On Thursday, President Barack Obama honored the 2016 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at the White House. After the visit, we spoke with head coach Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby and Matt Cullen. Today, I followed up with a few more of the American-born players to get their reaction to one of the most surreal experiences of their lives.
- President Obama opened his address with the line "We are here to celebrate an extraordinary achievement: Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion." Needless to say, the guys absolutely loved it.
"When you come off the bat with Phil Kessel, you gain a lot of friends on our team," linemate Nick Bonino told me. "I think we were all very entertained by that. I thought Phil handled it well." Kessel laughed about it after practice on Friday. "Obviously it was a joke," he said. "Everyone got to laugh and I think it's all in fun."
It definitely was, and Bonino hopes everyone takes it as such. "We're all happy for him," Bonino said. "I think he was very misrepresented before he got here. He showed he's a great player and a great guy. So when people say that (Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion), I hope that he takes it the right way, I hope he has fun with it because we all do for sure."
- Obama was his usual charismatic, funny self, nailing one-liner after one-liner during his speech - even ad-libbing once when a baby started crying in the audience. "Don't worry. I don't have any more bad jokes," Obama grinned.
"I think he had jokes about everyone," Bonino said. "He came after Sid; he came after the random baby in the crowd. He was on his game; you could tell he's done that before."
- Obama called out Evgeni Malkin for pulling out his flip phone and taking photos of the president from behind him while standing on the riser when the Pens visited back in 2009. "Obama is very funny, he had a couple good jokes," Malkin said. "In 2009 I think I did not understand security say no cameras, no phones. I was not listening. I just stood and recorded Obama. This year, I was more quiet, I understood security say please no pictures, be respectful of the president. I was quiet this time."
- Obama mentioned Bonino, his daughter Maisie and grandparents all by name. He talked about Bonino's grandparents eating their famous tuna fish pasta out of the Stanley Cup and Maisie getting to sit inside. "Just to shake his hand and say nice to meet him and have him shout out my grandparents and baby, it's crazy that the President says your name," said Bonino, who is from Connecticut. "It was a pretty happy Bonino family back home. I know my grandparents were excited. My daughter was super excited." Bonino said he was able to keep it together when it happened, but he was pretty geeked. "You can see the video, I'm right behind him," he told me. "My face, I think I handled it pretty well. I was shocked inside. I was like, I can't believe this guy, the president, is saying my name. Something I'll remember forever."
- Michigan native Ian Cole also got a personal shout out from the president for taking the Stanley Cup to CS Mott's Children's Hospital in his hometown of Ann Arbor. "The camera was a little off center, so I wasn't in the picture, which was good because I was trying to keep a straight face and not have this big cheesy smile on my face," he laughed. "It was something that was pretty cool. I know my parents were watching and they really thought it was cool. It's something that's really special."
- Maine native Brian Dumoulin also got to do something not many people can say they've done - lift the Stanley Cup inside the White House. "That was cool," Dumoulin admitted. "Me and 'Fehrsy' (Eric Fehr) were the last two walking out. We were stuck on one of the ends, so I guess it was one of the perks of being one of the last ones out. It was definitely cool to be able to lift the Cup in the White House."
- There were obviously a lot of cool moments, but the one everyone pointed out to me was just getting to meet the actual president.
Bonino: "It was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. To stand in the room waiting for him and he came in, just his presence is something that you rarely experience."
Dumoulin: "Definitely when President Obama first came in the room and greeted us all. You don't know what to think. He seemed very genuine in talking to us and that's all you can ask for. He seemed like he was happy to be there and address us and that was a really cool experience."
Cole: "Any time you can go to the capital of your country, any time you can go meet your commander in chief - and not that he had a sit-down conversation with all of us, it was obviously very quick - but it's a real honor. There's very few people who can say they got to meet the president. As an American, regardless of what your political views are, whether you voted for the person or not, that's a huge honor and when it comes down to it, we're all Americans and we all eventually fall in line behind the commander in chief. It's something that's a huge honor and seeing behind the scenes with him, he's a fantastic guy."
Conor Sheary: "Meeting the President and kind of seeing the White House is a really cool experience. You always see it from afar, but you never get to go inside. Same with the President. You can never really get close enough to shake his hand and today we were all lucky to do that."