A big part of becoming a professional athlete is understanding how important it is to give back to the community. That's why the Pens prospects conducted three dek hockey clinics with local youth players throughout the Pittsburgh area on a beautiful Thursday afternoon during Day 2 of development camp.
"Just giving back to the community I think is great, and for these kids, it's a great experience," said Zachary Lauzon, taken in the second round at the NHL Draft last week in Chicago. "It's just fun that the Pens organize stuff like this because it's fun for the kids and fun for everybody, so it's nice."
Lauzon was at the North Park Project Power Play location along with other top prospects like Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and Filip Gustavsson. They began the clinic by partnering up with the kids and running a few drills before doing a 3-on-3 scrimmage. The kids had a blast, with their parents watching proudly from the stands and taking photos and videos of them interacting with the players.
Erin Rakow was there watching her 4-year-old son Cole, who wanted to try hockey after watching his cousins partake in the Little Penguins Learn to Play Program. He's starting on the dek this summer with Project Power Play and then hopefully getting a spot on the ice this fall with the Little Penguins.
For Cole to be out there with the prospects today was something his mom called an 'awesome opportunity' to learn and get experience with the game.
"I've always been really impressed by the level of community service and the community involvement the Pens have had, and I think it's great that they start that with their prospects with Day 1," Rakow said before adding with a laugh, "Or Day 2, I guess it is. I think it's awesome."
What stood out is how all of the prospects remembered how much they looked up to the instructors at youth hockey camps they participated in when they were little kids like Cole. Now they're trying to pay it forward as much as they can.
That's especially true for Connor Hall, Pittsburgh's third-round draft pick in 2016. The defenseman grew up in Kitchener and idolized players from the local Ontario Hockey League team, the Rangers. Now he plays for that same OHL team and loves getting out there with the kids there and now here in Pittsburgh.
"I enjoy it so much because I remember when I was a little kid and looked up to older guys," Hall said. "Not Penguins, but where I was from in Kitchener, being able to look up to Rangers and NHL players. They really made me idolize them and made me want to be like that someday. So for us to come out here and have some fun with these kids, it for sure makes their day."