Obama congratulates Penguins on Stanley Cup championship
WASHINGTON — A summer with Stanley behind them and their season opener days away, the Penguins are running out of time to celebrate their 2016 National Hockey League championship.
When they got together Thursday afternoon for one of their final flings with the famous Cup, their master of ceremonies got right into the spirit of the gathering.
A jovial President Obama shook hands and cracked jokes as he welcomed Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins to the East Room of the White House, congratulating the team on its second, bookend-style championship near the end of his last term in office. He also hosted the Penguins after they won the Stanley Cup in 2009 in his first year at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“A lot has changed during the interim,” Obama said. “Back in 2009, my hair matched the color of the puck more than the ice, Sid the Kid was actually a kid, and Geno was still snapping pictures with his flip phone.”
Crosby said the White House visit, in addition to a couple of other events that will take place soon, puts a period on the team's championship run.
“Visiting the White House, then we'll have our ring ceremony and see the banner go up, you start to get ready to turn the page,” Crosby said. “That's basically where we're at the next week or so, getting ready for the season and what's ahead but trying to soak up as much as we can until that point.”
Obama opened his address, which lasted about seven minutes, with a nod to winger Phil Kessel, whose everyman appeal has made him a popular figure among hockey fans across North America except for some in Toronto.
“We are here to celebrate an extraordinary achievement,” Obama said. “Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion.”
Obama spent most of his speech recounting the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup, pointing out significant actors and achievements from along the way.
He acknowledged the depths the Penguins fell to in December before making a coaching change and hiring Mike Sullivan.
“The Pens were closer to last place than first, spirits were low, and when the team designed its 50th anniversary logo for the upcoming season, it referenced the franchise's three Cups because no one imagined they were about to win a fourth,” Obama said.
He lauded general manager Jim Rutherford for turning to Sullivan.
“He was smart enough to see that Sullivan had coached in the (Chicago) Blackhawks organization, so he knew Sullivan brought a lot to the table,” quipped Obama, a former Chicagoan.
Obama praised the Penguins for their off-the-ice performance, promoting charity efforts aimed at promoting physical fitness for children, concussion research and environmental concerns.
While discussing celebrations that players held in the aftermath of the championship, Obama cited center Nick Bonino eating a tuna fish pasta dish out of the Cup with his grandparents and daughter, defenseman Ian Cole taking it to a children's hospital and Crosby handing the Cup to defenseman Trevor Daley first immediately following the clinching victory so Daley's terminally ill mother could see her son raise the trophy.
“That's a testament to the kind of person Sid is, but also the kind of team this is,” Obama said.
The Penguins brought a team with a heavy American influence to the ceremony. Of the 25 players who appeared in at least one playoff game last season, 10 were born in the United States.
Obama noted that all eight Stanley Cup championship teams he invited to the White House during his presidency were based in the United States, something he said he mentioned to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“It's pretty cool,” said Sullivan, a Massachusetts native. “You don't wake up too many days and have the opportunity to interact with the president of the United States.”