Penguins' visit to White House had different feel

There were the usual handshakes, smiles and jokes that accompany the reigning Stanley Cup champion’s annual visit to the White House. Still, there was a different feel throughout the Pittsburgh Penguins' time in the Oval Office on Tuesday, particularly early on.

'Funny, charming' President Trump praises 2-time defending Stanley Cup champs

Penguins co-owners, Ron Burkle, left, and Mario Lemieux, right, along with first lady Melania Trump crack a smile as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at Tuesday's event at the White House honouring the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

There were the usual handshakes, smiles, jokes and one-liners that accompany the reigning Stanley Cup champion's annual visit to the White House.

Still, there was a different feel Tuesday afternoon as Sidney Crosby, his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates, general manager Jim Rutherford, head coach Mike Sullivan and support staff filed into the Oval Office in Washington ahead of team owners Ron Burkle, Mario Lemieux and U.S. President Donald Trump.

At first, the players appeared very serious — did anyone crack a smile? — until several in the audience broke the ice with a "Let's Go Pens" chant.

After greeting a few team personnel, Trump approached the podium to declare: "By the way, everybody wanted to be here today."

All current Penguins players on last year's team were expected at the White House. In recent weeks, many took to Twitter, imploring the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions to stay away following Trump's comments less than a month ago when he said National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem.

Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner" to protest the treatment of blacks by police. In Trump's view, those players are disrespecting the flag and should lose their jobs.

Last month, Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry said he wasn't in favour of a potential visit to the White House with his teammates following their championship win last season. Trump later rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA team.

Unseen on Tuesday were the usual gifts a championship team brings to the White House, including a personalized jersey. Last year, the Penguins presented Barack Obama with a jersey featuring his name and No. 44 on the back as the 44th President of the United States.

For the most part, Trump stayed on track with the Penguins' recent accomplishments, but took time to tell those affected by the recent hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that "we'll be here for you in a time of tragedy and need."

"We stand in solidarity," are the words he shared with those affected by the recent Las Vegas shooting.

Trump then turned to Burkle and praised his ability to negotiate before inviting him to get involved in re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump lauded the Penguins for their 111-point season a year ago, calling them "a great group of world champions" before he singled out several players, starting with team captain Sidney Crosby, who had insisted leading up to the team's White House visit that "there's absolutely no politics involved" in the decision to attend.

"Do you know how to win or what," Trump said to Crosby, last year's playoff MVP who seemed content on keeping his distance from the president, prompting Trump to say, "Are you shy? … You have built an incredible legacy in Pittsburgh. Has he outdone you, Mario?"

Other players Trump recognized were forwards Evgeni Malkin ("the other half of the two-headed monster," a beaming Phil Kessel (the lone Penguin to approach the podium to shake Trump's hand), goalie Matt Murray, up-and-coming forwards Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary and defencemen Justin Schultz and Kris Letang.

"You are true, true champions and incredible patriots," Trump told the players as first lady Melania Trump stood behind the president.

Trump later said the Penguins "are ready for the challenge" of trying to win three consecutive Stanley Cups for the first time since the New York Islanders of the early 1980s.

That was Crosby and company's cue, so the players left the room, one by one, to Tina Turner's hit single Simply the Best.


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