played like a man possessed on Thursday, coming out flying from the drop of the puck and sustaining that pace for the game’s entirety.
He certainly had a lot to play for, as the Penguins’ tilt with the Capitals at CONSOL Energy Center served as a way to raise money for the families of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team that perished in a plane crash Sept. 7 in Russia.
Malkin and fellow Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin joined forces to headline the effort, where players from both clubs wore jerseys with commemorative Lokomotiv patches that will be autographed and auctioned off at nhl.com. All proceeds will benefit the Lokomotiv players’ children and families.
“We need to help because it’s very important for me, for all of us,” Malkin said. “I think we’re one big hockey team and family and we need to help because it’s a big tragedy in Russia.”
This initiative was incredibly important to Malkin, who grew up playing hockey in Russia before coming to Pittsburgh and knows many of the families directly affected.
Head coach Dan Bylsma reiterated before the game just how much this fundraiser meant to Malkin, who approached him and general manager Ray Shero weeks ago about ways they could help.
“Geno immediately, has deeply been touched by it, and immediately wanted to partake in this game,” Bylsma said. “Raising money, raising awareness right from Day 1. Geno hasn’t asked for a lot of meetings with Ray Shero and myself in my time here, but right away he was like, we’ve got to do something. Not just for this game but for the families and for the team, for his loss, for the country’s loss, for hockey’s loss.”
And what better way to do so then by showing solidarity between two normally heated rivals?
“We’re bitter rivals on the ice, we each want to win,” said Shero’s wife Karen. “But in a tragedy like this, it really brings us all together.”
Karen and the rest of the wives and girlfriends of Penguins players and staff also wanted to help in any way they could for something that hit so close to home. So they all sold remembrance bracelets before and during Thursday’s game as part of the “Love for Lokomotiv” project – a grassroots initiative spearheaded by Brijet Whitney, wife of Phoenix Coyotes forward Ray Whitney.
“The response from the wives has been amazing,” Bylsma said. “Almost every team has been stricken and it’s not just the players, it’s been the wives too. And they’ve been doing a lot.”
Upon hearing the horrible news, Brijet reached out to her network of contacts compiled through her husband’s years in the league. They came up with the idea of selling bracelets and quickly arranged for all 30 NHL teams to have a representative.
“When this happened, you realize how small the hockey world is,” said Anne Adams, wife of Penguins forward Craig Adams
, who served as Pittsburgh’s representative. “It just sort of makes you pause and think about what matters. Everyone just felt terrible and just wanted to do something. This was traditional rivals coming together for a great cause.”
Added Erin Lilly, fiancée of defenseman Brooks Orpik
, “It hits home. Our guys travel a couple times a week. It could happen to anyone. It’s scary. Just the thought of receiving that phone call breaks your heart.
“One girl had an idea, and everyone sort of started to throw ideas in and back each other up. It just shows what a strong, united organization the NHL truly is and the hockey world truly is. So it started with one email, one idea and look at it now, it’s crazy. It’s awesome.”
For those who didn’t attend the game, bracelets can be purchased and/or donations can be made at the project’s website, www.LoveForLokomotiv.com.
“We are family regardless of what team we are on,” said Mary Beth Bylsma, wife of coach Dan. “So when a tragedy like this hits, we feel as though it’s part of our own family that’s been also affected. Our own families are on those planes every single day, and so it didn’t matter that it was in Russia, it could have been in our own backyard. So we are happy that we could be part of something to help.”
o Purchase a Lokomotiv memory bracelet, a prayer bracelet that comprised of semi precious jade beads which symbolize healing, hope, love, and generosity. Available in an adult size ($50) or kid's size ($25). 100% of the proceeds will go to the Foundation set up in honor of the lost team.
o Purchase a comfortable red silicone, debossed Love for Lokomotiv Remembrance bracelet. for $10. 100% of the proceeds will go to the Foundation set up in honor of the lost team.