Pens Open Practice to Enthusiastic Students
Tuesday, 12.6.2011 / 2:38 PM ET / Features
By Justin Criado
You would have thought Justin Bieber was in town early Tuesday morning as the CONSOL Energy Center was rocking with more than 8,000 students in the stands for the fourth annual Students Open Practice.
“Today there was a ton of energy and noise in the building with the number of school kids that were here,” Dan Byslma stated.
The Pittsburgh Penguins welcomed students in grades 1-8 from 56 local schools for the special event as the organization hoped that the open practice would promote physical well-being, teamwork and the value of an education.
|Students filled CONSOL Energy Center for the 4th Annual Students Open Practice
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“I think the fact that the Penguins are young they can reach the youth even more,” University Prep Middle School teacher Michael Yalch explained.
The students were ecstatic from the moment they entered the gates. An hour before the players took the ice the “Let’s Go Pens” chants started as PensTVs Katie O’Malley served as an emcee from the stands.
“I’m really excited because it is my first time seeing the Penguins play. I really like Fleury,” Pittsburgh Allegheny 8th grader Leslie Cooper bashfully admitted.
Other than the Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Willow Smith pumping through the speakers, trivia questions about healthy eating habits were displayed on the big screen in an effort to further educate the students about nutrition.
Paul Steigerwald and Phil Bourque emceed practice from the bench, explaining drills, rules and player bios to the emphatic crowd.
“I learned new players like (Steve) MacIntyre. I didn’t know very many drills, but when they started shooting (on net) I learned some,” Brookline K-8 8th grader Timmy Gaskill explained.
“You watch a practice and you never know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Yalch added. “To be able to have Bourqy and Steiggy commentating it puts it in perspective why they’re doing it.”
|Vitale (left) and Cooke greeted the fans in person
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Throughout the whole practice there were fun facts scrolling across the bottom of the screen as every student also received a book about hockey.
“It’s great to give back. It’ s great for them to be able to see us in a little bit more relaxed atmosphere,” Steve Sullivan said. “We can have a little bit of fun with them and recognize them a little bit more than we do during a game.”
It only got better after practice when some players swapped their skates for sneakers, and climbed into the stands to toss out shirts. Matt Cooke, Joe Vitale and Tyler Kennedy found themselves surrounded by the screaming sea of fans as Bylsma flung shirts from the ice before answering five fan questions.
“I find it pretty amazing that I can still have that effect on a group of people,” Bylsma added. “Hopefully in addition they stop for a second and think about some of the things we’re doing on the ice and lessons they can learn.”