by Carson Mason @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins
After a morning of on-ice skill sessions and drills, the Pittsburgh Penguins development camp prospects spent their Thursday afternoon giving back to the community.
In partnership with Hockey Operations and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation hosted hockey clinics at three Pittsburgh-area locations: Richland Park, North Park and the Baierl YMCA.
Approximately 50 elementary-aged children, who were decked out in gold "Jr. Penguins Prospect" t-shirts, attended each clinic location. The Pens prospects bonded with the children, working on stick-handling, scoring and saves through mini-games and drills.
"For me, it's not about the drills. It's more just about being around the kids," said defenseman Joseph Masonius, Pittsburgh's sixth-round pick in 2016, at the North Park location. "I'm from a really big family. I've got a lot of siblings and they're getting older, so it's fun to be around kids this age."
"Personally, it's probably like the best part of being an athlete. Being able to help people," added Masonius.
Defenseman Antti Palojarvi, who is in his second stint at development camp, also enjoyed the opportunity.
"It's fun to do something else other than hanging around at the rink," Palojarvi said. "The kids are really happy, so it's nice for them."
According to president of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation Dave Soltesz, the Penguins organization digs deeper when it comes to finding prospects with good character and community skills.
"Probably one of the most important things about prospect camp is for the organization to see how these players react, whether it be on the ice or not," Soltesz said. "More importantly, our organization is about doing things in the community. At an early age, these young rookies or however you want to term them, introducing them to how the Penguins Foundation interacts with the community."
Finnish prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist, who was at Richland Park clinic on Thursday, took part in a similar event when he was a kid. He participated in a Teemu Selanne's summer youth hockey academy in Finland and had the opportunity to learn from several Finnish NHL players.
"It's awesome," Bjorkqvist said of the clinic. "This is the time when you fall in love with the game when it's all about hockey. It's not about anything else. It's not about the business. It's just about playing and loving the game. This is the sport at its purest if you ask me."
Similar to Bjorkqvist, goalkeeper Alex D'Orio was reminded of the time he spent growing up a hockey player and fan.
"I played ball hockey when I was young," D'Orio said. "I didn't have the chance to do something like this, because I'm from Quebec, but it made me remember the old times when I was at their age, like 7 or 8."
While bonding with the clinic attendees, the Pens prospects also used the time as an opportunity to grow closer with each other.
"Last year was my first time here and everyone was new," Palojarvi said. "I didn't know the staff. Now, I know some of the guys and coaches, so it's easier to be here. It's nice."
For Masonius and other prospects, the clinics reassured the importance of serving as a positive role model in the community.
"I think it's probably one of the biggest things an organization, like Pittsburgh, can do," Masonius said. "Give back to their fans. Obviously, kids are the future of hockey. Helping them develop and showing them a good example is a huge part of their motivation to play hockey. Coming out here and being able to do it is fun for us, and it's good for the kids, too."
"They're going to be watching the Penguins on TV, like all of us did when we were young," D'Orio added. "For them, it's going to be a great experience that they're going to remember for the rest of their life."