As the calendar turns to May, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues its stranglehold on life around the globe. Sports have been mostly on pause since mid-March, and for the National Hockey League, it is uncertain if there will be a conclusion to the 2019-20 season.
While there has been speculation and rumors about resuming and finishing the season, a game has not been played since March 11. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been off of the ice since March 10. In a time of uncertainty all around the world, not just the sports world, the Penguins organization and some players have stepped up and done their part to bring support for Pittsburgh and its communities.
The Penguins Organization and Foundations
As an organization, the Penguins, like many other teams around the league, made the decision to pay employees at PPG Paint Arena for the games missed during the season hiatus. Paying both full-time and part-time workers, the money came from Penguins players, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
The Penguins have continued their support for the community by teaming with Dunkin’ to serve free donuts to Phillips employees and FedEx Ground workers. Former Penguin and current broadcaster Phil Bourque added to the 100 dozen donuts by purchasing boxes of coffee for the same groups.
Many Penguins players joined in and began doing their part to give back to the Pittsburgh community.
Bryan Rust, Zach Aston-Reese, and Marcus Pettersson with Fox’s Pizza Den
When the quarantine and stay-at-home orders started in Pennsylvania, Bryan Rust allowed fellow forward Zach Aston-Reese to move in with him. A couple of weeks later, they teamed up with defenseman Marcus Pettersson to purchase 500 personal pizzas from a local Fox’s Pizza Den to deliver to community distribution centers in the Hill District and North Side.
The pizzas were distributed with the goal of helping feed families and children who would rely on school and community pantries for their meals. Schools in Pennsylvania have been closed since March 13, and Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
Fox’s Pizza Den is a corporate partner with the Penguins, and facilitated the distribution of the pizzas.
Teddy Blueger, Tristan Jarry, Sam Lafferty, and John Marino with Fox’s
Not to be outdone by their teammates, some of the youngest players on the team chipped in with their own purchase of 500 personal pizzas from Fox’s. Teddy Blueger, Tristan Jarry, Sam Lafferty, and John Marino ordered the pizzas to their own set of community centers around Pittsburgh. This time, the restaurant chain decided to match the 500 pizzas, bringing the total to 1,000 pizzas for the youngster’s purchase.
The 1,000 pizzas were distributed to new community centers, with the same reasoning; to bring food to families who would rely on school for meals. The pizzas were delivered to the North Side, McKees Rocks, Turtle Creek, Tarentum, and Chartiers City.
Between the seven players and Fox’s involvement, 1,500 personal pizzas were delivered to six Pittsburgh area neighborhoods.
Matt Murray and Primanti Bros.
Pens’ goaltender Matt Murray began doing his part when he opened up a $5,000 tab at a downtown Pittsburgh Primanti Bros. restaurant. The tab was opened for police officers who have not stopped working during the shutdowns. Opened on April 23, all officers had to do was show their badge when picking up their order.
“I want to thank the people on the front lines who put themselves at risk every day to keep us safe,” Murray said.
Evgeni Malkin and the Ronald McDonald House
Forward Evgeni Malkin stepped up and donated an undisclosed amount to the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh (RMH), providing help to families of hospitalized children in the area. Malkin and his wife, Anna, wanted to do something to help local families who might be unable to see kids in the hospital during this time.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh currently houses about 20 families. According to officials, Malkin’s donation had the goal of providing food and family entertainment to the families being supported by RMH. The donation helped RMH fulfill its entire pantry wish list which included non-perishable food items, paper products, and cleaning supplies. The donation also supplied new board games for the families of RMH.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation came in for the final gift for RMH, as they included Penguins’ promotional items like blankets and Malkin bobbleheads.
Ice Crew Members
Some members of the Penguins’ Ice Crew have not stopped working during this time away from the game. A couple find themselves on the front lines in the most vulnerable of positions. Rachel Carretta is in her fourth season as part of the Penguins’ Ice Crew, and she also works as an occupational therapist at an area nursing home.
Carretta’s specific nursing home does not have a case of COVID-19, but nursing and extra care homes have been hubs for the virus. About 66% of all COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have come from nursing homes. Carretta and her employer are aware of the troubles that can come from a spread within a nursing home. Before stepping foot into the home, all of the employees must have their temperature taken.
Trisha Pipchok, another member of the Ice Crew, has been working through an app to help deliver groceries for those who are unable to leave their homes. Pipchok voluntarily stepped up when her normal working hours were cut.
While doing the shopping, Pipchok takes all of the necessary precautions to keep herself and the ones she’s delivering to healthy by wearing gloves and a mask and keeping her distance from others in the store.
Rust and Aston-Reese Playing NHL 20 Against Former Teammates
The new roommates are back as they took on a pair of Dallas Stars in the NHL Player Gaming Challenge. Rust and Aston-Reese battled former Penguin Jamie Oleksiak and Rust’s former teammate at Notre Dame University, Stephen Johns, in three matches on NHL 20. While Oleksiak and Johns came out victorious on all three matches, there was some good game play for those who enjoy watching hockey through virtual reality.
The friendly competition was not only to give fans entertainment, but to work as a fundraiser and have donations for the Center for Disease Control. The NHL and EA Sports donated $50,000 each and fans are able to donate themselves as many players from almost every team around the league are taking part. The series is hosted by Alex Faust and has been donating money and giving fans a new way to watch hockey during the time off, urging people to stay safe, stay home, and play together.
During game play there is plenty of friendly chirping between teams and teammates alike. Faust is able to power through players in game mode and get some questions that show a new side of players off the ice.
Sidney Crosby Still a Captain Off of the Ice
Just because there are no games played does not mean Sidney Crosby has been relieved of his captaincy duties. In the wake of COVID-19, Crosby has continued to represent the Penguins and varying communities as their leader in more ways than one.
With the rise of video conference calls and interviews in league media, Crosby was among some of the first players to participate. He, Jordan and Marc Staal, and Claude Giroux did a group interview with John Dellapina from the NHL’s Communications Department. Crosby has since done a handful of interviews with the Penguins media team, giving encouraging words to fans.
Crosby’s home province of Nova Scotia, Canada was shaken by tragedy as a gunman took the lives of 22 people in the matter of 12 hours. One of those lost in the shootings was a 23-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Constable Heidi Stevenson, who shared Cole Harbour as a hometown with Crosby. In a rare tweet from Crosby through his Sidney Crosby Foundation account, he offered his condolences to Stevenson, all those affected by the tragedy, and the province of Nova Scotia.
Most recently, Crosby was able to add another award to his resume. The American Brain Foundation (ABF) awarded Crosby with the Commitment to Cures Award for his efforts in raising concussion awareness, and the intimate look he gave into his recovery from a concussion in 2011. Practically all of the hockey world is aware of the struggles Crosby went through after suffering his concussion during the 2011 Winter Classic, and the almost year of hockey he lost as a result.
In his video message accepting the award from the ABF, Crosby took a moment to recognize Colby Cave, an Edmonton Oilers’ player who suddenly passed away in April from a brain bleed. Cave was only 25 years old.
There is still much uncertainty surrounding the possible return of the 2019-20 season, but the Penguins, like many others around the world, have realized the COVID-19 pandemic is about more than hockey. Everyone is stepping up in different ways to bring happiness and positivity in a critical, life changing point of history. Be sure to stay safe, stay healthy, wash your hands, and soon enough there will be players back on the ice.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.