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Pens' Dumoulin visits with South Butler students heading

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin plays keep-away with South Butler Primary School students during a visit to the school Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for students in the elementary and middle school. Below, Dumoulin poses with sixth-grader Nate McCurdy for one of the numerous selfies he took with students during his visit.

JEFFERSON TWP — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, the two-time Stanley Cup champion, could be seen wiping sweat from his brow Thursday behind the South Butler Primary School.

Dumoulin visited the South Butler County School District campus as a reward for the 327 students in kindergarten through eighth grade who completed and turned in the workbooks they were given in a drawstring canvas bag before the summer break.

The bags, which contained math and reading work, were distributed to 1,050 students to decrease the academic slide that normally occurs over the summer and to offset any learning shortfall caused by the chaotic schedule last year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jenny Webb, the district's director of communications, said families received reminder emails all summer with clues about the surprise guest who would greet students if they completed the workbooks.The children were wide-eyed Thursday as they approached the back of the primary school en masse, where the lean, 6-foot-4 Dumoulin towered over all in attendance except intermediate school principal Frank Moxie.Many students and faculty wore Penguins shirts.

“A lot of kids are not able to play sports or took a pause on sports because of COVID,” Dumoulin said before greeting the students. “Plus, it's important to get out in the community with the kids.”Dumoulin told the students he is in his eighth year with the Penguins, who acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Jordan Staal trade in 2012.“I hope you guys are excited to play hockey today because I am,” Dumoulin said. “No checking, just scoring goals and having fun.”The students were released onto the pavement with Dumoulin in shifts, where they slapped practice balls and plastic pucks around with the big defenseman.

Dumoulin also signed countless autographs for the students and faculty, including on their shoes and shirts.“My mom's gonna kill me,” said one boy as he gazed at Dumoulin's signature on the side of his new white sneaker.Sixth-grader Isabella Ross giggled with her classmate Adelynn Thompson after their shift was over.“I hit it over his hockey stick a few times,” Isabella said. “It was really fun that we got to play with a professional hockey player.”Adelynn agreed, although she named Sidney Crosby as her favorite Penguins player.“He's amazing,” she said of Dumoulin. “It's so nice for him to come here.”Kade Sundie, also a sixth-grader, gazed at Dumoulin in awe just before it was his group's turn to play.“It's pretty crazy and it's pretty awesome,” he said. “It's an interesting experience.”

His classmate, Cailin Christie, also looked forward to batting a ball around with a Penguins player.“I think it's really nice of him to come up here to see us,” Cailin said, “and I'm really excited I get to meet him.”When the district's youngest students arrived to play with Dumoulin, shorter sticks with large, foam heads were distributed so no one would get hurt.Dumoulin gamely put down his own lengthy, professional stick and grabbed the same version as the students.He grinned as he played keep-away with the students, expertly handling the ball and keeping it in his possession even with the kiddie stick.Superintendent Dave Foley smiled as he watched Dumoulin interact with the students.“Our kids are so excited,” Foley said. “It's a great way to recognize the hard work they did over the summer.”Amy Bocci, a sixth-grade reading, English and gifted education teacher at the middle school, agreed with Foley.

“It's really amazing, him giving his time, and it means so much to these kids,” she said.Moxie shook Dumoulin's hand and thanked him for coming to South Butler.“It's awesome. The kids are all excited and I have many staff members who wished they could come,” Moxie said. “It's not often these kids out here at Knoch get to meet a sports star.”

The students had the opportunity to ask Dumoulin some questions, several of which made the defenseman chuckle.The children learned that he is from Biddeford, Maine, began playing hockey at age 3 due to his high energy level, enjoys cotton candy-flavored ice cream, that he was sidelined four years ago after being hit in the jaw by a slapshot, and that he took the Stanley Cup home to celebrate with family and friends when his turn with the trophy came.Dumoulin listed Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel and Brian Rust as close friends, but said being a good all-around teammate is very important in professional sports.

He said serving as a defenseman against some of the league's elite offfensive players is a thrill he particularly enjoys.“Trying to shut them down is always a fun challenge,” Dumoulin said.The kids gave the champion player a legitimate workout in the hot sun, which is far from the environment during hockey practice.“I am sweating!” he said as he headed for his truck.

Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin talks to students at South Butler Primary and Knoch Middle School during a visit Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for the students. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin poses for a selfie with Knoch sixth grader Nate McCurdy, 11, Thursday during a visit to the school. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21w
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin (back) plays foam hockey with elementary students during a visit Thursday, part of an academic achievement reward for the students. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21
South Butler County School District students welcome Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin Thursday.photography by Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin signs Knoch sixth-grader Ryan Godot’s T-shirt Thursday as part of an academic rewards program to help students decrease the academic slide that normally occurs over the summer and offset any learning shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin passes a puck to a Knoch Middle School student during a visit to the school Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for students in the elementary and middle schools. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin plays foam hockey with elementary students in the South Butler County School District during a visit Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for the students. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin passes a puck to a Knoch Middle School student during a visit to the school Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for students in the elementary and middle schools. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21
Pittsburgh Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin plays foam hockey with Knoch Elementary students during a visit to the school Thursday. The visit was part of an academic achievement reward for students in the elementary and middle School. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 09/16/21