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Penguins notebook: White House visit 'not political,' coach Mike Sullivan says

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 2:24 p.m.
Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan holds the Stanley Cup after exiting the team's airplane at Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday, June 12, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan holds the Stanley Cup after exiting the team's airplane at Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday, June 12, 2017.

A day after announcing they would accept President Donald Trump's invitation to visit the White House to celebrate their 2017 Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins held firm in their stance that their attendance does not constitute a political act.

“It is not political,” coach Mike Sullivan said Monday. “It is simply out of respect for the office of the president and the White House and what it represents for our country and it's respect for the long-standing tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. It's politics aside. It has nothing to do with it.”

Sullivan also said he respected Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's right to keep his team in the locker room for the national anthem before Sunday's game in Chicago.

“We're respectful of every team's or person's decision to express themselves or their rights in the way they choose,” Sullivan said. “The Steelers chose to take a certain route, and the Penguins are respectful of that.”

Defenseman Ian Cole, a Michigan native, said the topic hasn't been discussed extensively in the Penguins locker room.

“Not really,” Cole said. “The team put out a statement, and I think everyone in this room really backs that. I think everyone feels pretty much what they said and respects the office. It's a great opportunity.”

Captain Sidney Crosby echoed those sentiments after an exhibition game in Cranberry on Sunday night.

“I support it,” Crosby said. “It's a great honor for us to be invited there.”

Cole cited last year's visit to the White House as a memorable moment in his career.

“It was really special,” Cole said. “It was my first time there. Getting to see President Obama up close and personal and getting to see how he can walk in and take over a room is something that was very, very impressive. It was really cool.”

Cole said he wasn't surprised the Penguins faced some criticism for their decision to accept Trump's invitation.

“A lot of people are polarized,” Cole said. “That's the beautiful thing about this country. People can believe different things. They can disagree on certain things. When it comes down to it, they come together as a country, and I think the opportunity to visit the White House is an honor, regardless of who is sitting as president.”

New barn

The Penguins paid their first visit to the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for an exhibition game Monday night. Winger Bryan Rust had a good idea of what he was walking into because his brother, Matt, was a project manager involved in construction of the venue.

“He's proud,” Rust said. “He worked really hard with that project. I know he was down there for the grand opening. He loved it. He's excited to see how everyone else likes it.”

Prospect signed

The Penguins added another forward to their prospect pool Monday, signing undrafted winger Sam Miletic to an entry-level NHL contract. Miletic, 20, had a breakout 37-goal season for the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights last season.

“Each day that we see him, each game that he plays, we like him even more,” Sullivan said.

The day after

Sullivan said he spoke to Kris Letang on Monday morning, and the 30-year-old defenseman reported no problems after playing his first game in seven months Sunday night.

“He felt good,” Sullivan said. “I didn't think he was tentative. I thought he was assertive. Obviously there was a little bit of rust there, but we could say that about a lot of our guys at this point. We're thrilled that he got in that first game.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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