Penguins general manager Ray Shero remembers his first Town Hall Meeting, which occurred when he arrived in Pittsburgh five years ago.
At the time, he didn’t know if the Penguins were going to be in Pittsburgh long-term or if they would be moving somewhere else.
But thanks to the unbelievable support of the fans, at this Sunday’s Town Hall Meeting at CONSOL Energy Center held exclusively for season ticket holders, the present state of the franchise is that the Penguins are now one of the top organizations in all of professional sports – and have a beautiful brand-new building that keep them in Pittsburgh for years to come.
“I think it’s rather ironic that on Tuesday at 3 o’clock, we’re taking off to play in Kansas City,” Shero said. “And I am happy to report that we’ll be coming home Tuesday night to Pittsburgh, where we belong. Thank you for your support.”
The Town Hall Meeting was a chance for the Penguins to thank their season ticket holders, the foundation of the organization. It was also an opportunity for the team to bring them up to date with the latest on the franchise and a chance for the fans to hear from some of their favorite players.
After Shero and Penguins CEO and president David Morehouse addressed the crowd, broadcaster Steve Mears held question-and-answer sessions with Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
, Marc-Andre Fleury
, Jordan Staal
, Kris Letang
and head coach Dan Bylsma – and the fans loved seeing the camaraderie between the players.
“I loved the little banter,” said Haley Klaric of Vandergrift, PA. “You got to see the friendship they actually have with each other. Their answers to the personal questions was really cool to hear.”
And the players had just as much fun taking part in an event like this as the thousands of fans that turned out did.
“We hear it. It means a lot,” Crosby said of the support. “We want to make this place a tough place to play. You guys are a big part of that. … I think we all realize how fortunate we are to have you guys as fans. We appreciate everything you do.”
Added Staal, “It’s always an unbelievable feeling, stepping on this ice in the beginning of games. You get the chills every time when you guys are screaming. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m sure every guy here can say that. It’s going to be a lot of fun to start the season.”
After the two question-and-answer sessions (one with Bylsma, the other with the five players) concluded, five lucky season ticket holders – who had won the chance to watch the proceedings from the home bench – each got a jersey from one of the guys. The fans were able to text in to win other prizes as well.
“I’m still shaking,” said Teresa Gleason of Washington, PA, who won Crosby’s sweater. “I got his jersey and I got to shake his hand. It was awesome. This whole experience, to be on the bench – it was just great.”
“I think they did a great job,” said Teresa’s husband Jim. “It’s a great organization. It really is. I grew up in Chicago, so I know a lot more about other cities. But we’ve lived here since 1988, and we love it. We’re both retired and we’re not moving anywhere. It’s a great city, it’s a great organization. We just love it here.”
All in all, it was a great day for hockey for both the organization and the fans.
“None of our on or off-ice success would happen without your support,” Morehouse told the crowd. “You are the best fans in hockey.”
Here are some of the highlights from the event.NOTE: Steve Mears emceed the event, so he asked the players all of the questions listed below (all sent in by season ticket holders).
One of the questions for Bylsma was about line combinations. He began discussing who he’d like to see with Evgeni Malkin
, saying he sees him with Steve Sullivan
and Tyler Kennedy
. Bylsma proceeded to elaborate on Kennedy’s outstanding play during training camp, which prompted someone in the crowd to yell, “KENNEDDDDYYY!” Without missing a beat, Bylsma responded right back with “KENNEDDDYYYY.”
Another question for Bylsma was, “Who do you think your biggest competition will be this year?” Bylsma answered, “I always talk about competition in the Eastern Conference, but I’d love to have a Western Conference opponent in the playoffs. I don’t care which one.”
He went on to give his best three teams in the East, starting with Washington – which drew a loud, instant chorus of boos from the crowd. Bylsma’s response: “Is that at me or them?”
He then went on to name Tampa Bay and Boston, and someone in the crowd yelled, “What about (Jaromir) Jagr?” Another loud chorus of boos erupted. Bylsma smiled and said, “I can’t wait until Dec. 29.” Mears responded, “It’s going to be a good one, isn’t it?” and Bylsma answered, “It’s going to be interesting. I can’t wait to see what you fans have in store, especially for Jagr.”
Richard from Butler, an 11-year season ticket holder, asked through Mears, “What adjustments are going to be made on the power play?” Bylsma’s deadpan response: “What’s this guy’s name? Can you come down here, Richard?”
Mears brought up the game against Tampa Bay last November where the fans gave Fleury a standing ovation after an unbelievable performance, and asks if it was huge having the fans’ support.
Fleury’s response: “Definitely. That was big. It was a tough beginning to the season; I thought everybody just wanted to drive over me with their cars (laughs). To be there at the game with the fans cheering for me right at the beginning was a big boost for the confidence. After that, the season went pretty good.”
Mears then asked how Fleury can top last season and what he can do this year for an encore. A fan took the liberty of answering for "Flower" and screamed, “THE CUP!” Fleury laughed and said “This guy said it right. You want to come and take my mic, too?”
Malkin got introduced and said, “Hi guys, hi everyone, thank you for coming.” A fan yelled, “I love you!” and Geno responded with a smile, “I love you too.”
Crosby’s response to Mears' inquiry as to how he’s doing: “I feel good. I feel like I’m getting there. The last few weeks have been great. I’ve come a long way. I enjoy being back with the guys. I missed it a lot. I missed practicing and being around the team, and look forward to being out there, hopefully soon.”
