The Hometown Team

It feels like yesterday I was sitting in my living room with my family, watching on as Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made a combination of desperation saves to secure the 2009 Stanley Cup. I can remember how excited I was to finally have a team I cheered for win a championship. I imagined lifting the cup over my head as a reward for all my hard work in keeping up with the team over the years. As a kid, I was an avid hockey fan. I had the sticker books and the EA Sports games and I knew that every Saturday in Canada was a hockey night. Although I never got the chance to play organized hockey as a kid, I was still around the sport 24/7. Whether it was playing road hockey on the basketball court or reading the Hockey News, I absorbed the sport every chance I could get.

Maybe I was young, or maybe just ignorant, but I never thought a career in hockey was possible. Of course I knew that hockey was a full-time job for coaches, players, and general managers, but I never could have imagined the countless other opportunities available in the hockey world.

My first taste of being a part of my childhood team came early in high school when I had the opportunity to volunteer with my hometown Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. I remember being the youngest member of the Statistics Department and thinking why in the world do they want a grade 9 kid who’s never played a minute of organized hockey to be apart of their team. Nonetheless, I attended almost every home game for two seasons before being offered part-time employment in the department. It felt amazing to be a part of the highs, but it was also more difficult to be a part of the lows – two straight last place finishes in the Eastern Conference will do that.

With a new owner and a resurged management staff last summer, I did all that I could to prove my worth to the team and expand my role with the Wolves. My hard work proved to pay off after an offer to become the lead of a brand new Analytics Department, the first in team history, and the first big change to the Hockey Operations structure as a part of a ‘New Era’.

In class, professors would talk to us about the importance of taking off your “fan hat” when working for a sports team. Nothing is harder than trying to do that for the team you grew up cheering for. Wins are no longer just a bragging right, they’re a revenue generator, a morale booster, and at the end of the day, they determine the financial stability of your employer (nothing more true in junior hockey). And so losing doesn’t just hurt because your team didn’t win, losing sucks because it means your work, the result of your countless evenings spent at the rink, wasn’t good enough. It means the product you worked on wasn’t as good as the product your opponent produced. It’s a vicious cycle but it’s also the reason why there’s nothing more rewarding in sports than winning a championship.

I started applying for jobs in the fall of 2015. I knew that I wanted to work in pro sports but I also knew that my chances of lining up an internship were slim. Between that fall and December, I had applied to over 60 different internships, ranging from community relations work in the MLS to customer and fan development work in the NHL. After about 40 different applications I got an interview offer. Who was the team to reach out? The Pittsburgh Penguins. I remember sitting in the library at school receiving the email and thinking it was fake or some automatically generated response to my application. Thankfully it wasn’t.

That was the start to a truly unforgettable summer. I moved down to Pittsburgh at the end of April, right as their second round series against the Capitals was starting. Boy was it nerve-racking walking into their newly built practice facility on the first day of work. Not only did I under estimate traffic and show up over a half hour early, but I was also the only person in the building wearing a tie (not a big deal to some but on the first day you notice EVERYTHING). That first morning was probably the most nervous I’ve been my whole life. I didn’t want an inch of my body to move the wrong way. Although I was only minutes into my internship, man, did I know this was for me.

Being there while they claimed the Stanley Cup was special. While most people were focused on the amazing stories on the ice (there were too many to count), I fixated on the staff. From the skills coaches to the front desk staff, the entire organization was proud. It was a feeling I cherished and something that I continue to strive for.

But was the summer all fun and celebration? Not a chance. The summer was filled with hard work, early mornings and late evenings, and often times taking on more work than I could handle. The internship was meant to be a start, not an end goal. Of course it was enjoyable, I was interning with a club in the NHL, and not just any team, my team. The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now, after nearly a collective 6 months with the Penguins, what can I tell you? Get out there and follow your dream. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be lifting the Stanley Cup making another kid wonder if that could be them one day.

 

Roberto

About Roberto Bagnato

Roberto is a fourth-year Sports Administration student at Laurentian University. He is currently completing a second internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Youth Hockey Department. While dedicating most of his time to Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins program, Roberto has also been leading a research study to deem if he is the reason Phil Kessel is a back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion.

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