CRANBERRY, Pa. — Did Jim Rutherford do enough at the deadline?
Could be the Penguins' captain didn't think so.
Sidney Crosby took to the ice after practice Wednesday at the Lemieux Sports Complex, accompanied by a handful of teammates, to work out with some bona fide baby Penguins. Not the kind found in Wilkes-Barre, but 100 lucky children, ages 4-9, from the "Little Penguins Learn to Play Hockey" program based here in Western Pennsylvania.
The program's made hockey more accessible for young Penguins fans for 11 years now, and the "golden ticket," as it's called, offers the chance to play with Crosby and his teammates for one special practice. The tickets are handed out, in Willy Wonka fashion, at local Dick's Sporting Goods outlets when parents pick up the gear -- provided for free by the store and the team to 2,000 families -- that covers the child head to toe.
"I remember being that age and getting on the ice and how fun it is," Crosby was beaming before taking the ice. "Especially being on the ice with NHL players. I didn't have that opportunity when I was young ... I think it's fun for them and fun for us to be with them."
It's obvious that the guys are having fun out there as well. Sure, there's that serious-looking photo of Dominik Simon mixed in the gallery up there, with a stare like he's trying out for a modeling gig. But, look beyond that as you flip through the images from the session. Juuso Riikola bending at the waist with a giant grin as he helps teach the game. Casey DeSmith in a similar situation. Garrett Wilson diving around the ice, being tackled -- one larger man against an army of Lilliputians. The way Wilson wags a finger “hello” and smiled into each GoPro he encountered.
"I think you remember being a kid and looking for a high-five or getting a puck or a stick," Crosby said. "You realize and you remember how much that meant to you. I think we have all had role models and followed players in sports and all that stuff. Hopefully, that's something we can provide for them with those little things."
Yeah, they provided that, all right.
Look through the photos again, but look at the first one a little longer. Crosby was tailed by a number of the kids after taking a group photo, and when he felt the tug of his jersey from behind looking for a hug, the captain threw his arm around the future star and gave a hug to remember. That's one heck of a way to kick off your hockey career.