PITTSBURGH — Athletes aren’t first-responders to tragedy. But sports can help a city start to heal.
So, the Penguins and the visiting Islanders tried to do their part on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena, three days after a horrific attack at the nearby Tree of Life Synagogue left 11 dead and four police officers among the wounded.
A touching ceremony to honor and mourn the victims and an 11-second moment of silence — one second for each person shot and killed — preceded the opening faceoff with the victims’ names on the scoreboard. At the end, a simple spoken word. “Shalom.” Peace.
The Penguins accepted donations to benefit the victims and their families and a blood drive was held outside the arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation donated $25,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and $25,000 to benefit the four injured police officers.
The Penguins also wore commemorative shoulder patches featuring the words, “Stronger than hate,” and, by cleverly adding a triangle, featured the team’s logo over a Star of David. The game-worn uniforms will also be auctioned off to benefit the victims’ families. The Islanders wore a “Stronger than hate” sticker on their helmets with their logo over a Star of David.
“It was a devastating day for the city of Pittsburgh and the people affected and their families,” Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin said. “Tonight is a way for us to play for them.”
The pregame ceremony featured a three-minute video highlighting the prideful residents of Pittsburgh that drew loud applause. So did three Jewish Federation members, who wore Penguins’ jerseys while standing next to anthem singer Jeff Jimerson, whose voice was equaled by the crowd.
Finally, two first-responders, one with his right arm in a sling, dropped ceremonial first pucks between Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Islanders counterpart Anders Lee.
“It was pretty emotional,” Lee said. “These guys put their lives on the line and they put themselves in the line of danger to protect other people. It was an honor for me to be able to meet them and shake their hand and share that moment with them.”
The Islanders have two defenseman who have been through similar tragedies.
Luca Sbisa played for the Vegas Golden Knights last season and that expansion team held its first-ever home game shortly after a gunman killed 58 and wounded more than 700 at an outdoor music festival. Johnny Boychuk played for the Bruins when they hosted a game two days after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“From bad stuff comes good,” Boychuk said. “It’s depressing that it happens but people band together and become stronger.”