BANFF – Hundreds of cheering minor hockey players from Banff and Canmore turned out to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday (Oct. 21) at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre arena for two team practice sessions in the resort town.
Even more fans waited outside the arena to catch a glimpse of the Penguins players, including captain Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin, who stopped to sign autographs for the crowd.
“We’re used to it,” said Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford with a chuckle. “When you have Sid and Geno, and Phil and Letang and Murray and these guys, we have a pretty big following.”
But what might seem ordinary for Rutherford, was the thrill of a lifetime for many young hockey fans. For members of the Banff Bear’s Peewee team, a chance to watch how the professionals do things was an experience they won’t forget any time soon.
“It’s really cool to see the Penguins here today because they’re my favourite team,” said Bear’s player Tony Koo, who knows the names of every member of the Penguins off by heart and won’t hesitate to rattle them off if asked.
His teammates Sophie Sibbald, Maggie O’Connor, and Robson Horyn agreed with him that it was exciting to watch the Penguins playing on their home rink in Banff. Members of the Bear’s Peewee team huddled together, clutching hockey cards and trading gasps as members of the Penguins ran through their drills on the ice.
“It’s really cool to see the players and to compare them to us and to think that we could do that when we grow up one day,” said Horyn.
“It’s amazing what these NHLers can do. It’s really cool all the moves they can do and how fast their shots can be,” said Koo, jumping up and down with excitement.
The players themselves appreciated the stop in the picturesque town, as it offers them an escape from the cities they normally stay in. For their time in Banff, the Penguins planned team dinners, as well as a trip up the Sulphur Mountain Gondola.
“I mean, it’s a really long season for us, so if we have some time off that we can kind of spend here and kind of relax and get away from the stress and everything. I think it’s going to be good for the team,” said Penguins third line centre Derick Brassard.
“Just to see the view and everything. Just to feel some fresh air, that would be amazing. We don’t get the chance to do that very often living in Pittsburgh or living in any of the cities we grew up in the summers.”
Brassard, who was traded to Pittsburgh last season before the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators, has been to Banff once before with the New York Rangers. He was excited for the potential a trip to Banff has to help him build chemistry with the new members of his team. Right winger Patric Hörnqvist agreed with Brassard about the value the road trip has for the team.
“It’s a beautiful little village (Banff), and obviously a lot of fun things to do,” said Hörnqvist. “It’s kind of unique to see these mountains, we don’t do that every day.”
“It means a lot. We haven’t had any road trips this year and this is our first, and it’ll be fun to walk around with boys today in the village and see some different things we’re not used to and get together as a group, and when you do that you know you’re going to play better, so this is huge for us.”