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Pens honor military veterans

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 6:33 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The Penguin' Brooks Orpik signs a personalized jersey for Marine Brian Baum, of Blue Knob during a Wounded Warrior Project sponsored meet & greet Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at CONSOL Energy Center.

Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik and Craig Adams might have been a bit late for Penguins team meetings following Wednesday's morning skate.

They'll be forgiven.

Crosby, Orpik and Adams were engrossed in conversations with ALS veterans Robert Beiswenger and Michael Testa, two of the 11 veterans the Penguins hosted at Consol Energy Center.

“This is great that we do it,” Orpik said. “There are a couple of us that do it throughout the year. This one obviously gets the most media attention, but there are guys in our locker room that bring servicemen and (service)women in on a game-by-game basis. I think there is a lot of admiration and respect for those guys throughout the year.”

The Penguins invited 11 decorated veterans to the morning skate, a meet-and-greet in the locker room, lunch in Suite 66 and their game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Veterans included members of the Wounded Warrior Project and ALS and “Hockey Saves” veterans.

“Just an absolute pleasure to have them here,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Hosting veterans on or around Veterans Day has become tradition for the Penguins, who wore camouflage uniforms during their morning skate and pregame warm-up. The uniforms will be autographed and auctioned at NHL.com.

Proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project, Austin's Military Playroom at the new Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.

“It's really nice getting to know these guys a little bit and hearing about the sacrifices that they have made,” center Joe Vitale said. “It's pretty incredible.”

The veterans also enjoyed their time.

“What an amazing thing they did for us,” Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Brian Baum said. “I can't think of anything better than meeting these guys and getting to see them play up close.”

Niskanen said the veterans are “the very definition of what it is to be a hero.”

Army Staff Sgt. John Isenberg is a member of the Hockey Saves program, which is a bridge between American troops and the sport many of them love.

He is delighted the Penguins have made such a fuss over veterans.

“I owe me being here to the Hockey Saves program,” he said. “And the more I'm around hockey, the more I realize what wonderful dudes there are in this game.”

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who will coach the U.S. hockey team in the 2014 Winter Olympics, delayed his daily news conference so he could meet the veterans.

“The true lesson is from them and their sacrifice,” Bylsma said. “What they've given is something we can't match. We certainly appreciate that from them, and hopefully we showed them today.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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