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NHL Pros Face-off Against 171st Guardsmen Kids

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing

Braving the July heat, roughly thirty children faced off against three NHL professionals at Settler’s Cabin Park, about 10 miles west of Pittsburgh, in a three-on-three dek hockey game. Stanley Cup champion Tyler Kennedy, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and top 30 NHL Point Leader Vince Trochek of the Florida Panthers teamed up with Mount Lebanon native Matthew Bartkowski of the Minnesota Wild to volunteer as instructors for a hockey fundamentals clinic for the kids of 171st Air Refueling Wing Guardsmen. 


The pros split the kids into small groups and showed them how to improve their game before it was time to put their skills to the test. Each pro drafted a team of kids, battling it out in a small competition. 


“Even though there was no cup to hoist, each kid left feeling like champions after playing alongside one of these hockey stars,” said 1st Lt. Josh Burkert, co-organizer.


Burkert, hockey enthusiast and guardsman, teamed up with Larry Kuzmanko, the Director of Special Events for Allegheny County to put together the annual clinic. Mr. Kuzmanko suggested moving the event to Settler’s Cabin Dek, a surface to play on that was designed for hockey. This is the first time the clinic has been held here in its five years running. Burkert and his team put on the clinic because they wanted to give back to the growing hockey community within the 171st family, aligning with the area’s love of the sport. Pittsburgh has been ranked as one of the top NHL fan bases within the last few years.


“The clinic was an absolute success,” said Burkert, “It seems like both the pros and kids had a really great time.”


To help make the event a success, Burkert was joined by Master Sgt. David Przybysz, Tech. Sgt. Tristan Wenzig, Master Sgt. David Sparkman, all members of the 171st.  To include everyone, kids who didn’t want to test out their skills on the dek had an opportunity to get their face painted by Master Sgt. Krystal Larkin.


“We’ve got NHL level players teaching our member’s kids and beautiful weather,” said Burkert. “I’m very pleased with how this years event came together and I hope it continues to grow for many years to come.”