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WASHINGTON (KDKA/AP) – The back-to-back Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins were honored at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

President Donald Trump called them “true champions and incredible patriots.”

Trump welcomed the Penguins into the Oval Office. Then, he celebrated the Pens’ second consecutive championship in the East Room of the White House and singled out the achievements of back-to-back Conn Smythe-winner Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and American Phil Kessel, among others.

“With hockey season again underway, I know you’re ready to make yet another run at the Cup. the NHL has not seen a three-peat in a generation, but I know you are ready for the challenge,” Trump said. “I’m gonna be watching so closely, because you think you’re gonna be back here next year? I think so, right?”

Trump has grabbed a number of sports headlines in recent weeks, including his criticism of NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem and his decision to dis-invite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to the White House.

Watch the full ceremony here:

He joked that Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle should help him renegotiate NAFTA but avoided any talk about other sports.

The Penguins are the fourth championship team and third pro team to visit Trump at the White House after the NFL’s New England Patriots, Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs and college football’s Clemson Tigers.

Crosby, coach Mike Sullivan and other members of the Penguins said this visit had nothing to do with politics.

“When you have an opportunity to win a championship like this team has the last two seasons, the White House visit is part of that tradition, and it’s always an exciting opportunity for our team and for our players,” Sullivan said. “We have players on our roster from six different countries, so anytime you have an opportunity to visit the White House and see it up close and personal with the history and what the White House represents to the United States, I think it’s certainly a terrific experience.”

Coach Sullivan press conference:

The team said in a statement it respected the tradition of visiting the White House.

The statement, released last month, read:

“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

“Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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