Max Malone – Pittsburgh Penguins ‘ Hockey in Pittsburgh Program

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Max Malone, Pittsburgh Penguins ‘ Hockey in Pittsburgh Program (June 29, 2011)

Hockey in Pittsburgh really seems to have improved tremendously with area players like Gibson, Saad, Miller, Trocheck and Houser all ranking high for the NHL draft. What do you attribute this to?

First and foremost, the hard work and dedication of those players paired with the outstanding coaching that is now available in Pittsburgh has led to many talented players coming out of our region.

When hockey first exploded in Pittsburgh in the early 90s due to the arrival of Mario Lemieux and the two Stanley Cups most of the coaches were parents being exposed to hockey for the first time. With this second generation of players coming through the system they are able to learn from more and more coaches who played the game at a high level.  

Also, a lot can be said of the players in our area being able to witness different elite levels of hockey in Pittsburgh from a young age, such as the Men’s and Women’s Programs at Robert Morris University & Merchyhurst College and soon to be PSU Program, the Youngstown Phantoms [USHL] and the different AAA programs in the area.

How does your organization make hockey more accessible to more children in the Pittsburgh region?

We have quite a few programs that make hockey more accessible to children in Pittsburgh, beginning with the distribution of free tickets to children for one of our pre-season games each season, followed by Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins Learn to Play Program which provides free equipment for 1,000 children each season, the YMCA Junior Penguins an after school hockey program for 3,300 children, hosting the 84 Lumber PIHL Penguins Cup Championship at the CONSOL Energy Center and our NHL Hockey is for
Everyone Programs – Pittsburgh ICE, the Steel City Icebergs and the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins.

How does the Penguins organization get involved in these activities?

We are involved in a variety of ways from actually operating camps, clinics or other programs to promoting local events and providing financial support to various organizations.

Where/how do you think you can you improve?

We have been suggesting that it may make sense to restructure the AAA hockey scene in Pittsburgh, by establishing one truly elite program. Currently there are quite a few AAA programs in operation, many of which are competing for the same player or coach year in and year out. We feel that if we can establish one truly dominant AAA Program in Pittsburgh, the level of play will increase at that level which will also benefit our local travel and high-school leagues. Obviously, we do not control any of the teams in the area
but that is one idea we would recommend.

We have also recently established three advisory councils with the help of local youth hockey stakeholders, which will aim to improve all aspects of hockey – financially, systematically and operationally.

The first council is composed of area Ice Rink Owners and Managers and will focus on ensuring sustainability amongst Western Pennsylvania’s network of ice arenas. The second council is a collection of local youth hockey leaders and will focus around improving all aspects of youth hockey. And the third council will focus on increasing participation and visibility of dek and inline hockey.  

Also, we are looking forward to working with the PIRHL [Pennsylvania Interscholastic Roller Hockey League] on continuing to expand inline hockey. Currently, the league operates at five arenas and has three Varsity Leagues, three Junior Varsity Leagues, five Middle School Leagues and three Elementary School leagues. The PIRHL is expanding rapidly and is one of the largest Inline Hockey Leagues in the country.

The Penguins have been highly touted for their involvement in community affairs and the growth of hockey in the region. It appears to a major initiative of the organization – not just “something else they do”. How is this fostered through the organization and why is this so important to the Penguins?

It goes back to the old saying that ‘while a city’s Professional Sports team is a business, it is also a community asset.’ As a thank you for all of the support the team receives, the Penguins Ownership Group and Executives feel that it is important to give the young people of our region opportunities to experience the lessons that can be learned through sports and afford them the opportunity to be exposed to excellence, whether it is through one of our youth programs or witnessing the hard work, dedication and teamwork of our players on television or in the CONSOL Energy Center.

Some of our most recent community initiatives include Hockey in July at the CONSOL Energy Center, the Winter Classic Community Ice Rink at Stage AE, the 84 Lumber PIHL Penguins Cup Championships, the Ultimate Home Game and the Little Penguins Learn to Play Program – all of which are designed to increase exposure and participation in hockey.

Who have been some of the more well-known players to come through the Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network?

To date, there have been over 100 Men and Women from Pittsburgh to play hockey at the NCAA, Professional or Major Junior level, each is just as exceptional as the next.

