When Dave “Ziggy” Zeigler was diagnosed with brain cancer last summer, the Westmont Hilltop hockey team knew they had to help.
Hilltoppers captain Andy Herbert wrote a letter to the PIHL and asked if his team could help raise
|Mike Rupp does the ceremonial puck drop at the PIHL Winter Classic. Check out more pics at the photo gallery. |
money in honor of Ziggy, a member of the Penguins equipment family, and be a part of the High School Hockey Outdoor Charity Series.
Ziggy passed away in August, but his legacy will live on in Pittsburgh and Johnstown forever. He did whatever he could to help out the local hockey players, and the Hilltoppers wanted to show how much Ziggy meant to them by playing this game for him.
On Friday night, Westmont Hilltop’s efforts came to fruition, as they squared off against Mars at North Park in nine-degree temperatures amidst a backdrop freshly blanketed in snow.
Mars won the game 5-0, with goaltender Tyler Stepke helping the Planets to their third straight shutout in PIHL play. But much like the NHL’s Winter Classic, the event was more important than the outcome.
“This is one of those times where the event is bigger than the game itself,” Westmont Hilltop coach Art McQuillan said. “I’m proud of our kids’ effort, both on and off the ice. Ziggy was a tremendous friend to them.”
For Mars, it continued an impressive streak of games, as the Planets have outscored their opponents 34-0 over the past three games, and they improved their record to a perfect 15-0-0.
“(Westmont Hilltop) is one of the better teams in the Single A class,” Mars forward Robbie Sigurdsson said. “So to come out here and get a 5-0 win, especially being the Winter Classic, is great.”
|The Mars Planets won the outdoor game 5-0. |
Sigurdsson, who was at the Penguins’ Winter Classic at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, scored a hat trick in the PIHL’s version of the outdoor game – a tradition which started after the Penguins played Buffalo in the first Winter Classic in 2008.
“It was amazing to see them play an outdoor game,” Sigurdsson said of being at Heinz Field on New Year’s Day. “Then to come out here and do the same thing feels great.”
All eight team captains participating in the PIHL’s Winter Classic visited CONSOL Energy Center on Monday and met Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma in the Penguins locker room.
“Bylsma’s an awesome coach,” Mars captain Kevin Leslie said. “He was joking around with us a lot, and it brought a lot of spirit to our team.”
The temperature when Penguins forward Mike Rupp ceremonially dropped the puck was 11 degrees, but the thermometers quickly dropped into single digits for most of the game.
“It was fun, but it’s different,” Sigurdsson said of the weather. “The ice is a lot harder, so you have to really dig deep and go harder.”
“I felt bad for the guys on the bench not moving around,” Herbert joked.
Frigid weather aside, even the Mars players recognized how special it was to play this game in honor of Ziggy.
“It’s just an honor to play out here, and to do this all for Ziggy is special,” Leslie said. “It’s a great cause. Charity events are always something that everyone loves to do.”
The Hilltoppers brought a lot of fans, including a full student section behind the end where their team shot twice.
“It was incredible,” Herbert said. “They came the whole way from Johnstown, an hour and forty minutes away on fan buses, just to see us play.”
“Johnstown’s a great hockey community,” McQuillan said. “And we traveled well tonight.”
Ziggy embodied that great hockey community, which was why Friday’s events were so moving.
|Westmont Hilltop players helped raise money for Dave "Ziggy" Zeigler. |
His family – wife Donna and daughters Kayla and Kirsten – all took part in the ceremonial puck drop. Then his son-in-law, Justin Blanding, sang the national anthem.
“It was emotional,” McQuillan said. “It’s just so final now. With these kids, this is their tribute to Ziggy. What they did to honor his memory through their fundraising effort and what they did with their team spirit and camaraderie getting ready for this event, they’re going to be very successful down the road.
“They will always remember they played in this game. They may not remember the opponent or the score, but they will remember what it meant because of the reason they were here. And in the end, that’s really what it’s all about anyways.”
And it all started with a short, moving letter from Herbert.
“I know we lost,” Herbert said. “But in the end we won because we raised all that money for a great friend.”