Trading in their skates for sneakers, the 2012 NHL Draft top prospects hit the pavement on Wednesday to take part in a dek hockey game on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Playing with PNC Park in the background in Pittsburgh’s gorgeous North Shore on a scorching first day of summer, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba, Mikhail Grigorenko and Alex Galchenyuk were joined on the specially-built rink by eight kids from the Pittsburgh ICE program – and were given a little bit more than they bargained for.
“It was a little different, but it was real fun,” Galchenyuk said of the unique setup. “I love to play hockey, especially with the kids, and Pittsburgh had the great weather so it was unbelievable.”
The Pittsburgh ICE program was established in 2000 as part of the NHL’s ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ initiative. The program has brought the game of hockey to over 700 kids in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area.
The Pittsburgh ICE kids showed grit and determination throughout the match as they fought hard to keep it close with the future NHL stars. With a few nice snipes from the point, the young hockey players were able to tie the prospects, 2-2 – and it turned out to be a blast for all. The prospects shook hands and provided autographs for the kids after the game.
In the end, Trouba gave the kids credit, but did joke they get a little more practice on the pavement then prospects do. A Michigan native, Trouba said that while the temperature outside was a little higher than he’s used to, playing outside reminded him of when he used to play in his driveway.
The man of the match was the goaltender for the opposing side, Nathan Norkuvscus, who stopped a bombardment of shots from the prospects as they tried to take the lead late in the game. After the game was over, Norkuvscus was surprised he didn’t let too many trickle through – but couldn’t help but smile that his team was competitive.
“I thought it was awfully fun, just going in there doing the best I can,” Norkuvscus said with a laugh. “It wasn’t what I expected. I expected more to go in.”
This is just one of the many events the prospects will be participating in throughout the week leading up to the 2012 NHL Draft held at the Consol Energy Center on Friday and Saturday. Earlier in the day, the players took to the ice at the Penguins Scrimmage Camp at the Ice Castle in Castle Shannon for a little instruction time with the campers.
On Thursday, the prospects will have lunch aboard the “Empress” of the Gateway Clipper Fleet before heading back towards the Roberto Clemente Bridge to take batting practice at PNC Park.
It’s certainly a busy few days for the prospects before the draft officially begins on Friday, but the players are soaking it all in and just trying to enjoy the experience.
“I’m just having fun right now,” Galchenyuk said. “These activities help you to not focus on the draft, so it’s good.”
Nail Yakupov laughs with a member of the Pittsburgh ICE program
Mikhail Grigorenko running in suit pants and dress shoes
Ryan Murray tries to jam one home
Yakupov all smiles as he battles along the boards
All photos courtesy of Getty Images