Rivals Pens, Flyers come together with Recchi to boost youth hockey
Something unprecedented is taking place this week: The Penguins and Flyers — enemies on good days — are working together for the greater good.
Team Pennsylvania, composed of eight kids from Pittsburgh and seven from Philadelphia, is participating in the Little League World Series of hockey, the Brick Invitational Super Novice Hockey Tournament in Edmonton, Alberta. The team has 9- and 10-year-olds from Pennsylvania.
“We are both interested in the development of youth hockey in Pennsylvania,” said Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse, whose son, Jackson, is a member of the team. “It's been great, honestly.”
The Penguins and Flyers worked together to stage multiple tryouts to dress the best talent from Pennsylvania. This marks the first time a team from Pennsylvania has been invited to the prestigious tournament.
Two “identification camps” — one in Pittsburgh, one in Philadelphia — were held earlier this year.
Organizers also made sure players from central Pennsylvania were included in the selection process, with a few making the squad.
“We've been working since last fall to have a chance to make this happen,” said Rich Hixon, the Penguins' executive director of strategic planning. “It was important for us to get invited to a tournament like this, and having a very competitive team was so important.”
There are 14 teams in the tournament, which concludes Saturday. Seven teams from Canada and seven from the United States are taking part.
Team Pennsylvania organizers wanted not only a talented roster but also a capable coach. They found one, and he happened to have ties to both organizations.
Mark Recchi, who won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 before spending much of his career with the Flyers, is the man behind the bench.
“You really couldn't ask for anybody better,” Morehouse said. “He has put in significant time with the kids. He's just been great.”
Recchi doesn't have a child on the team, but he has a passion for coaching and felt obligated to say yes when given the opportunity.
“I felt like it was the least I could do when you consider what all the game has done for me,” Recchi said. “It's something that I've really enjoyed.”
Recchi was involved in the selection process and recently traveled to Toronto while the newly formed team participated in a tryout.
The Penguins and Flyers, along with partner GNC, have provided significant funding for the event. Many current NHL stars, including Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, have participated in this tournament.
It isn't lost on the Penguins that working with the Flyers is a strange role reversal. However, the Penguins' desire to promote and improve local hockey exceeds any disdain they feel for their biggest rival.
“We've actually worked together quite a bit on all the details,” Hixon said. “It's been a good experience for everyone.”
No one has enjoyed it more than Recchi.
“I have an appreciation for how much youth programs have improved since I came to Pittsburgh a long time ago,” Recchi said. “I just want to see it keep getting better.”