Simon Despres is focused. A little over 60 feet away from him, he faces a lone opponent. Possibly his toughest one yet.
And this foe is only 15 inches tall.
It gets the best of him, as the Penguins defenseman fails to knock out the last bowling pin and get the spare – but two lanes over, teammate Robert Bortuzzo bowls an easy strike.
“I haven’t played in a couple months, but I had a sequence in my life where I bowled a lot,” Despres said. “I got my own bag, my own shoes, I got a towel, I’ve got two balls actually.”
Although it was a different type of competition than they’re used to, the Penguins assembled for a greater cause on Monday night at Paradise Island Bowl and Beach for the sixth annual Penguins Wives Pens and Pins bowling tournament to benefit Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Penguins players served as celebrity captains alongside Wish children and registered fans for each competing bowling team.
“It’s special when you can give something back,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “I look around and see our players here and when you really watch them closely, they’re a lot like the kids as well. They’re having as much fun as the young guys.”
In addition to the bowling, a silent auction featuring autographed items and a bake sale were held to gain additional funds. Each Penguin was also designated their own monogrammed bowling shirt, which they autographed for an online auction to be held at a later date.
“It’s too bad I don’t get to keep it,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
Last year Pens and Pins raised $57,000. This year, the goal is $65,000. Overall, since 2009 the event has raised over $229,000 to help make wishes come true for local children suffering serious illness.
It was a special night for Ali Challingsworth, 10, who was diagnosed at birth with tubular sclerosis, a seizure disorder.
“I’m having tons of fun,” Challingsworth said.
Fans snapping selfies with players were scattered around the bowling alley while others waited for autographs.
“I like it that it’s an activity,” Johnston said. “We’re active and everybody is mingling around.”
Philanthropy didn’t get in the way of some healthy competition that night.
Some Penguins are experienced bowlers, like Despres, Bortuzzo and forward Zach Sill, who would hit the lanes after practices during their tenure in Wilkes-Barre. Others, however, were less than stellar.
“(I’m not doing so) well,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I’m second last on my team, so not that good.”
“I tried, but (I was) beat by a lot,” Crosby added with a laugh.
But whether they were throwing strikes or gutter balls, each Penguin recognizes what events like Pens and Pins means to the fans and even more, the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“The community does so much for us, supporting us, so we love to give back,” Bortuzzo said. “I know for a lot of the guys, these are the events that we want to go to and have fun with kids.”