Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 25

The Stanley Cup awaits the arrival of the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. President Barack Obama. (Bill Wellman/HHOF)
Through the summer, the Stanley Cup has gone fishing, visited hospitals, held sundaes and raised funds for worthwhile causes. On Thursday, September 10, the Pittsburgh Penguins took the Stanley Cup to visit the most powerful and influential world leader, United States President Barack Obama.

Prior to the White House visit, several of the Penguins, joined by pioneering NHL alumnus Willie O'Ree, conducted a hockey clinic for youngsters at the Fort Dupont Ice Rink in Washington, DC, all part of President Obama's 'United We Serve' campaign to encourage volunteerism. The rink is home to the oldest minority hockey program in the United States, and O'Ree heads the NHL's diversity program. Willie made history on January 18, 1958 when he dressed for the Boston Bruins in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in the NHL.

Shortly after 6:00pm, the Penguins were led to the East Room, where a riser had been situated. Each of the Pittsburgh players, along with owner Mario Lemieux, team president David Morehouse, general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma, were standing there as President Barack Obama entered the Green Room. "It's an indication that in a year's time, a lot can happen," the coach later said, shaking his head. In the past twelve months, Bylsma had gone from coaching in the American Hockey League, to the Penguins and on to Stanley Cup renown!

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions to the White House.
(Bill Wellman/HHOF)
The President apologized as he entered the Green Room. "First of all, I'm sorry to keep you guys waiting. I have all these things I've got to do as President," he said, as the Penguins chuckled. "This is by far the most fun thing that I'm doing today, so welcome to the White House. We are extraordinarily pleased to have the world champion Pittsburgh Penguins."

President Obama was very casual and friendly in his remarks, teasing the players about their scruffy facial hair sported during the post-season. "All of you look pretty good without your playoff beards," he smiled, then turned to the spectators present and remarked, "They're pretty good looking guys without all that."

A sports enthusiast, President Obama saluted the City of Pittsburgh. "I want to congratulate all the fans back home who made Mellon Arena such a tough place for visiting teams this year. With the Steelers and the Penguins I guess it's a good time to be a sports fan in Pittsburgh!" Smirking, the President added, "It's been awhile since Chicago won anything, Coach, and I'm not happy about that." As the Penguins laughed, he said, "As many of you know, I have a special place in my heart for Pittsburgh, so if it can't be the Blackhawks, then the Penguins aren't a bad choice."

The President acknowledged several of the off-ice personnel who contributed so significantly to the Penguins' success. "I want to thank Coach Dan for being here. Not only did Dan win the Stanley Cup in his first season as head coach -- that does not happen very often -- but he also brought a new sense of purpose and excitement to the team, and made sure his players had a little fun along the way. And having Mario Lemieux here is a pretty big deal. He won a couple of these trophies as a player, but this is his first as an owner, and he's still got a big smile on his face, so I guess it feels pretty good this way, too!"

Then, it was the President's turn to address the players. "This team would not be here without two of its youngest members, so first of all, I want to congratulate Sidney Crosby on becoming the youngest captain in history to win the Stanley Cup. And Evgeni Malkin for being the third-youngest player ever to be named playoff MVP." Malkin beamed when his name was mentioned, and waved from his spot behind the President. Later, he used his cellphone to snap a picture of Mr. Obama, which drew guffaws from teammates and spectators alike.

Dan Bylsma and the Penguins were guests of U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Bill Wellman/HHOF)
"You know, we've had a lot of championship teams visit the White House," continued the President. "I've seen a lot of trophies. There is something special about the Stanley Cup, other than it just being really big. Winning this trophy takes a whole new level of sacrifice. It takes a group of players who can persevere through injuries and pain and setbacks and seven-game series. Above all, it takes a team that is willing to stick together, because nobody wins the Stanley Cup on their own. And that's why, after the last buzzer sounded back in June, these players took the Cup on the road to say thank you to all the people who helped get them here. They took it on fishing trips and stopped by neighbourhood barbeques. They visited elementary schools and brightened the days of children recovering in the hospital. I think this Cup has even held a baby or two. So this is a team that understands that being a champion doesn't end when you step off the ice".

"That's what the Stanley Cup is all about -- not just having your names engraved alongside the best players in history, but also giving back to others along the way. And this spirit of service helps to strengthen our communities, it strengthens our country and I know this team gets a lot in return for it as well. So I want to again just say congratulations for your outstanding season, for not just your athleticism, but also your sportsmanship. Coach, we're very proud of you. Thank you very much."

Dan Bylsma stepped up to the microphone and responded to President Obama, saying, "Mr. President, it's certainly an honour and a privilege to receive the invitation to come here today, and the hospitality you showed our team and our families and the organization. It was very gracious and we appreciate it very much. And on behalf of all the people in our organization, but especially the players behind me, we'd like to present you with a jersey." Sidney Crosby then presented Mr. Obama with a black Pittsburgh Penguins' jersey with the number 44 and a captain's 'C' stitched on the breast. The President was pleased. "This is what I'm talking about," he laughed, holding the jersey aloft for all to see. As the applause began to die down, President Obama added an exclamation point to the proceedings. "Sidney must be really fast because there are some big hockey players…and he's not one of them! But you know he's got some speed and some skill. Thank you everybody, we are thrilled!"

After the ceremony concluded, coach Dan Bylsma stood in awe at what had just transpired. "There are not many places in the United States that you really feel a deep sense of history, and today, you're amongst it," he said. "It's a really unique feel about history and the things you learn from a textbook, and now you're standing in a place where a lot of that history took place. From my standpoint, that's one you don't really get too often."

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On Friday, the Stanley Cup Journal will take the black and gold to the greens and tell you about the Penguins' golf tournament. Fore!!!!

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Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame. www.kevinsheahockey.com



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