaimed.
After checking out, the players and the kids spent time in the photo booth upstairs to capture the priceless experience. There was an assortment of props, including a Viking hat that Phil Kessel proudly sported at one point. The kids were then given the printed picture and a calendar, which players autographed before saying their goodbyes.
For 9-year old Micah, who was paired with Sidney Crosby, the experience was unforgettable. He was at a loss for words as he tried to describe how much the event meant to him and what he would tell his friends at school on Monday. Ultimately, he was thrilled that he spent quality time with Crosby to suit up for winter.
"It's fun, they have great personalities," Crosby said of the kids. "They're obviously excited to get some new clothes. I think just the energy they have and their excitement is probably the best part."