PITTSBURGH — Luca Sbisa keeps a patch he received from the Las Vegas police either in his dressing room stall or, sometimes, in his hockey bag. It’s a show of the respect the Islanders defenseman has for first responders and a reminder that tragedy can occur anywhere and at any time.
The Islanders will conclude a three-game road trip on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins’ first home game since Saturday’s anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead and four police officers among the injured.
For Sbisa, it’s an awful reminder of his first home game last season with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, days after a gunman killed 58 and injured more than 700 at an outdoor music festival.
“We were very involved with the first responders, the police officers, the firemen,” Sbisa told Newsday. “I have the utmost respect for these people. They don’t think twice. They just go in there and do their job. That night, we were there to play hockey and you think you’re a big hero playing hockey. But it puts everything in perspective. The men standing next to us on the blue line, those are the real heroes.”
Instead of celebrating their first home game, the Golden Knights held an emotional pre-game ceremony during which defenseman Deryk Engelland, a Las Vegas resident, gave a heartfelt “Vegas Strong” speech that was followed by a moment of silence that lasted 58 seconds — one second for each of the victims.
“It was a hard night but probably the most special night I’ve had in hockey, and I’m saying that with playing in the Stanley Cup Final,” Sbisa said. “The emotions that night that were involved, you can’t really describe it. The whole city was hurting. The whole city was crying. As players, we’re there with them. It was crazy how united the whole building felt. Even players from the other team [the Coyotes] that had no connection. Everyone in that arena just came together and was there for the same cause.”
That certainly will be the atmosphere on Tuesday night as Pittsburgh continues to mourn the shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
The Penguins canceled plans to celebrate Halloween and instead will accept donations to benefit the victims and their families and hold a blood drive outside the arena. A moment of silence will be held before faceoff, and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation announced that it is donating $25,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and $25,000 to benefit the four injured police officers.
“It doesn’t matter where those shootings happen because it’s always terrible to hear that news, especially Pittsburgh,” Islanders right wing Tom Kuhnhackl, who spent the past three seasons with the Penguins, told Newsday. “It’s close to near where we used to stay when we first got called up, we stayed at a hotel there.
“The emotions are going to be incredible,” Kuhnhackl said. “Pittsburgh, they always stick together, all the pro teams there, the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins. And the city as a unit, they always stick together and I’m sure they’re going to be even stronger after what happened.” He said he planned to speak to some of his former Penguins teammates on Monday and offer whatever help he can.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said the “classy” Penguins organization will strike the right emotional tone for the somber event.
“I feel like it happens too much,” Sbisa said. “You hear about it, you see it, but you think it never happens where you live. When it did happen, you realize it could happen to anyone at any given time. It brings up memories. Bad memories.”