Penguins humbled by 'unique' experience of White House visit
President Obama was sure to note that, yes, Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion
October 6, 2016 2:41 PM
Sidney Crosby holds the Stanley Cup alongside President Barack Obama, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, far left, and coach Mike Sullivan during a reception at the White House.
President Obama congratulates the Penguins on their Stanley Cup championship today during a ceremony at the White House.
President Barack Obama congratulates the Penguins at the White House,
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette President Obama accepts a Penguins jersey from team captain Sidney Crosby at the White House on Thursday.
Phil Kessel laughs as President Barack Obama mentions him during the team's visit to the White House on Thursday. "Phil Kessel’s a Stanley Cup champion," the president declared.
Penguins' Sidney Crosby listens as Matt Cullen talks to the media after the team's visit with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.
President Barack Obama congratulates the Penguins during the team's visit to the White House.
Penguins' Sidney Crosby, center, and coach Mike Sullivan, second from right, join in applause after remarks from President Barack Obama during the team's visit to the White House.
President Barack Obama talks with Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald during the Penguins' visit to the White House on Thursday.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Mario Lemieux during the team's visit to the White House.
Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux laugh as President Barack Obama gives remarks during the team's visit to the White House.
President Barack Obama congratulates the Penguins at the White House.
Penguins' Matt Cullen talks to the media after the team's visit with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
President Barack Obama congratulates the Penguins in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — Matt Cullen’s kids weren’t impressed.
Cullen awoke in Pittsburgh this morning and caught a flight to someplace called the White House in Washington, D.C., he explained to his hockey-playing boys.
“They said, ‘Oh, you’re going to the White House. Good. See you tonight,” Cullen recalled. You know how kids are. They have hockey practice, so they were more into that.
“Down the road, it’s something they’ll appreciate more.”
Cullen’s boys were among the only ones not impressed with Thursday’s proceedings, as President Barack Obama welcomed the Penguins to the White House for a Stanley Cup celebration.
Players routinely used words like “unique” and “special” to describe the visit.
All, of course, were honored.
“It’s one of the perks of winning the Stanley Cup,” Sidney Crosby said. “You think of winning, you think of the initial celebration, that kind of thing. To be able to do this is pretty unique. I think everyone had a lot of fun.”
Crosby definitely did. You won’t find a professional athlete more into history than Crosby, and his respect for his surroundings was glaringly obvious midway through Obama’s remarks.
As Obama listed Crosby’s many accomplishments, Crosby watched intently, nodded and said, “Thank you, Mr. President,” clearly humbled.
The entire event carried with it a humorous tone. Obama opened with a joke about Phil Kessel — gold if you’re looking to get a laugh out of anyone associated with the Penguins.
“Phil Kessel’s still a Stanley Cup champion,” Obama said. Laughter ensued.
Other bits of humor:
• Obama making note of the eight Stanley Cup winners he’s feted being American-based teams, something he said he’s brought up to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
• The obligatory Blackhawks reference, like Doc Emrick and the Penguins on NBC. Obama was describing Sullivan’s start to the 2015-16 season in the minors, a year after working in the Blackhawks’ player development department.
“[General manager Jim Rutherford] was smart enough to see that Sullivan had coached in the Blackhawks organization,” Obama said. “So he knew. He knew Sullivan brought a lot to the table.”
• About midway through, a baby in the corner began crying. Obama kept the laughter coming.
“Don’t worry. I don’t have any more bad jokes,” Obama said. “These are so corny, I know.”
• When the group posed for the obligatory photo, Obama shoved the podium aside and insisted on the Stanley Cup, a mini-replica the Penguins presented him with and his Pittsburgh Gold No. 44 Obama jersey all getting in the shot.
“I want the whole thing,” Obama said. “I only get to do this for four more months.”
In between the laughs, though, visiting White House and meeting the president was not something this group took lightly.
“You don’t wake up too many days and have an opportunity to interact with the president of the United States,” Sullivan said. “I think it was a lot of fun for a lot of us to be a part of it. This is my first experience being at the White House. To have the opportunity to see the history that the White House entails, the portraits on the wall, it’s a really unique experience for us. I guess that’s one of the privileges when you win the Stanley Cup.”
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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