What an assist! Penguins lend a hand for Valentine’s Day charity gala
More than 800 fans spent Valentine’s Day with the hockey team they love.
The second annual Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation’s “Night of Assists: The Sweetheart Swing” charity gala presented by Highmark took place Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan, with wife Kate, called the event one of the more enjoyable things the players do throughout the season.
“It’s about helping the community that supports us and a way to interact with the fan base,” Sullivan said. “And it’s for a great cause.”
The foundation’s mission is to promote physical well-being, encourage teamwork, stress the value of education and provide essential life skills to young people in the community through hockey and other activities.
Proceeds will benefit the foundation’s youth initiatives and special needs programs for children throughout Western Pennsylvania.
The latest theme was “Spit Shine Your Shoes … We’re Going Dancin.’
And dance they did.
This soiree took guests back in time to the 1940s glam era where many women wore flappers, beaded head pieces, pearls, and swing dresses. Men donned suspenders, bow ties and pinstripe suits.
The Penguins players donned newsboy caps, suspenders and bow ties.
Emcee Dan Potash of AT&T Sportsnet hosted the event in the center of the arena atop the Sweetheart Stage, where he invited everyone to cut the rug with big band music playing.
There was a silent auction with items such as Fly with the Pens, a chance to take a flight with the team during the 2019-20 season, a trip to Hawaii, as well as an opportunity to play human bubble hockey for a guest and five friends on the ice during intermission of the April 4 game.
Pens captain Sidney Crosby poured wine and mixed drinks at a bar, having to ask for an assist from one of the full-time bartenders on a concoction he hadn’t heard of.
The bartender walked him through the process, beginning with adding ice into the glass.
“Ice, yes ice, I know all about ice,” Crosby said. “That’s an important part. You can’t forget the ice.”
Crosby waited on a line of guests, some three and four people deep, always with a smile and stopping between pours to get in a photo.
Trib Total Media sponsored an earlier VIP reception.
During player introductions, the team wore Pittsburgh Hornet red-and-white jerseys. The players autographed them before they were auctioned.
The event raised over $450,000.
Dave Soltesz, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation said over the past year they’ve built two new dek hockey rinks, grew its youth hockey programming and created the We Are The Future program recognizing young leaders in area high schools.
They’ve also expanded efforts focused on mental health and well being through the COOL Zone program and Streets for Strength initiative driven by the players.
“Tonight, you are part of our team,” Soltesz said. “Tonight, together with the Pens, we toast the same goal … charity. Thanks to your ticket purchase, auction bids and donations, you will assist in furthering our mission, which is focused on building a better and brighter future for our youth in the Pittsburgh region.”
General manager Jim Rutherford, with wife Leslie, said the Night of Assists is a more interactive evening for fans and players than other events.
“Some events can be awkward, but pouring some drinks and playing some cards is easy and fun,” Rutherford said. “The players love it. I realize it is happening during the season, but it is part of our business, and it’s important to do this for the Penguins Foundation which helps so many people. It’s so well run you would think you are in Disneyland.”
In the crowd, we spotted Penguins vice-president of communications Tom McMillan, Lauren and Stephanie Lemieux, Colby and Melissa Armstrong, Bryan and Jen Trottier, KDKA’s Bob Pompeani with Lisa and their daughter Celina Pompeani and Mac Mathison, ESPN’s Stan Savran, Trib Total Media president and CEO Jennifer Bertetto with husband Keith, WPXI’s Alby Oxenreiter, and artist Tom Mosser, who was wearing skates doing a live painting of a penguin using a hockey stick as a brush.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, email@example.com or via Twitter .