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North Huntingdon boy practices with Penguins

| Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, 3:54 p.m.
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team that took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest attended a Penguins game on Feb. 13, 2018. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is third from the left in the front row. On the right is his father Scott Thomas, an assistant coach.
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Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team that took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest attended a Penguins game on Feb. 13, 2018. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is third from the left in the front row. On the right is his father Scott Thomas, an assistant coach.
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is fourth from the right, in front.
Submitted
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is fourth from the right, in front.
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is fifth from the left.
Submitted
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is fifth from the left.
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is third from left, in front.
Submitted
Players on the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black team took first place in the Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest. Norwin's Alexander Thomas is third from left, in front.

A 12-year-old North Huntingdon boy expects to be a better hockey player after an experience he and his youth teammates had as part of a contest they won.

Alexander Thomas is a member of the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black that took first place in the Dick's Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” contest.

Among the prizes they received was a practice session with Penguins assistant coaches Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Mike Buckley on Feb. 12 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

Thomas, a Norwin sixth-grader, said it was awesome practicing with the coaches.

“They taught us transition skills and then let us do a shootout at the end of practice,” he said.

Youth athletic teams consisting of students up to eighth grade from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio or Maryland were invited to submit a photograph or one-minute video and a short description in January that showed how sports matter to them.

A spokeswoman for Dick's Sporting Goods said 20 videos were received.

The 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black, which has 17 members, submitted a video explaining why sports are important and what hockey has meant to them.

Among other team members, Thomas — with cleats draped around his neck — is shown in his hockey uniform saying he also plays soccer and that he has learned about perseverance through sports.

Team manager Laura Burkhart said parents put together the video.

In addition to the practice session, the team, plus chaperones, earned tickets to a party suite at a Penguins game Feb. 13 at PPG Paints Arena.

Thomas said he had a great time watching the Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators with his teammates.

“I really enjoyed the nachos,” he said.

Scott Thomas, an assistant coach with the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Black, attended the practice session with his son.

He said before taking to the ice, team members watched the Penguins practice and were amazed by how perfectly they passed. He said they learned how important it is to be a good skater after watching the NHL team fly around the rink.

“(They saw) why every drill serves a purpose and why they should give their all, whether it being a tip drill or a shot through traffic,” Scott Thomas said.

Recchi, a former Penguins player, said he liked working with the group.

“I always enjoy going on the ice with the kids,” he said. “Their excitement reminds you of your own excitement as a child.

“Sports has been a positive influence in the lives of my own children, and I am grateful that I was able to share my success with them. I think the ‘Sports Matter' initiative by Dick's Sporting Goods does a great job supporting and emphasizing the importance of youth sports.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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