Sidney Crosby laces up his skates many times a week during the hockey season, but this was different. Squatting in front of two elementary school girls, the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center helped them try on winter boots, carefully tightening and tying the laces, then gently helping them put their own shoes back on and tying those, too.
The two girls, Olivia and Selena, were under Crosby’s charge for a while Monday afternoon as the team’s players took part in the annual Penguins Personal Shopping Day, part of the Salvation Army and WTAE-TV Project Bundle-Up.
After participating in a team practice at Consol Energy Center, the players showered and headed north to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Cranberry. There, they each pulled on their game jersey and set out with one or two children from the bus load that had arrived from the Canon-McMillan School District. Through gift cards, Dick’s and the Salvation Army donated the cost of new coats, boots, hats and gloves for the low- and low-middle-income school kids. The Penguins Foundation also supports Project Bundle-Up.
“They feel like little princes and princesses because they know that they’re getting their winter outerwear.” Director of Project Bundle-Up Melissa Fereday said of the 28 children at the outing. “But to have a celebrity help them pick it out and try it on, they’re all really excited about it.
“And then some of them are really excited just to get a new pair of boots. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
For an hour or so, the children’s clothing area on the second floor of the store was dotted with men in Penguins black home jerseys and youngsters in bright yellow T-shirts.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi was one of the first players to arrive at the store. He met Joe and a different Olivia (a popular name among girls, apparently).
“Want to do boots first?” Scuderi asked. He checked the shoe size on the information card that every player got for their pint-size shoppers, then dropped to his knees to sift through rows of winter boots hunting for the proper size in the styles that Joe and Olivia liked.
About that time, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo set out with Aydin and suggested they start with a coat. Aydin, being a boy through and through, balked.
“You don’t like coats? Well, you need a coat,” Bortuzzo said.
They settled on a two-tone navy and medium blue coat and Aydin somewhat reluctantly tried it on.
“Oh, this is sharp. You’ve got good taste,” Bortuzzo said, and he wondered about the fit. “How are your arms? Move around a little and see how it feels.”
Back at the boots display, winger Pascal Dupuis and his shopper, a boy named Braiden, picked out a pair and decided to look for a coat. Dupuis has a large family, four children, and an equally large wit. So he teased Braiden, “The pink and purple coats are that way. Let’s go.”
Someone from a group of media and sponsor representatives asked the outgoing girl what she wanted to be when she grows up.
“I want to be a broadcaster,” Olivia announced with conviction.
“I think you’ve come to the right place,” Crosby said, smiling.
Selena picked white boots with pink accents. Olivia chose dark boots with purple accents.
“They aren’t too big, are they?” Crosby asked Olivia, poking a finger into the outside of the toe area of the boot to feel where her feet were like a veteran shoe salesman.
“They’re comfortable. They’re real comfortable,” Olivia said.
The color preferences of Crosby’s shoppers were set.
“What’s next? Coats?” Crosby said. “Let me guess – purple and pink.”
Olivia offered, “I have a big furry coat at home. It’s not comfortable.”
Crosby smiled, something he did a lot Monday afternoon. “All right,” he said. “We’re going to fix that.”
As they headed toward the coat racks, they passed center Evgeni Malkin and his shopper, Justin, who already had a bag full of winter items. Before Maklin and Justin went to check out, they stopped by a new feature for this, the eighth year of the Penguins participation – an open photo booth.
The players and their assigned shoppers didn’t just pose for photos; they did so after picking out accoutrement from a table of oversized glasses, boas and other comical items.
As defenseman Paul Martin was leaving the photo booth, he planted a fuzzy green and yellow boa on Malkin, who also put on a huge pair of glasses with pink frames and green lenses. Justin put on a matching boa and a pair of shades with an attached fake moustache.
Crosby and his two shoppers were on to the gloves by then. They were joined by Scuderi and his two shoppers, who found out at checkout that they had some excess on their gift cards, so they were looking at more gloves.
Finally, Crosby and the two girls hit the photo booth, Crosby in huge green glasses and the girls in glasses and boas. After the short photo session, Olivia repeated her earlier exclamation, this time raising both arms. “This is the best day ever!”’
The Penguins’ outing is one of 33 corporate sponsored Project Bundle-Up shopping events this year. The Steelers held one earlier this month at Macy’s in Ross Park Mall. The Pirates also participate.
“This is easy. We enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of fun for us,” Crosby said. “I think all the kids have fun. Get some new stuff. It’s a great afternoon.”
He looked at Olivia and Selena.
“Everything went pretty smoothly, didn’t it?” he said. “Had all the sizes, and the girls knew what colors they liked. They made it easy on me.”