Recently, we have been highlighting the success of a few local prospects that were drafted at this past weekend’s NHL Entry Draft, they are JT Miller, Brandon Saad, Vincent Trochek and John Gibson – all drafted in the top 64 picks. Ryan Malone, RJ Umberger, Dylan Reese, Christian Hanson Mike Weber and Stanley Cup Winner Matt Bartkowski all put on an NHL Jersey this past season.

Lindsay Holdcroft, a freshmen Goaltender for Dartmouth was named ECAC rookie of the week twice, goaltender of the week and was honorable mention All-Ivy, as a true freshmen. A teammate of Lindsay’s, Erica Dobos, also had a career year for the Big Green. Hockey players from Pittsburgh are making an impact at every level of elite hockey and will continue to do so for many years to come.

What are some of the more successful/exciting programs you offer – and what makes them so?

Our most exciting and successful program is Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins Learn to Play Program. The program offers free hockey equipment for children ages 4 to 7. The program is so exciting to us because through the generosity of Sidney Crosby, Reebok and Dick’s Sporting Goods we have been able to put over 2,200 children on the ice and it is amazing to see the enthusiasm in which the players take their first step on the ice and knowing all of the memories and lessons they will experience through hockey along the way.

Another exciting part of the Little Penguins Program is the number of girls that are now involved, this year 300 signed up for the program. Most of the girls participated in the co-ed program, although we partnered with four local arenas to host ‘Girls Only’ sessions. Girls Hockey in Western Pennsylvania is growing faster than in any other area of the country; participation has increased by 47% since the 2005-06 season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation has recently launched, Heads-Up Pittsburgh, which offers free Baseline IMPACT Concussion testing for all children registered to play hockey in the PAHL, PIHL as well as other local programs registered with USA Hockey. This initiative is groundbreaking and will help any concussed players receive the proper diagnosis and return to the ice in the correct timeframe.

Who are the players that get involved most – how do they do so and any fun anecdotes from their involvement?

All of the members of the team get involved in some way, shape or form including Ray Shero, Dan Bylsma, Todd Reirden and Tony Granato. Of course, Sidney Crosby is a leader amongst the players’ in-terms of community involvement, through the Little Penguins program and the rest of the team follows suit.

The players seem to really enjoy our ‘Drop in on Practice,’ as part of this series we will coordinate with local coaches and team managers to plan the arrival & participation of a Penguins player during their practice – the youth players have no idea. Penguin’s participants included Evegni Malkin, Kris Letang, Max Talbot, Mike Rupp, Mark Letestu, Deryk Engelland, Eric Tangradi, Chris Conner, Eric Godard and Ryan Craig.

Mike Rupp is also very active in the community through the UPMC Outdoor Charity Series and some of his own initiatives.

Any new programs being considered/implemented soon?

Our most recent addition, a Girls Hockey Camp was held last week at the Ice Castle in Castle Shannon, the entire Coaching Staff was female and included US & Canadian National Team Members, local AAA Coaches and Penguins Alumni.

We hope to announce a few additional youth programs shortly, stay tuned!  Also, our three Advisory Councils will open the lines of communication with the youth hockey community and provide direction for future initiatives.

You have a wide array of programs you offer – from Ice hockey to in-line and Dek, women’s hockey and more – how do people get selected/enrolled in these programs?

All of our programs are first come, first served and we utilize all of our marketing platforms to get the information in the hands of the community – pittsburghpenguins.com, TV, Newspaper, Social Media, Email Blasts and in-game advertising.

What have been the most rewarding – and frustrating – elements of the various programs?

The most rewarding piece of our programs is knowing that the Penguins had the opportunity, and hopefully we do, positively influence young lives through hockey.

How has the success for the Penguins made things easier – and harder – for you and your programs?

The success of the Penguins on the ice has definitely created a huge spike in the number of children playing youth hockey.

Participation in both boys and girls hockey has increased by 26% in Pittsburgh since the 2005-06 season.   

The popularity of Hockey in the area is at an all time high and our programs tend to sell out quickly and most arenas are booked solid.

Any last thoughts for readers?

We are focused on introducing children to the game of hockey and hope to encourage and promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

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