Rinks and Rings

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Furman-Whitney-beachWhitney Pappas '11 and Furman South '12 have spent thousands of hours on the ice. But the Colonial Couple, who will be married over Fourth of July weekend, hardly ever skate together.

"We just don't really do it that often," says South, a Sewickley native and former winger for the Colonials who got his first start as an NHL referee in April. "We'll watch a hockey game together. We just don't really ever say, 'Do you want to go skate?'"

Their first date was driving golf balls at RMU Island Sports Center, just a stone's throw from the rink where they played for four seasons — Pappas as an accomplished defenseman for the Colonials who was named Defensive Player of the Year her final season, South as a defensive-minded forward. Both made names for themselves on the penalty kill unit, and both got to experience the joy of beating the top-ranked team in the country as Colonials.

"It was like we had won the Stanley Cup, we were just so excited," says Pappas, of Colorado, recalling a 3-2 victory over the University of Minnesota on their ice her sophomore year. For South, it was a home-and- away sweep of the University of Miami. The untold story behind that 2010 victory, he sheepishly admits, was that the team spent the week leading up to the game not practicing, but scrubbing the glass at the rink and sorting books at the library — part of the punishment for a dorm party that got out of hand.

Pappas majored in communication, and those skills along with classes she took in advertising, marketing, and sport management served her well in her first big job, handling promotions and community relations for the Johnstown Tomahawks, a junior league team that had just relocated from Alaska. "I was used to being the product," she says. "I was on the ice. I didn't have to worry about what time the refs needed to be on the ice, or what time intermission had to be ready."

She excelled so much in that job that the team owners, Edgeworth-based holding company Esmark, brought her back to headquarters. Now she is developing her skills in financial and contract management for the holding corporation, which does business in manufacturing, oil and gas drilling and production, real estate, business services, and steel.

"I just told her the other day, when we had our year-end reviews, I said, 'Whitney, we've got grand plans for you,'" says Greg Pilewicz, president of Esmark. He credits Pappas with an "extremely strong work ethic and a desire to want to learn and do more," which he attributes in part to her time as a Robert Morris student-athlete. Perhaps that's to be expected from the first student-athlete in RMU history to be named a finalist for the national BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award.

South studied biology as a pre-med major, passed his MCATs, and was two weeks away from moving to Philadelphia to start med school when he had second thoughts. Invited to an NHL-sponsored camp for prospective league officials, he decided he really wanted to stay on the ice. Last summer he got the job, and after jetting all over the country refereeing for the minor leagues for a season, in early April he got the call for his first NHL regular season game, with the Phoenix Coyotes hosting the Vancouver Canucks. His dad and his fiancée both came to watch, and he even got to call a penalty shot.

"Standing at center ice for the national anthems, so many thoughts were going through my head," he says. "It seemed kind of surreal that I was on NHL ice, something I had dreamt of since I started playing hockey when I was little."

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