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Penguins Thanksgiving–A Time For Turkey…Or Meatballs?



Pittsburgh Penguins Juuso Riikola
Thanksgiving turkey isn't Jusso Riikola's favorite

Roasted turkey? Maybe not, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola said. Fellow defenseman Marcus Pettersson guesses there might be meatballs on the table Thursday rather than a basted bird.

Depending a lot on how long they have been in North America, European hockey players have some differing thoughts on the holiday and tradition of Thanksgiving, which in the United States this year is Thursday.

Riikola, who his Finnish, is only vaguely familiar with the holiday and thinks the concept is nice, but he’s not completely on board. Asked if he knew what the traditional spread is, he hesitated.

“Is it turkey?” Riikola said Tuesday after the team practiced at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “I don’t mind it, but it’s not my biggest favorite. At Christmas, we have a baked ham.”

The Penguins face the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena – that’s one of their traditions, holding a home game on Thanksgiving Eve – before a scheduled noon practice on the holiday Thursday. The Penguins have broken with their normal routine. Instead of flying to Columbus right after practice that afternoon in advance of Friday’s game there, the flight will be in the evening so players and staff can celebrate Thanksgiving if they choose.

Pettersson, who is Swedish, said he will probably do a low-key celebration.

“Yeah, probably a little dinner with my girlfriend,” he said, but it might not be the traditional fare. “I don’t know. Maybe a mix. I don’t think I’ve had the traditional (meal) the way you’re supposed to have it. Someday.”

Pettersson figured he’ll have something “fairly similar to what we have for Christmas – maybe meatballs and lingonberry jam, stuff like that.”

Lingonberries, popular in Scandinavia, could be likened to cranberries. Ikea shoppers know.

Winger Patric Hornqvist is also Swedish but has been in the United States a long time. He’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner with his family, he told defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

“A lot of the Euros embrace the culture here,” Dumoulin, who is American, said. “No one hates celebrating. It’s an easy concept to grasp.”

Yes. Thanksgiving. For giving thanks.

“I celebrated for the first time when I got over to the United States. I never celebrated it before,” forward Dominik Simon, a native Czech, said. “I think it’s a great holiday. I really like it. Family and friends get together, or a team, and have a great time, great food.”

And, for the record, he loves the traditional feast.

Winger Brandon Tanev is Canadian, and that country’s Thanksgiving is in October, the same Monday as America’s Columbus Day.

Tanev’s brother, Chris, is a defenseman with Vancouver and so is in town for Wednesday’s game. Their father, Mike, also is in town, and three planned to get together Tuesday night, but Brandon said they probably wouldn’t take the opportunity to make it a Thanksgiving affair.

To each his own.

Winger Dominik Kahun, Czech-born but raised in Germany, knew of Thanksgiving from afar and has gained an appreciation for the scope of the holiday in North America.

“I know it’s big here, and also when I played in Canada in juniors, I was with a billet family, so I got to celebrate it with them,” Kahun said. “I like it how big it is. Even when I played back home in Germany, we had some Canadian and American players. So we had a team event for Thanksgiving.”

Beyond that, Kahun isn’t well versed about the holiday.

“I don’t know much about it,” he said. “I recognize it a little bit, how big it is. I guess from the name, you just (give) thanks for everything.”

Given a very quick explanation on the origins or folklore that are attached to American Thanksgiving – Pilgrims, Native Americans, the fall harvest, etc. – Kahun perked up.

“Oh, nice. I never heard that,” he said. “Thank you.”

Simon and Kahun weren’t sure what if anything they might do Thursday afternoon to recognize the holiday.

Not a problem for Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, an American who has an obvious appreciation for Thanksgiving and believes Europeans gain one pretty quickly, too.

“I think people that spend time here learn to appreciate it,” Sullivan said. “I can only speak for myself and what Thanksgiving has always meant or represented to me. It’s about gratitude and about family and about the things that are important in life.

“It’s a great opportunity for all of us to step away from whatever it is that we do and appreciate what we have. For me, that starts with family.”


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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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