Obama praises the Penguins


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WASHINGTON -- Sidney Crosby got zinged. Evgeni Malkin got a mock reprimand. The Stanley Cup got pawed. The entire Penguins team got a compliment for how well everyone cleaned up without playoff beards.

Those were just a few of the memorable moments provided last night by Barack Obama, who showed that besides serving as the nation's 44th president, he can do a fair job delivering comedy and praise.

In a White House ceremony that lasted about 10 minutes, Mr. Obama feted the Penguins for winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.

The event was moved indoors to the East Room because of a threat of rain and was conducted with the players and top team brass on bleachers behind the podium and several dozen family members, friends and invited guests -- including Pennsylvania's senators, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey Jr. -- watching from rows of chairs.

Also in attendance were nearly three dozen youngsters from Washington and Pittsburgh. Earlier in the day, they skated with five Penguins players at a clinic at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, which has the nation's oldest minority youth hockey program. The clinic was part of the NHL's partnership with Mr. Obama's United We Serve initiative.

Those five players -- Mr. Crosby, Mr. Malkin, Bill Guerin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal, who turned 21 yesterday -- then joined the rest of the team for an extensive tour of the White House before the ceremony.

Although the mood was light, the ceremony left a strong impression on some of the team members.

"Seeing the White House, meeting the president of the United States and being this close away from the leader of the free world is pretty special, a pretty unique experience," said coach Dan Bylsma, one of just a handful of Americans being honored. Hockey is a global sport, and many countries are represented on NHL rosters.

"He seemed like a very personable guy," Mr. Guerin, a Massachusetts native, said of Mr. Obama. "I know they're busy guys, but he really did take the time to spend a few minutes with us, so it was really cool.

"Being able to shake hands and have him look you in the eye and say hello to you, it's a big deal."

Mr. Crosby said being Canadian didn't diminish the magnitude of the visit.

"It's just as special as it is for everybody else," he said. "I grew up watching teams go to the White House. The whole experience has been awesome."

Mr. Obama set the tone right away when he apologized for a 45-minute delay.

"I have all these things I've got to do as president," he said, prompting laughter. "This is by far the most fun thing that I'm doing today."

The first person Mr. Obama singled out was the Penguins' Hall of Fame co-owner.

"Having Mario Lemieux here is a pretty big deal," he said.

Mr. Lemieux, co-owner Ron Burkle, general manager Ray Shero, team president David Morehouse and CEO Ken Sawyer joined the players on the bleachers, while Mr. Bylsma stood near the president. Among the players were four who are no longer on the roster -- forwards Miroslav Satan and Mike Zigomanis, goaltender Mathieu Garon and retired defenseman Philippe Boucher.

Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Bylsma won the Cup in his first year as a head coach, then congratulated Mr. Crosby, the team captain, and Mr. Malkin, on their accomplishments at young ages. Mr. Malkin drew laughter when he pulled out a cell phone and took a picture of Mr. Obama, who seemed to know what was going on behind him and turned to stare at Mr. Malkin briefly, then smiled and continued.

Mr. Obama nodded at the trophy and said, "There is something special about the Stanley Cup, other than it just being really big," noting the long playoff series and sacrifice that go along with winning it.

Mr. Bylsma was motioned to the podium. He thanked Mr. Obama for the invitation and called on Mr. Crosby to present Mr. Obama with a No. 44 Penguins jersey with a captain's "C."

"This is what I'm talking about," Mr. Obama said, holding up the jersey.

Then, just before he took the cup and held it for a group picture with the team, he turned his attention back to Mr. Crosby.

"Can I just make one more point?" the president said. "Sidney must be really fast because there are some big hockey players -- and he's not one of them."

Mr. Crosby shrugged off the dig.

"I'll take it," he said. "The president 'beaked' me. What can I say?"


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. First Published September 11, 2009 4:00 AM


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