Note: Post-Gazette Digital News Editor Kim Lyons wrote this post:
As the Penguins get ready to take on the Bruins in the Eastern Conference final, their international fans are getting ready for more late nights. While the British Pens fan club has a devoted group who are active on social media during games despite the 5-hour time difference, the Polish Penguins deal with a 6-hour differential that means when there's overtime, the sun is rising as the game is ending.
The group was started in 2011, and co-founder Dawid Szewczyk, who has a healthy playoff beard growing, estimates the club has about 300 members. His attraction to the team started when he was young and received a Penguins t-shirt. They tweet about the team in Polish to their 400-plus followers, and have more than 500 fans on Facebook.
There is only one Polish player whose name is on the Stanley Cup, former Penguin Krzysztof Oliwa (he was part of the Devils’ championship team in 2000), and ice hockey is far from the most popular sport in Poland. But the team has captured the attention of its small band of dedicated Polish followers.
Szewczyk says visiting Pittsburgh and attending a Penguins game is still on his “to do” list. “I haven’t been to a Penguins game, but I have seen a few Penguins players in other games,” he said, “ for example James Neal, when he was in the IIHF World Championships in Slovakia i n 2011.”
Mateusz Ostrowski of Łódź, says while the best-known Polish players in the NHL are Oliwa, Mariusz Czerkawski and Wojtek Wolski, he knows there are other players who have Polish heritage. Wayne Gretzky, he notes, has Polish ancestry, and John Tavares’ maternal grandparents immigrated from Poland to Sudbury, Ontario.
Adrianna Bugajny, also of Warsaw, says while she’s been impressed with all the Penguins’ acquisitions this season, the one who has stood out most is Jussi Jokinen. “He has shown that he could make a big difference when he’s on the roster,” noting his work during Sidney Crosby’s absence with a broken jaw. “It would be great if [Jokinen] stays and keeps on going!”