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Behind the scenes with the Penguins at the White House

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
President Donald Trump welcome the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins' head coach Mike Sullivan and General Manager Jim Rutherford Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at the White House.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
President Donald Trump welcome the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins' head coach Mike Sullivan and General Manager Jim Rutherford Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at the White House.

WASHINGTON — Five behind-the-scenes observations from the Penguins' visit Tuesday to the White House.

90 DEGREES DIFFERENT

Aside from the heightened political tension surrounding the visit, the biggest change between a 2016 trip to the White House for the Penguins and Tuesday's visit was the orientation of the East Room.

Last year, the room was set up horizontally, with press stationed in the back and along the sides. From that vantage point, it was easy to see which politicians were in attendance.

This year, the room was set up vertically, with the press cordoned off in the back. It was impossible to tell which dignitaries were in the front row.


PHIL'S SISTER

There's no question which of President Trump's comments created the most backlash online. It was his remarks about Amanda Kessel, the sister of Penguins winger Phil Kessel.

Through her accomplished career at the University of Minnesota, with the U.S. national team and in the National Women's Hockey League, Amanda Kessel is one of the greatest women's hockey players of all time. She has also become a feminist icon of sorts.

"I hear his sister Amanda may be the best hockey player in the family," Trump said. "Is that possible? You know what, I doubt it, OK, but I hear she's really good."

Trump's doubt was not well received.


Photo by Chaz Palla

HE'S GOT JOKES

As is often the case with White House visits by championship teams, many of the president's remarks were lighthearted jokes.

When Trump turned around to introduce Kris Letang — calling him by his nickname, Tanger — he suddenly had a crisis of confidence in his physical appearance.

"Very handsome group of people," Trump said. "In fact, I don't like standing in front of them. We always like unattractive teams."

Trump asked Mario Lemieux whether Sidney Crosby had passed him by in terms of career accomplishments.

"Has he outdone you yet, Mario? I don't know. He's getting close," Trump said.

Trump also mentioned that he is a New York Rangers fan.

"I go to those Ranger games, and you do a lot of bad damage to our Ranger teams," Trump said. "Boy oh boy, you do damage. But that's the way you want to do it. It's called winning, right Sidney?"


Photo by Chaz Palla

TAKING ATTENDANCE

All 19 players currently on the Penguins roster who were on the team last year attended the ceremony at the East Room.

The players missing from the 23-man roster were the ones who are new to the team — winger Ryan Reaves, center Greg McKegg, defenseman Matt Hunwick and goalie Antti Niemi.

None of the players from last year's team who moved on to other clubs attended, although that was the case last year as well.


Photo by Chaz Palla

NOT THE FIRST VISIT

Of the 19 players in attendance Tuesday, four were in the minor leagues at the time of last year's White House visit: forwards Jake Guentzel, Josh Archibald and Carter Rowney and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.

It wasn't the first trip to the White House for Guentzel, though. The University of Minnesota's hockey team was invited to the White House by President George W. Bush in 2003. Mike Guentzel was an assistant coach on that team, and he brought 8-year-old son Jake on the trip.

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

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