The Penguins marched through the NHL this past season en route to a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
On Tuesday, they did something perhaps even more impressive: They got President Donald Trump to stay on script.
In a most civil — and hardly political — 13-plus minute celebration of the Penguins’ most recent Cup, Trump lauded the Penguins’ accomplishments, made a few jokes about them winning a lot and being so good looking, and nothing got overly political.
The closest anything game was Trump saying that he should enlist Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle to help negotiate a NAFTA trade agreement.
Trump gushed over Sidney Crosby.
“Man, can you play?” Trump said, while wondering aloud whether Crosby had passed Burkle’s fellow co-owner and franchise legend Mario Lemieux.
“Has he out-done you yet, Mario?” Trump said.
Afterward, head coach Mike Sullivan was the only member of the Penguins to speak. He said he’d have no problem if one of his players took a knee out of protest during the national anthem but little else.
For them — agree or disagree — this was not political. And they had to have been pleased that it turned out to mostly avoid politics or anything resembling controversy.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we felt any pressure because we’ve stated clearly from the get go that our acceptance of the invitation to the White House was not political and that it was simply a celebration of this group of players winning a championship and to honor the office of the president and the White House. I can’t tell you how proud we are of this group of players and what’ve accomplished over the last two seasons. This has been part of the celebration of this group of players and the commitment that they’ve made to win championships.”
Trump made other comments that drew a laugh. After the first few players were shy, Trump called on Phil Kessel — always good for a laugh.
“C’mon, get over here, Phil,” Trump coerced.
Kessel stepped down, his face beat read.
“These guys don’t want to be politicians,” Trump said. “Don’t be politicians.”
Trump gave the Penguins grief for beating up on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, where Trump would watch, but said that’s what this group does.
“It’s called winning, right, Sidney?” Trump said.
The president finished by predicting that the Penguins would be back here next year.
In his post-ceremony comments, Sullivan said flatly that they presented Trump with “a gift.”