WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama honoured the Pittsburgh Penguins at the White House on Thursday for completing what he described as one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of the National Hockey League as they won their fourth Stanley Cup.
Obama noted that he has now been able to celebrate with eight Stanley Cup winners during his presidency with all of the teams based in the United States. He smiled when noting he recently reminded Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of that achievement.
“This is a nice bookend for my presidency,” said Obama, a sports fan who has shown no slowing down in his efforts to honour the nation’s sports champions as his second term draws to a close.
The Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, overcame a tough start to the season with Obama noting that they were closer to last place than first in late December. The team hired a new coach, Mike Sullivan, when the team looked out of playoff contention. Obama credited the Penguins’ persistence and teamwork as critical factors in completing the turnaround.
“What I like best about this team’s victory is that no one thought they could pull it off,” Obama said. “I obviously sympathize with that. They said the same thing about me.”
Obama said a lot has changed since the Penguins first visited him in the White House in 2009. Back then, the colour of his hair was more like a hockey puck. Now, it more closely resembled the colour of the ice, he said, and Sid “the kid” was still a kid. When a baby began to cry, Obama said, “don’t worry, I don’t have any more bad jokes.”
Crosby said his second White House visit was even better than the first because he has a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup.
“It doesn’t get old,” said Crosby, who was named playoff MVP.
Others getting a mention during the ceremony included rookie goalie Matt Murray, whom Obama called a brick wall, and the “HBK line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. They got a sandwich named after them, the president said.
Off the ice, Obama noted that the players brought the Stanley Cup to a children’s hospital, participated in a program to get more children exercising and have helped to restore city and county parks.