The Pittsburgh Penguins had the chance to show off their good – or not-so-good – bowling skills at the 2nd annual “Pens and Pins” charity bowling tournament at the Crafton-Ingram Bowling Lanes Friday night.
Presented by the Penguins Wives Association, the hour-and-a-half event allowed each player to bowl one game with his community team while serving as the celebrity captain. All proceeds from the night, including money collected from auction items and baked goods, benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.
As the Penguins’ warm-up music boomed over the loudspeakers, FSN Pittsburgh reporter Dan Potash announced each of the players to the crowd before the commencement of the game. Enthusiastic whistles and claps filled the bowling alley.
“We get a chance to play with kids and obviously they cherish that moment, and we do, too,” Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. “There’s always a good cause and we have a chance to meet the kids and make them smile. It’s always very special.”
About 85 fans who donated to Make-A-Wish and 11 Make-A-Wish children bowled at the event, which the Penguins wives and girlfriends began to plan back in September.
“With the wives, with the families, with the guys – it is just one of those teams where everyone is willing to do the extra mile,” said Erin Lilly, girlfriend of Brooks Orpik
. Lilly is a full-time volunteer for Make-A-Wish and organized the event. “I think with the fan base that they have, it’s their duty to give back to the community.”
Lilly said that she first thought about the idea to host a charity bowling event after living in Boston and learning about how the Bruins’ wives do a carnival event each year.
“I’ve heard about it for years and years and years, so we realized here that we didn’t have an event,” she said. “Everyone was very excited. Bowling is so fun. We just sort of went with it last year and this year it was much easier the second time around.”
Last year, the Penguins were able to raise about $35,000 for Make-a-Wish. Lilly hoped to raise even more money for the organization this year. The bowling shirts worn by the players will be autographed and auctioned off for charity starting January 29.
Besides the players, wives, and girlfriends, the fans who came to bowl with the Penguins were equally as excited to be spending time with some of their favorite sports figures.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Becky Lutz, who bowled with Penguins winger Bill Guerin. “The players are so open, and they’re willing to talk with you. It’s great that they do this for charity. They give up their free time. Their wives and girlfriends and everyone else help out. It’s really nice to see that they give back to the community, and it’s been fun hanging out with them and getting to know them.”
“It truly is a wonderful thing for the kids,” said Mike Downey, who bowled with center Sidney Crosby
. His son, Mark, has been in the Make-A-Wish program for about two years and was in school when the family found out about three weeks ago that they would be attending the bowling event.
“It’s just been outstanding,” Downey said. “It’s unbelievable. We’re true hockey fans – we watch every game, so for him, it’s just unbelievable. I know last night when we put him to bed, a half hour later, he’s calling me in there. He couldn’t go to sleep, because he was so wound up.”
“I think all the guys always have a lot of fun at these types of events,” Sidney Crosby
said. “The most important thing is for the kids to enjoy them. You get a group of kids together and everyone’s bowling and meeting one another. I think it’s a pretty fun time. We’ve all enjoyed it and hopefully they have, too.”
While Crosby represents one of the most gifted players in the National Hockey League, he said that his athletic talent unfortunately does not apply to bowling.
“I’m not very good,” he said with a laugh. “There are some really good bowlers here. Some of these kids are better than all of us. They’re kind of setting the pace for us and we’re just out here trying to follow their lead.”
But, just a few lanes to the right, Marc-Andre Fleury
was having better luck.
“Right now, I’m winning, but the kids are playing hard,” he said. “I better watch out.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma said that he also looked forward to showing off his own bowling skills.
“We had a staff bowling in Florida last year near the end of the season, so I think that was the last time I bowled,” he said. “My team did win the championship and I have pictures to prove it.”
As the players bowled with their respective teams throughout the night, they understood the importance of giving back to the community to put smiles on little kids’ faces.
“As a coach, you want to try to instill in your players being thankful and having gratitude for what you have and what you do in life,” Bylsma said. “As an athlete, you certainly have the opportunity to give back in a lot of different ways. I know our players do on an individual basis.
|Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato poses with a pin which will be auctioned off to benefit Make-A-Wish. |
“We do it as a team, as well, at different times of the year. This is another event where the players come out, and they do a great job for a great cause – Make-A-Wish. It’s great to see the wives and the families and the guys get out here and have a good time and throw some pins around for a good cause.”
“If you look at the kids’ faces, they’re just glowing from ear to ear,” said Maureen Kunitz, wife of Chris Kunitz
. “The guys are grinning ear to ear. It’s a very fun event – I can’t stress that enough. The guys truly enjoy it, and being with the kids is fantastic.”