Once a year, the Penguins take their jerseys off of their backs, literally, and hand them to fans who have been awarded a chance to take them home. It's always the last home game of the season. It's always "Fan Appreciation Night."
For me, it's always a chance to shoot something different than normal. There are only a few chances a year to shoot the players with the helmets off, interacting with fans, smiling like they've scored, etc.
This year was no different. Well, except when I tripped over my own feet while rushing from my shooting position to the Zamboni doors to take the photos ... Seems I'm better wearing shoes on the ice than I am maneuvering the concrete steps.
But the smiles were still flowing. The shirts were still being tossed into the stands. The jerseys were still exchanged and signed.
Sure, it's a chance to shoot Sidney Crosby with a fan, signing his jersey for them, posing for photos with them. But, it's also a chance to shoot Phil Kessel when his teammates steal his hat, as they did a year ago.
It's a chance to shoot Jake Guentzel tossing shirts into the stands, as he's appeared to love doing for a third consecutive season's end. Jared McCann laughing as he guides his jersey recipient to the autograph table.
It's a chance to shoot Brian Dumoulin and the rest of the injured Penguins as they take the ice in suits and dress shoes. In Dumoulin's case, it was also a chance to send a young fan, a fan much, much smaller than himself, home with a jersey. This photo, you'll see in the gallery above, was really tough for me to pass up as the lead image. Dumoulin and his paired fan had the longest interaction, and it was anything but forced.
It's hard not to think Crosby had the best moment on the ice, though -- as stereotypical as it sounds. Erik Gudbranson looked like a tattooed rock star shedding his top layer mid-concert. Dumoulin's was a heart-warming interaction. Kris Letang walked in his sneakers looking like Keanu Reeves ready to avenge his dog.
But ... Crosby's pinnacle moment, to me at least, was hanging out with Matt Cullen's kids, laughing at the tunnel to the locker room while the jersey numbers counted up from No. 1 to No. 87. It made me think of the times my dad had work friends over for dinner, or times we met them for a slice of pizza when they were in town. With all due respect to those guys and gals ... they weren't as cool as Matt Cullen's work friends.
An image of them laughing together kicks off a gallery of the post-game action up top where the game's best photos typically reside. If you're looking for those, they're right here:
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
[caption id="attachment_802506" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Penguins vs. Rangers, PPG Paints Arena, April 6, 2019 - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]