By Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter
Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle presented Stanley Cup rings to all full-time employees at PPG Paints Arena
Gerry Kienzl has helped drive the Zamboni, first at Mellon Arena and now at PPG Paints Arena, for the past 43 years.
There's a sign in the Zamboni gate that reads, "Flood like a champion today." And on Monday, Kienzl received a Stanley Cup champion ring to go along with it.
"I can't tell you what this means," Kienzl said. "I'm shaking. I'm actually shaking."
Kienzl is one of three men who have worked six Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins over the decades. Driving the Zamboni is just a small part of his workload, as he helps with all aspects of ice maintenance, including tearing it down and reconstructing it when there are concerts in town.
Making sure the playing surface is perfect for the Penguins isn't an easy job and comes with a lot of pressure, but moments like these make it all worth it.
"This is the penultimate day," he said.
Penguins co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux presented Stanley Cup rings to all of the full-time arena workers this afternoon. Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse joined Lemieux and Burkle in handing out almost 150 Cup rings in a private ceremony in the Lexus Club.
When the employees, most of whom work for AEG and Aramark, were first made aware that this would be happening a few weeks ago, the sentiment was the same.
"I thought it was a joke," Kienzel said with a laugh. "I didn't believe it. If it would have been April Fools, I would have lost it."
Jerry Fauth, who has worked as both an usher and in housekeeping for almost 20 years, agreed with Kienzel.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought it was a joke, April Fools. I thought they were kidding me. Even when I took it home and told my wife she thought, 'you're kidding.'"
But of course, it was no joke. The magnitude of this unprecedented gesture truly sunk in for Kienzl, Fauth and the rest of the people presented with rings during the ceremony on Monday, and the emotions everyone felt were overwhelming.
"This is just phenomenal. It really is," Fauth said. "It really shows how much they care about the people that work for them and it's hard to explain. It just blows you away, really blows you away. Everybody feels that way. We're really grateful for that and we're very appreciative."
Speaking of appreciation, that's exactly what Burkle and Lemieux feel towards everyone - carpenters, electricians, cooks, merchandise workers, housekeepers, security personnel, parking lot supervisors, and the list goes on - who work so hard and such long hours behind the-scenes to keep the building operating smoothly.
"This is something special for Ron and I, to have the opportunity to repay these people who do an amazing job for the Pittsburgh Penguins in this building," Lemieux said. "They are the best in the business and that's the least we could do today, to repay them. They're a part of our team, they're a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins and I'm glad we were able to share this with them today."
Sam Adamese, who began working part-time as an usher four years ago after retirement, said he thought they would receive their rings in a quick ceremony.
He never expected Lemieux and Burkle to personally shake his hand and present him his ring before posing for a photo.
"To be honored like this, it's amazing," Adamese said. "Simply amazing. To meet Mario and Ron, can't ask for anything more. Never expected them to be here."
Karen Renfro was part of the crew that helped build and wire this building when it was first constructed. One of the full-time electricians got sick a month after moving in and Renfro was called to fill in for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks has since turned into seven years.
Throughout that time, Renfro said that Lemieux and Burkle have always done an amazing job of making her crew feel like part of the family. This gesture just drove that home.
"It's an honor and a privilege," she said. "I've always felt like part of the team working. One of our responsibilities is hitting the goal horn when they score, so I was so caught up in all the games most of the time when we were winning. I just feel a part of the family. This means a lot to me.
"It was overwhelming to be in the midst of such greatness, it was wonderful and I'm just excited and thankful and appreciative that they consider us an important part of the Penguins family."