With all of the drama surrounding his bike – which was stolen, inspired a viral #TeamFindJuJusBike hashtag on Twitter, had the whole city out searching for it and was recently recovered – he figured it was time to give it a break. Plus, he was taking his mother Sammy to the game, so it definitely made more sense just to get a cab.
“I put my baby away, let it rest,” grinned Smith-Schuster, who enthusiastically pantomimed riding a bike when he was shown on the videoboard to Queen’s Bicycle Race, much to the delight of the crowd. “And I took a Lyft here.”
Smith-Schuster has become a big hockey fan since attending his first game in Nashville while on a pre-draft visit to the Tennessee Titans back in April. He went to one of the Predators’ playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks – who they upset in a first-round sweep.
Once he arrived in Pittsburgh after being selected by the Steelers in the second round of the NFL Draft, Smith-Schuster learned that, coincidentally enough, the Penguins were playing the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I guess throughout that (NSH-CHI) series, it was really crazy,” Smith-Schuster said. “And when I finally got to Pittsburgh, I got drafted and I was like, ‘man, our Penguins are really good.’ I was like, ‘who are they playing?’ They said the Preds. I was like, ‘I just watched the Preds! They’re killing it right now.’ So I came to every playoff home game.”
He ended up being good luck, as the Penguins won all three Final games Smith-Schuster attended. The superstitious Smith-Schuster said he would have definitely attended Game 7 if there had been one, but the Penguins were able to clinch the Stanley Cup in Game 6, which he watched from his hotel.
A few days later, Smith-Schuster got the chance to see the trophy up close when Nick Bonino brought it to Steelers minicamp. He still marvels at the atmosphere in the arena in the games leading up to that second-straight championship.
“It’s so funny, I still have the videos on my phone,” Smith-Schuster said. “I was showing my mom and saying like, ‘this is way crazier in the playoffs.’ She saw and she was like ‘wow, this is a lot crazier.’ I think for me, the experience of playing at Heinz Field, that energy and vibe, I could just feel it in here with the small arena and the excitement it brings to the city.”
We sat down in a couple of empty seats in Smith-Schuster’s section to talk, which ended up being right next to Matt Murray’s father Jim. Smith-Schuster made sure to tell Jim how much he admired his son, which was a pretty awesome interaction.
“I am a big fan of Matt Murray,” said Smith-Schuster, who identifies with him as a fellow young player. “I even told him like, ‘yo bro, I respect your work. Everything you do.’ He was a rookie, too. This is his second year, right? So that’s why I was like, ‘I’m a big fan.’ To be a young guy, to play early and do what he did was pretty dope.”
Smith-Schuster, who is the youngest player in the NFL at 20 years old, said he is planning to get a No. 30 jersey at some point – which is something the goaltender would love to help him out with.
“JuJu is a ton of fun to watch, and seems like an awesome guy,” Murray said. “I’m a huge fan. He’s said some really nice things about me in the media and I really appreciate it. I’d love to swap jerseys sometime.”
The one jersey Smith-Schuster already has is Sidney Crosby, which he was wearing at Thursday’s game.
“Honestly, I just think everything about him is pretty dope,” Smith-Schuster said. “I look up to AB, Big Ben, those guys. And you look at Sid, a leader, a captain, and the way he plays, it’s pretty dope. He’s just a good role model, you know?”
While Smith-Schuster’s favorite Penguins are Crosby and Murray, he said he has so much respect for all hockey players – especially since the last time he skated, it didn’t go well as he fell and busted his head. However, when his mother asked if he would try it again, Smith-Schuster said if he had full pads and protection he would “for sure.”
“The balance they have, I don’t know how they can skate on ice and focus on everything that they’re doing at the same time,” he laughed. “It’s just so much.”
Smith-Schuster may be relatively new to the game of hockey, but he already loves the sport and how much the teams in this city support each other.
“It’s super huge,” Smith-Schuster said. “I think the best part about it is the unity, we ride as one. In other cities, they have different uniforms, different colors, while we’re black and yellow all the way. No matter what we go through in our situations on the field and off the field, we always stick together.”