While his father is from Crafton and taught him to be a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese grew up in Staten Island. He qualifies as a genuine pizza-folding, subway tokens New Yorker who grew up going to Madison Square Garden to see the Pittsburgh Penguins play the New York Rangers.
Wednesday night, Aston-Reese was part of the show. When Aston-Reese received the dish from Matt Cullen and chipped it over New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s glove hand, the goal light flashed and his family celebrated. The hometown boy had a hometown goal for everyone to see.
“I didn’t even know it went in until the red light came on,” said Aston-Reese. “It was a pretty exciting feeling. When I heard the (goal) call, I heard my family screaming. It was pretty nice.”
Indeed. A father watching his son perform at the NHL level is must be an extraordinarily proud and gratifying moment. So, when Aston-Reese scored, television cameras caught William Aston-Reese Jr.’s big celebration, too.
“Yeah, Rex [sic] showed me that on the Ipad. I got a laugh out of it for sure.”
William Aston-Reese Jr. is from Crafton. For non-Pittsburghers, Crafton is just a few miles from downtown. It is also the hometown of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and an authentic Pittsburgh accent. Crafton is one of those neighborhoods which are the heartbeat of Pittsburgh, which itself is a small city made up of dozens of small neighborhoods. But Aston-Reese Jr. and his wife Carolyn eventually moved to New York City and raised four children.
You can take the boy out of Pittsburgh, but you can’t entirely take Pittsburgh out of the boy. As a boy, Zach Aston-Reese was exposed to his father’s Penguins fandom. Shortly after his NHL debut last season, Aston-Reese told Pittsburgh Hockey Now of his father, “He loves the Penguins.”
So, the kid who went to Madison Square Garden while growing up suddenly had an NHL goal on that same ice. It was Aston-Reese’s sixth goal this season and 10th career goal, but the tally Wednesday night was special.
“It was just an incredible feeling. When I got back to the bench, it sunk in,” Aston-Reese said. “It’s one of the biggest stages in the world–New York City. That’s something you dream about when you’re little. So to have it happen is huge.”
Aston-Reese, 24, played four years at Northeastern University and was an undrafted college free agent in 2017. He became the latest in a string of collegiate players to work his way through the Penguins system. That list of collegiate players which preceded Aston-Reese includes Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
The stocky Aston-Reese who isn’t shy in the corners or in front of the net is still gaining traction in the NHL. This season, he has played on all four lines but is mostly a fourth liner. However, when Rust missed the last game due to injury, the Penguins didn’t hesitate to put Aston-Reese on the top line with Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins didn’t dominate New York despite the 7-2 score, Wednesday. They were hanging on, actually. And then a few shots changed the game. The Penguins scored three goals on four shots, six goals on 15 shots and seven goals on 21 shots.
They couldn’t miss.
And it would seem the Penguins can’t miss with Aston-Reese, either. Whether he is on the fourth line or first line, Aston-Reese plays his game. And Wednesday night, his game gave his family even more reason to celebrate with Penguins fans.