Friday night will not go down as a particularly noteworthy night when people reflect back on the career of National Hockey League star forward Phil Kessel many years from now, but for the fans who were in attendance, for the fans who watched from home, and for the man himself it may go down as one of the most special moments of Phil Kessel's NHL career.
Kessel and his Arizona Coyotes were back in Pittsburgh for the first time since the now infamous trade that saw him swapped with former Coyotes forward Alex Galchenyuk and it was set to be a big moment for Phil "The Thrill." Prior to the game it was hard to gauge how the player, who admittedly forced his team into a pretty difficult trade situation due to the no-trade clause in his contract, would be received by fans upon his return, but that question was answered very quickly. It was easy to see that there was a veritable ocean of Kessel merchandise on hand at PPG Paints Arena on Friday night and that pretty much set the tone for what was to come.
Roughly midway through the game's opening period, after Penguins backup goaltender Tristan Jarry made one of his many saves on his way to a perfect shutout on the evening, the Penguins announced to their hometown fans that they would be paying tribute to their former player with a short tribute video on the big screen. The moment was incredibly well received both by Kessel and by the fans in the building and when it was all said and done the former Penguin received a roaring ovation from the fans in the building.
It may have been more than the two time Stanley Cup Champion was expecting though because in what was a rare moment for Phil Kessel we saw some clear signs of emotion. Kessel went back to the bench amidst the cheers from fans in the building and as he looked up to the big screen for a second time it looked like he had tears in his eyes. Although there was some doubt about that, Kessel's new head coach in Arizona spilled the beans.
“Yeah — Phil got a little teary-eyed,” Rick Tocchet said as per The Athletic.
Kessel as usual was a man of few words following the game, a loss for him and the Coyotes, but you could tell that the moment had been a special one for him.
“You know me,” Kessel said. “I’m not the biggest for that, but it was nice of them to do that, and I appreciate it.”