First question of the Q&A: “What area of the Pens’ game needs the most improvement?”
“Don’t look at me,” said Staal, then slyly added, “Goaltending,” while Mears was telling Fleury, “Pick something.” Fleury’s response: “Something.”
Another question: “If you weren’t a hockey player, what do you think you’d be doing?”
Crosby: “I wanted to be a firefighter.”
Malkin: “It’s so tough to say. I don’t know. I was born in a small city and we have a big factory I could work in, but I don’t know.”
Letang: “I think I would have been a personal trainer or somebody who works in physical (therapy).”
Fleury: “I think I would have tried to be a policeman, because they can drive pretty fast. (Laughs)”
Staal: “I became a hockey player because I didn’t want to be a sod farmer.” (He laughs and so does the crowd). “But I’m not sure. I’d probably end up being a sod farmer.” (More laughs)
Another question: “What’s the best prank you’ve ever seen pulled on a teammate?”
Staal: “I had a tough one when I was a rookie. I had a rookie roommate as well, so we got it pretty hard. Pretty much every road trip, something was wrong with our room. The one time we came back from dinner, we were going up the elevator to our floor. The doors opened and our room was right there. There was a bed, the ironing board – everything. It was tough. We had to drag it all back in our room. Still haven’t found out who it was, but it was definitely the worst one by far.”
Mears then told the story of when Tyler Kennedy
was a rookie and his brand-new shoes got screwed into the bench of his locker stall.
Another question: “Who lightens the mood on the bench when it’s needed?”
Malkin said, “Sid.”
Mears asked Crosby if that was true. He laughed and said, “No, he just wants me to talk.”
Another question: “How do they deal with Max (Talbot) now being a Flyer?”
Staal: “Max was a great friend since I’ve been here. Key word there was ‘was.’ (Laughs) No, it’s obviously going to be a little different watching him skate around with a dirty Flyers jersey on. A couple extra slashes in the back of the leg I’m sure for him. But it’s part of the game. You lose friends. It’s tough to see him go there, but he did what was best for him, which is unfortunate, but we’ll have to beat them.”
Another question: “Who’s the funniest character in the locker room?” The crowd immediately starts yelling, “GENO!”
Fleury responded, “Duper. He has a big mouth. On the bus, in the room, everywhere. But Geno is funny too. He makes me laugh all the time. Always has little comments here and there. It’s good.”
Mears then asked Geno, “Is that true? Where does your sense of humor come from?” Malkin said, “My humor is Russian humor. They just love it but they do not understand it.”
A question for Fleury: “What’s the hardest part of being a goalie?”
Once again, someone in the crowd took the liberty of answering for No. 29 and yelled, “Stopping the puck!” Fleury laughed and said, “I think that’s a good part of it, stopping the puck. That’s basically it."
Mears asked how the Foo Fighters show on Friday was.
Malkin: “Sid, Staalsy and me went and sat in a box. It was a good time.”
Crosby added, “Yeah, it was a good time. It was long. They played for a long time. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Couldn’t hear the next morning, but it was good.”
Another question for Fleury: “Do you have a pre-game ritual?”
He said, “Yeah. You want to know all of it?” The crowd laughs.
He goes on, “Usually, same breakfast. Practice in the morning. Then spaghetti and meat sauce for lunch. A nap. Then a little snack. Same stretching before the game. Play with the guys a little bit, then get ready to get on the ice.”
Mears then asked Crosby about his superstitions. Sid answered with a grin, “It’s all routine.”
A question for Malkin: “Who do you hate more, Flyers or Capitals?”
His response (to loud cheers): “I don’t like both.”
Mears asked how many hours a day and how many days a week the team conditions, then noted that Malkin and Letang both had videos of their training sessions on www.PittsburghPenguins.com over the summer. Mears added that Letang’s videos were so incredible he thought they might have been doctored somehow.
Crosby jumped in and said, “Those are fake.”
Letang shot back: “Because you wish you could work out that hard.”
Crowd whooped and hollered.
Both players laughed, then Crosby said, “We can’t do this here.”
Mears then added that Staal also had a video up on the Penguins’ website. He answered, “Yeah, we made the website this summer.”
A question on the shallow-back nets is asked. Malkin had the best response when he said, “It’s more room. When you have more time to skate, of course we score more goals. And people love goals.”
Mears asked the players their favorite band and their favorite song:
Crosby: “I like everything. Favorite song right now: Barefoot Blue Jean Night (by Jake Owen).
Malkin: “We talk about the last concert. Foo Fighters – My Hero.”
Letang: “I like all kinds of music. I don’t have any favorites in particular.”
Fleury: “I don’t even know. I like music, I just put it on, put the radio on. It doesn’t matter. It’s all good.”
Staal: “I’m a country fan at heart. More of a Zac Brown Band fan and stuff like that.”
Mears asked the players their favorite foods.
Crosby: “Just a good steak. Doesn’t take much.”
Malkin: “My favorite food I think is sushi.”
Letang: “Sushi for me too.”
Fleury: “I think a big steak, maybe a little bit of French fries too, but don’t tell (strength coach) Mike Kadar.”
Staal: “I’m a pierogies guy.”
Mears then asks about Canadian favorite poutine: a dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. Fleury responds: “That’s my No. 1, but it’s fattening so I didn’t say that.”