A group of now-beloved athletes skated into the hearts of many in Northeastern Pennsylvania 13 years ago, part of an organization that would become an integral piece of the area's culture and collective social life.
No matter the number of wins or trips to the playoffs the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have under their belts, or the various events and charities the organization has been part of throughout each year, vice president of operations Brian Coe said nothing would be possible without one key element.
"Our fans. They are the No. 1 asset we have and the reason we're even here," Coe said. "We always strive to give back to them, to the people who have been so loyal to us the past 13 years."
For the third time, the Penguins will host Pensfest, the team's biggest way to give back to its fan base. The festivities set for tonight will include plenty for visitors to do, as well as some behind-the-scenes looks at the organization itself.
The Penguins have operated in the Coal Street facility in Wilkes-Barre for only three summers, since 2010. The set-up is a first for the group.
"This is the first time in the history of the franchise where the front office is in the same building as the players and coaches, which is nice," Coe said. "We don't have to drive to the arena to see them now if we need something."
Coe said the Pens would like to showcase this new facility as well as the team itself. Eight players will be available for two autograph sessions tonight. Beau Bennett, Brian Dumoulin, Tom K├╝hnhackl, Reid McNeil, Jason Megna, Joe Morrow, Adam Payerl and Dominic ├?her will be on hand for sessions at 5:30 and 7:30.
"We're even giving people a chance to glimpse where the players are set up on a day-by-day basis, which is a side that most people don't see," Coe said of the locker tours that will be available throughout the event.
Many of the outdoor festivities will take place until 7:30 and include various games, bounce houses and live music by local band the Chixie Dix. A free public skating session will begin at 6:45 p.m. and include free skate rentals.
When: 5 to 8:30 tonight
Where: Coal Street Park, Wilkes-Barre
Events: Free skating session, autograph sessions with players, outdoor activities and music by the Chixie Dix.
More info: 208-7367
• 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.: Player autograph sessions, in groups of four
• 6:45 to 8:15 p.m.: Free skating session
• 5 to 7:30 p.m.: Outdoor events, such as bounce houses, games and live music