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A Passion for Art and Hockey Collide

by Jason Seidling @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

Since mid-February, rookie forward Zach Aston-Reese has been performing double duty for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

At night, while usually occupying the left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the hard-nosed Aston-Reese has literally laid his body on the line for his team. Some nights that includes throwing his 6-foot, 204-pound frame viciously into the opposition, or admirably stepping in front of 90-plus miles per hour slap shots while on the penalty kill.

During the daylight hours, Aston-Reese has chosen a less pain-inducing route to assist the business side of the organization. Aston-Reese, who owns an undergraduate degree in graphic design from Northeastern, has spent his down time offering his design skills to the Penguins' creative department. This weekend, Aston-Reese gets to showcase his talents when the cover he designed for the IceTime gameday program greets fans at PPG Paints Arena prior to Sunday night's St. Patrick's Day matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Before he began designing, Aston-Reese consulted a few Irish posters online, then he Googled Irish fonts, to draw some authentic inspiration.

Aston-Reese's cover features team goal-scoring leader Jake Guentzel firing a shot on goal. Behind Guentzel, Aston-Reese made the main backdrop the official flag of Ireland. He added several Celtic patterns below Guentzel's name and below his hockey stick. The finished product, which he estimated took him at least two hours to perfect over the course of several days, suits the simple style that Aston-Reese said he prefers when designing.

"I was trying to stick with some Irish themes," Aston-Reese said. "I was pretty happy with it. I was doing it on the road a bit, so the guys were in there with me - Willie (Garrett Wilson) and Jake - watching me make it. It was a fun experience. I haven't designed much since I've been out of school, I've kind of been on a hiatus, so it was nice to get back using Adobe and programs like that."

Having Aston-Reese contribute a guest IceTime cover was the brainchild of Penguins' graphic design manager Dave Scheponik. Usually, Scheponik and Jennifer Navari do the heavy lifting designing the cover page for Erin Tirpak, who spearheads both the layout and design of IceTime. Knowing that Aston-Reese possessed a graphic design degree, Scheponik threw his big idea the player's way in late January.

It took maybe three seconds - tops - for an eager Aston-Reese to accept Scheponik's invitation. A few days later, Aston-Reese and Scheponik sat down inside the Penguins' locker room to go over the details of how the project would unfold, as several of Aston-Reese's teammates, quite intrigued about the idea, listened in.

"They kind of set the canvas up for me," Aston-Reese said. "It was a matter of adding the picture and a few details - the player's name and an Irish font. What it came down to for me was making a cool background."

If you have worked with Photoshop before, you know that the toughest part is cutting a player out from the background of an action shot. As Aston-Reese noted, "you need a steady hand" when performing this tedious task. Luckily for him, Scheponik and company eliminated this step by cutting out a handful of players for Aston-Reese to choose from: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guetnzel and Olli Maatta.

Jokingly, Aston-Reese noted a glaring omission among his options before he started the project on February 10 in Philadelphia during a Penguins' road trip. 

Video: Zach Aston-Reese designs an IceTime Cover

"I was kind of upset none of the pictures were of myself, but that's fine," Aston-Reese told Pens Inside Scoop's Michelle Crechiolo and PensTV's Jon Otte, before telling them he was going with Guentzel "because he is my roommate."

Crechiolo and Otte joined Aston-Reese in Philadelphia to document the early stages of his cover design for an upcoming edition of In The Room. As Aston-Reese went to work, Crechiolo extracted the details of what led him to take up graphic design.

Before declaring a major at Northeastern, Aston-Reese wanted to do something different than his friends, most of whom had chosen the business route. In the summer following his freshman year, Aston-Reese took a few art classes while he remained on campus to train. He quickly realized that he was "really passionate about (art)," so he made it his major.

At Northeastern, his favorite classes included drawing and painting courses. He particularly enjoyed a 3-D woodshop class where students used laser cutters and 3-D printers to create models. Another favorite was a photography class where he took neat-looking nighttime photos.

One project that he was particularly proud of - something he mentioned on more than one occasion to Crechiolo - was a typography poster that included 30 different font terms. At first, his professor wasn't very happy with it, but following a semester's worth of revisions, that professor finally came around to it.

"I'm pretty proud of that poster," Aston-Reese said. "I would definitely print that out and put it on the wall."

For his capstone project, Aston-Reese used InDesign to compile a book on the history of the NHL. Not only was it a subject Aston-Reese enjoyed, but he was able to learn a few tidbits along the way.

"I learned about some of the teams that came in during different transition periods, and other teams that moved around a lot and stuff like that," Aston-Reese said. "I learned that Pittsburgh had an actual penguin as a mascot, but he got pneumonia and died."

Looking ahead to the future, if Aston-Reese chooses to use his graphic design degree, he told Crechiolo that he would first have to go back to school to take additional classes because the Adobe design programs change so often. Considering the stellar effort he put forth on his St. Patrick's Day IceTime cover, a few quick refresher courses will be all Zach Aston-Reese needs to succeed in the highly-competitive graphic design world.

Michelle Crechiolo from Pens Inside Scoop and Jon Otte of PensTV contributed to this story. To watch video from Zach Aston-Reese's IceTime cover design, check out the final regular-season episode of In the Room, scheduled to run on AT&T SportsNet in early April.

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