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Students from all over Allegheny County made the trip to CONSOL Energy Center for the annual Pittsburgh Penguins Kids’ Open Practice on Friday morning.
Over 6,000 students and teachers began filling the seats around 10:15 a.m., and an hour later, they were ecstatic to start the festivities.
Rambunctious students danced and sang as songs like Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ blasted over the speakers.
But finally, the lights went down and a highlight video lit up the scoreboard. Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and most importantly Sidney Crosby were all featured in the footage.
It was at that moment that chants for the Pens’ captain started, and rarely died out.
“We understand the position we’re in and we try to be good role models,” Crosby said. “Hopefully that’s something kids can look up to. Nobody’s perfect, but I think you try to do your best and understand the situation you’re in.”
Michelle Rosborough, a teacher at Pittsburgh Brookline, said the Pens players are just that.
“Looking at the Penguins and knowing they've committed themselves to this sport and working hard shows students that they can achieve anything,” Rosborough said. “I’ve always looked at the Pens as role models for these kids, and I think that’s very important to all of them.”
Penguins Radio Network’s Phil Bourque and Josh Getzoff emceed the event and introduced players as they skated onto the ice.
Crosby was the overwhelming crowd favorite. Raucous cheers flooded the arena after he was shown exiting the locker room and making his way to the ice.
Mike Penn, a teacher at Shaler Area Upper Elementary, said it was a great opportunity for the kids who earned it.
“A lot of our kids don't get the opportunity to ever come to something like this,” Penn said. “The kids who are here, are being rewarded for reading over a million words.
“We have a large program at our school with over 1,100 students. So these 200 had to read one million words to get the invitation.”
Two of Penn’s students, Teyah WIlson and Rhilee Weideman, were both elated to be at the rink.
“I just wanted to see a great practice, and learn how they prepare for their games,” WIlson said.
“It took a long time to read to one million words, because we started at the beginning of the school year, but I’m just happy to be here.”
Weideman was even happier after meeting the most famous Penguin of all.
“We got to take pictures with Iceburgh, and that was really cool,” Weideman said with a grin.
Iceburgh may have had the longest day of anyone, as he was swamped by hundreds of students, parents and teachers all practice long as he made rounds through the arena.
After the 30-minute practice, the Pens ended with a shootout, but only Bryan Rust and Sergei Plotnikov scored – with the Russian forward taking the eventual crown. The session was driven by the “Future Goals” program, an educational initiative brought to the students in Pennsylvania from the Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL and NHLPA.
“We work within classrooms to teach students science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) using the game of hockey,” said Veronica Sander, a Future Goals representative, said.
Sander went on to explain why what the kids are learning in the classroom goes hand-in-hand with their day at the rink.
“In one of the games they’ll learn about a bank pass off the boards,” Sander said. “They measure the angle of the pass and learn how the law of reflection determines the puck’s path. Another lesson with STEM teaches students how potential energy transforms to kinetic energy as the referee drops the puck on a face-off.”
The program unites interactive opportunities to each of the NHL’s 30 markets between the United States and Canada. The program is committed to helping students become college-ready and career-ready.
“Future Goals” has already reached 370,000 students across 3,500 schools. Within the next three years, it will reach well over one million students.
“They learn everything online, and finally get to see it here live and in action,” Sander said. “In the classroom it’s important to provide students with real life applications, which helps them solidify concepts like, ‘oh, there is a reason we measure angles.”