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Penguins Could Get On Board With Puppy Love



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It’s a new year, a time for thinking about possibilities and new chapters and ways to enhance our lives. We thought we would approach the Pittsburgh Penguins in that spirit to see if the players would be interested in jumping in on what looks like the start of a trend among NHL teams – adopting a team puppy.

Perhaps you read Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s survey-type story during Christmastime about players potentially picking their own goal celebration song. This story is sort of like that, except, you know, with puppies.

The St. Louis Blues have adopted a puppy, and the Ottawa Senators followed last week and did the same.

If you’ve ever noticed how Penguins goaltender Matt Murray tends to be fairly serious, even stoic, in his postgame interviews, you should have seen the contrast a few days ago after a practice when he was asked about the idea of a team puppy.

“I’m always up for anything that has to do with puppies. I’m a big dog lover,” Murray said with a huge smile sprawled across his face. “Something about a dog just brings a lot of happiness. I would definitely go for it.”

Murray has Newfoundlands, which are roughly (ruffly?) the size of that Canadian province. He allowed that a Penguins adopted puppy might need to be a somewhat smaller breed.

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who has an English bulldog, is all in.

“I think everyone would love having dogs around,” he said. “I think mostly everyone here grew up with a dog. That’s something that we love. Obviously, it would lighten the mood. It would be awesome, but you’ve got to make sure someone’s taking care of it. If someone’s up to that, we’d love to have that in this locker room. I don’t know how you go about it, but it would be cool.”

St. Louis and Ottawa have worked it out, and fans get to enjoy some time with the pups, too. The puppies will be socialized and get initial training over a year or so with the teams, then move on to more serious training to be service dogs.

This news report in St. Louis is a good introduction to Barclay:

And here is national broadcaster Doc Emrick talking about (and playing with) Barclay:

Ottawa got its puppy more recently:

Murray, for one, loved the idea of teams bringing in a puppy that would eventually be trained as a service dog.

“That’s awesome,” he said. “It goes to a good cause. That’s really cool.”

Winger Bryan Rust liked that part of it, too.

“I’ve heard they become service dogs. I’d be fired up about that,” Rust said. “I think that would definitely bring a smile to a lot of guys’ faces. On certain days there might not be a lot of smiles going around. I think it would be awesome.”

The mood-lifting quality of a team puppy – did you see the Senators’ reactions? – is also appealing to forward Riley Sheahan.

“I think it would be cool,” he said. “A puppy – dogs in general – are pretty good with lightening the mood and bringing smiles to people’s faces and get your mind off the game. I think it would be pretty cool.”

Of course, there are times when a bouncing, high-energy young dog might be out of place in a locker room, such as when players are coming off a poor game and perhaps want to stew a little in their frustration or allow themselves to be angry so they can feed off of that to rebound.

That sort of thing would have to be managed. There also are the logistics.

Those things gave defenseman Kris Letang pause (paws?).

“I don’t know,” he said. “Like, where does the puppy go after (practice)? Somebody has to take care of it.”

Told the little furball would most likely go home with a club employee, Letang was still skeptical.

“I don’t mind if it’s running around in (locker) room,” he said. “But we’re 40 people. Some guys can play with it. Not everybody at the same time. But when we come here, we’re busy. I don’t know.”

Forward Matt Cullen had a solution for some of the logistics.

“As long as Rust cleans up the poop. He’d be the pooper-scooper. Then I’m good,” Cullen cracked of the teammate who sits directly to his left in the locker room.

“No, I’m sure it would be fun. I’ve seen some of the pictures and some of the stuff online. It’s kind of cool. We spend a lot of time at the rink, and everybody seems to like puppies around here.”

Team captain Sidney Crosby, always the thoughtful type, also pointed to some issues that would need to be addressed, although in general he liked the idea.

“As long as nobody’s allergic to dogs,” was Crosby’s first thought. “I think that’s cool, though. I love dogs. It would definitely lighten the mood every day, having a dog around.”

Crosby also thought about the impact on one of the staff members players work closely with and hold in high regard, equipment manager Dana Heinze, who is heavily detail oriented and strives to provide a pristine, well-functioning workplace for the players.

“You’d have to ask Dana” about the idea, Crosby said. “If things were happening and there were little spots in the carpet, I don’t know if he would like that too much. It would have to be trained before we bring it in.”

Such basic training is not usually a difficulty with most puppies.

Winger Zach Aston-Reese, something of a free spirit, brought a new angle to the idea of a live little team mascot.

“That would be cool, for sure,” Aston-Reese said of the notion of a team puppy. “I think it would be cool to have, like, a pet penguin maybe. A little penguin just walking around chilling.”

Well, it’s questionable whether a penguin could be trained vis a vis the carpet and flooring in the Penguins locker room complex.

Plus, there’s the sad history there. Anyone know the story of Penguin Pete in the late 1960s? RIP, little guy.

Maybe a puppy would be better.


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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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