It’s only been a couple of weeks since Kris Letang scored into an empty net to ice the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on March 10.
That win, led by season MVP Evgeni Malkin and including contributions from depth players like Evan Rodrigues and underperformers like Justin Schultz, felt like a big step in the right direction for the team, coming after a lost weekend where they were soundly beaten twice at home by the Washington Capitals, 5-2, and Carolina Hurricanes, 6-2.
Yes, that was only a couple of weeks ago. It only feels like another lifetime since, a night later, the sports world began grinding to a halt – followed by the rest of the country – in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In case the NHL needed proof it did the right thing bringing a halt to the season the day after the NBA did the same after a player tested positive for COVID-19, the Ottawa Senators’ situation tells them all they needed to know. The Senators have had at least two players test positive, and are awaiting results for six more people who made the club’s recent West Coast trip. The Senators played the L.A. Kings March 11 at Staples Center, a day after the Lakers played the Brooklyn Nets, who had four players test positive for the virus.
As the global case count rises and many U.S. states, cities and other jurisdictions go into shutdown mode, the prospect of hockey returning anytime soon feels increasingly unrealistic – and, compared to the lives and jobs being lost, increasingly inconsequential. With their season on ice, though, the Penguins have been stepping up to help the community during this unprecedented time.
Paying arena workers
Just one day after the season officially came to a halt on March 12, the Penguins became among the first NHL organizations to announce a plan to pay full- and part-time arena and service employees at PPG Paints Arena, who are losing income on the games, as well as the many other events being canceled or postponed.
The funding is coming from Penguins players, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation. It will cover those workers for the six regular-season games the Penguins had left when the NHL season was brought to a halt.
“The ushers, ticket takers, concession workers, cleaning staff and other arena workers are the backbone of a Penguins hockey game at PPG Paints Arena, and a big part of the Penguins family,” said Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse. “Our owners, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and our players, led by Sidney Crosby, thought it was essential to help them through this. We have come together to ensure that they will not lose pay because of the pause in our season.”
Feeding neighbors in need
A few days later, the Penguins and their partners at Aramark announced that they’d been donating 2,000 pounds of perishable food items to 412 Food Rescue for distribution to local organizations and neighbors in need. That ton of food would’ve otherwise spoiled due to the arena event cancellations.
412 Food Rescue is a local agency that connects restaurants and food service organizations to food shelters and pantries that serve residents in need.
“We are all trying to do our best to help our community during this difficult time,” Morehouse said. “We know that 412 Food Rescue will do a great job of distributing this food from PPG Paints Arena to those in need.”
Supporting community groups
Since the Penguins won’t be using the special St. Patrick’s Day jerseys they planned to wear for warmups Sunday, March 15, against the New York Islanders, they’re auctioning them off to benefit local charitable efforts, including food banks and other community groups working on behalf of those affected by the pandemic.
In addition to the green jerseys, which are unique each season, the Penguins Foundation auction also includes a selection of autographed pucks. It goes from March 17 to 24 at pensjersey.givesmart.com.
Partnering for jobs
In an economy where unemployment is heading toward historic highs, one business that needs more help is the local grocery store. In Pittsburgh Giant Eagle is among the biggest, and the Penguins and Primanti Bros., famous for their sandwiches topped with French fries and cole slaw, are two of the first brands to help give displaced workers the chance to go to work.
Through these partnerships, PPG Paints Arena workers and Primanti restaurant employees displaced by the pandemic will have the opportunity to join Giant Eagle’s store teams as that company works to provide a safe and clean environment for the community to shop for needed food, medicine and household items.
“Supermarkets, pharmacies and fuel stations are critical community resources right now,” said Laura Shapira Karet, Giant Eagle, Inc., president and CEO. “I continue to be amazed by the commitment and compassion of our Giant Eagle and GetGo Team Members, and thank the PPG Paints Arena workers and Primanti Bros. restaurant employees who have stepped up to help us get this important work done.”
“We have a well-trained, loyal and hardworking arena workforce, and we are happy to provide priority job opportunities to help them and their families during this time of need,” Morehouse said. He added that more than 700 arena employees were being provided with jobs through the partnerships.
Giant Eagle is still looking to hire hundreds of people across numerous areas of business, including in stores, at warehouse facilities and as truck drivers. Those interested can apply at Jobs.GiantEagle.com.
Finally, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and Morehouse are taking voluntary pay cuts to ensure that other members of the team’s staff are less impacted financially. As reported by Mike DeFabo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the execs stepped up to ensure “that members of the hockey staff, office employees or other individuals within the organization won’t feel the financial burden of the crisis as much.”
Until next time…
Stay safe, and take Alex Letang’s advice to help flatten the curve.