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Penguins welcome local police officer

| Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

Overcoming two, 2-0 best-of-seven series deficits and winning two Game 7s on the road during the Stanley Cup playoffs didn't seem like such a difficult task to the Penguins on Tuesday.

"Nope, not after that story," defenseman Mark Eaton said following a practice at Mellon Arena that was capped by coach Dan Bylsma introducing to his players Steve Mitrisin, a Pittsburgh Police officer who missed a lot of big sports events in his hometown after being deployed to Iraq as part of the National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade last fall.

Standing on the Igloo's ice alongside wife Kristin, Steven Mitrisin was saluted by Penguins players with the longstanding hockey show of respect -- repeated tapping of stick blades.

"It's the least we could do," said Eaton, who nearly attended the United States Military Academy before choosing to play hockey at Notre Dame. "Guys like Steve are real heroes."

While deployed, Mitrisin missed the Steelers' Super Bowl win, the Penguins' Cup victory and, most importantly, the birth of his first son, Tyler, last Valentine's Day. Before his deployment -- actually because of his deployment -- Mitrisin had to elope with Kristin, his Pittsburgh Police Academy sweetheart, because they weren't blessed with a year to plan their wedding.

Though the Mitrisins said they are blessed with a healthy baby boy and supportive family, friend and colleagues, members of the Penguins organization were the ones who felt blessed yesterday when Steve Mitrisin said their Cup run helped his brigade through "a difficult couple of months" at their station in Diyala Province.

Even a parade, a ring and his named etched onto the Cup for eternity couldn't provide the degree of warmth experienced by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby upon hearing Mitrisin thank him for giving troops a reason to stay positive last spring.

"It's not the first time I've heard it, and it means a lot," Crosby said, later joking that Mitrisin's brigade -- a split of servicemen from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- was "perfect for team morale."

Actually, it was perfect for Mitrisin and the 56th Brigade, which looked forward to the distraction of following the first-round playoff series between the Penguins and Flyers on the Internet.

Mitrisin especially enjoyed celebrating the Penguins' Cup victory at the behest of his Philadelphia-based unit -- even if he only "got to see one or two games" during the playoffs.

Of course, even that wasn't his most pleasant Penguins-related surprise.

He had no idea a trip to meet the champs was in his immediate future when he woke up yesterday. Accompanied by a documentary film crew from Discovery Military Channel that followed the Mitrisins around Pittsburgh for a segment that will air Veteran's Day on the series premiere of "Return Salute," Steve Mitrisin thought his morning would include "walking around Pittsburgh" and "just filming us in different places."

His wife had known for a month that the Penguins had agreed to welcome the Mitrisins to a practice, where he'd meet and mingle with franchise icon and co-owner Mario Lemieux, general manager Ray Shero and coaches and players.

It was all she could do not to blow the surprise when her husband nearly left their Westwood home in a pair of scuffed sneakers.

"I think I did pretty well because he had no idea," Kristin said, adding that she slyly made sure Steve dressed appropriately -- meaning dressier footwear and awed smile he sported while shaking hands with players. Injured Penguins forward Max Talbot targeted every teammate to autograph a No. 56 jersey personalized for Mitrisin.

"People called me a hero for those goals in Game 7," Talbot said of his two scores in the Cup-clincher at Detroit last June. "No way. This guy is a hero. Those guys over there are heroes. We're honored by them, you know."

Additional Information:

Discovering a hero

'Return Salute' is a new series on Discovery Military Channel that will premiere at 10 p.m. on Veteran's Day, which is Nov. 11. The first broadcast will include a segment on Pittsburgh police officer Steve Mitrisin, also a member of the National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade who was deployed in Iraq last year - thus missing the birth of his first son and the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup. His background:

• Was in basic training for the Army during terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001

• First military assignment was with 'The Old Guard,' the Army's oldest active regiment

• Serves Pittsburgh Police in Zone 2, which covers the central business district, Strip District and Polish Hill

• Wife Kristin serves Pittsburgh Police in Zone 6, which includes Windgap, West End and Brookline

• Deployed in Fall 2008 to Diyala Province in Iraq; while there he missed birth of first son, Tyler, on Valentine's Day and championship victories by the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII and the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final

• Attended Penguins practice Tuesday as club's special guest; received a No. 56 Penguins sweater autographed by players, coaches and team personnel, and four tickets to game tonight against Coyotes

Sources: Discovery Military Channel; City of Pittsburgh; and Pittsburgh Penguins

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