CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Bryan Rust had a choice to make. Would he use a conventional hold on the bar or go one hand forward, one hand reverse as he attempted to heave his body upward rung after rung on the salmon ladder?
Derek Grant peered up at the 14-foot concave warped wall, contemplating the footwork and lift it would take to conquer and scale it.
No, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t really take on an “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course. Training camp isn’t that rigorous. Off the ice, a golf outing is more their speed.
Still, several of the players have developed an interest in the NBC competition show that airs during the summer and can be readily found in reruns on cable.
“We were actually watching it in here the other day,” Grant said. “I think it would be neat to try, for sure.”
During the season, the large flat screen in the Penguins locker room, and other TVs in the player areas at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and PPG Paints Arena, might be more likely to be tuned to more conventional sports, and in particular a network with hockey highlights and news, but this is the preseason. Things might be more relaxed at times.
Besides, unlike some of the hokier obstacle course shows that are or have been on TV, ANW appeals to the hockey players because the competitors are serious athletes who train intensely to tackle the challenging obstacles, which are staged over water to provide a safe landing for the majority who slip, tumble or wear out before they reach the buzzer at the end of the course.
If you’re uninitiated, you can check out @ninjawarrior on Twitter or visit https://www.nbc.com/american-ninja-warrior.
“I have a lot of respect for them and their mental fortitude,” Rust said. “They get tired quickly in those courses, and they’ve just got to grind through it.”
A few athletes from other pro sports have given ANW a shot, and the Penguins are intrigued, at least on a hypothetical plane.
“I think we’d do pretty well, but it’s tough to go into those and just do it,” Brian Dumoulin said. “You’ve got to train. Some of the obstacles are different muscle-oriented and they’re pretty tough. It’s pretty crazy what those guys can do and get through those obstacles. It would be fun to try. It would be something I think a lot of us would be interested in trying.”
“I think a few of the guys in here could do pretty well, just based on watching guys move off the ice and the athleticism,” he said. “I don’t think any of them would go super far because it’s definitely something you’ve got to train for and be accustomed to. I do think a few guys in here would do pretty well.”
And how would Rust do? “Very average, I think,” he said.
Team captain Sidney Crosby is among those who watch ANW casually.
“I catch it the odd time in the (locker) room if it’s on,” he said. “But it’s fun to watch. Not too many people can get through that course. It seems like it’s a lot of upper body.”
That’s true. Many of the obstacles require swinging from one object to another or maneuvering with hands, arms and upper body. Of the top competitors who have an athletic background, rock climbers and gymnasts seem to do well. Many are lithe or rangy and well under 200 pounds.
Crosby has hit a home run during a batting practice outing at the Pirates’ PNC Park and practiced with pro tennis star John Isner, but with a famously strong lower body designed for powering his way around on skates, he’s not sure how well he would do on ANW obstacles.
In fact, Crosby laughed at the prospect.
“I don’t know if I’m built for that,” he said. “I think there would be other guys (on the team) more fit for that than me.”
That’s OK. Crosby can take solace in being pretty good at that hockey thing.
Besides, ANW is probably more of a summer interest, a fun thing for the Penguins to follow and talk about during training camp when it’s on TV.
After all, it’s not unusual for “The Price is Right” to be on in the locker room, too. That doesn’t mean they will be playing Plinko after practice.