Friday, May 20, 2016

Penguins' HBK Line hot away from ice

May 19, 2016

Center Field Smoke in Pittsburgh has produced these T-shirts as a results of the popularity of the Penguins' 'HBK' line.

So, this happened on a day between games in the Eastern Conference finals: The hockey team in Pittsburgh invited a professional wrestler from Texas to a game that could feature the presentation of a trophy honoring the Prince of Wales.
And it was all made possible because a Russian's elbow had once been injured in Columbus.
Sports always are the biggest of deals in Pittsburgh.
But when the Penguins are riding a wave deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Pittsburghers take hockey craziness to another level.
Forget playoff beards. I'm talking about memorizing members of the Muskegon Line or screaming “Mooooooose!” at strangers.
These things have happened.
Head to a Primanti Bros. restaurant, and you'll happen upon a new item: The HBK Sandwich.
Eat your heart out, Johan Hedberg.
And eat it up, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. (Though, not too often. There are games yet to win.)
Somehow, it took until Thursday afternoon for the Penguins' “HBK” line to inspire a sandwich. If memory serves, Peppi's Old Tyme Sandwich Shop capitalized on Ben Roethlisberger's popularity within a few weeks of his racking up wins as a Steelers rookie.
Give Zack D'Ulisse credit for knowing a good thing when he heard it. A graphic designer from the North Hills, D'Ulisse worked up a logo for the “HBK” line after hearing talk show host Mark Madden refer to it a couple of weeks ago.
“That night, I saw it also popping up a lot of places online,” D'Ulisse said. “I thought, ‘All right, this could be good.' ”
Through his “hobby” (a design company called Center Field Smoke), D'Ulisse already had made a small mark on the Pittsburgh sporting scene. Former Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett wore various T-shirts sporting the many “Batman” designs from D'Ulisse.
But the Batman stuff was pinned easily by the Heartbreak Kid.
Penguins fans had been wearing gold or black T-shirts with D'Ulisse's “HBK” line logo for a couple of weeks before Wednesday night. When Hagelin scored late in the second period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lightning at Amalie Arena, D'Ulisse tweeted an image of the jerseys to former pro wrestler Shawn Michaels.
“He quote-tweeted it back saying he'd need a large,” D'Ulisse said. “My phone stopped working in the third period from all the mentions and retweets on Twitter.
“I'm not big-time or anything. I'm not used to that. It was incredible.”
It was predictable that Michaels (real name: Michael Shawn Hickenbottom) was extended an invitation to attend Game 5 at Consol Energy Center as the Penguins' guest. Expect him to be there Sunday night when the Penguins could be positioned to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
Michaels is one of the most famous performers from the most successful pro wrestling company, WWE. His nickname was “Heartbreak Kid.”
Since retiring, he has done a lot of hunting. Hadn't watched any hockey.
However, as Kessel started filling the net the last couple of games, Michaels took notice of the “HBKLine” hashtag on Twitter. By Game 3, he was playing along without understanding what he was watching on TV.
“I was talking to Adam Copeland (a former wrestler who went by ‘Edge'), and he was like, ‘Dude, it's so fun to see you getting into hockey,' ” Michaels told the Tribune-Review's Justin LaBar.
Copeland is Canadian, as was arguably Michaels' great wrestling rival, Bret “Hitman” Hart. There are a couple of other Penguins connections when it comes to Hart.
“He was one of my favorites,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
Also, there is Brett Hart, the team's longtime shipping/receiving coordinator. But that is all probably more than an overwhelmed-by-hockey Michaels needs to know.
“The last 48 hours have been amazing,” Michaels said. “It's been fun. I can't say I know the game a ton better than I did, but I'm getting there.”
As for D'Ulisse, he is working on getting that “large” T-shirt to Michaels for Sunday.
There remains the not-so-small matter of the Penguins winning Game 4 against the Lightning on Friday night. The “HBK” line will stay together even if coach Mike Sullivan has to find different wingers every shift for center Evgeni Malkin.
Would the “HBK” line exist had Malkin not been hurt a couple of months ago in Columbus?
“That's a tough question to answer,” Sullivan said Thursday afternoon. “I'm not sure how likely I would have been (to try Bonino between Hagelin and Kessel).”
Does it matter?
If the Penguins keep breaking hearts of opponents while thrilling kids in Pittsburgh, Sullivan's greatest creation might deliver the Cup.
By then, Pittsburgh Brewing Company will probably be selling an “HBK” line (of beer) to fill the silver chalice.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

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