The date was June 4, 2009.
The place was Mellon Arena.
It was a Thursday.
It was, in fact, a "Hockey Night in Pittsburgh."
And I will never forget it.
I’m not taking you too far back memory lane, am I? But maybe the date rings a bell for some. Let me paint the scene for you: Stanley Cup Finals vs. Detroit Red Wings. Game 4. The game was set to air on Versus at 8:00 PM EST, and also outside the Mellon itself on the Trib-tron. The Pens trailed the series 2-1, and we knew that if we didn’t win tonight’s game, we sacrificed the holiest of prizes to the prime opponent for a picture-perfect repeat of last year’s events.
I will be the first to admit to you, I didn’t have a darned clue how the game of hockey was played before about February 15, 2009, when my friend Dan burst into my dorm room and announced that Thierren had been fired as Head Coach and that Dan Bylsma of the Baby Pens was being brought up to replace him. I gave him a blank stare and asked him if he was there to help me with my accounting homework. His response was to show up for almost every Pens game that followed, using the excuse that my TV was nicer and his girlfriend practically lived in my room anyway, but really introducing me to the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Coming from a family of die-hard Steeler fans, I had always been the outcast, because football had never been my thing – but now I had my own brand of black and gold to cheer and cry with, and I’d never been happier than when we came back into playoff position.
Fast forward to June. I’d never been to a hockey game in my life and I certainly couldn’t afford tickets to a playoff game, but then TribTotalMedia erected a large screen to watch outside of Mellon Arena. The Tribtron. My friend Autumn and I got our work schedules and realized we were both off, all day, on the 4th. There was a moment of silence on the phone, and then we asked each other, “Wanna go to the city?!” Of course we did! We sort of made a day out of it – we saw a friend’s band play live in Mellon Square, we caught lunch on the South Side – but by 2:00 we were parked and unpacked and had set up camp on the Mellon lawn. You’d have thought that T-minus six hours until gametime would have been plenty of time to set up, but oh no. We were behind even the flag posts. We didn’t care though – that was pretty good seating, given the sheer amount of fans to eventually show up. We had a good view of the screen and that’s what mattered. We napped, played solitaire, took some pictures with some foil Stanley’s, made some new friends, and enjoyed ourselves. The air was humming with excitement as dusk descended… it had been warm in the afternoon, but as the sun dipped the temperature drop was definitely noticeable. My friend Dan and his girlfriend, Cassie, had joined us, squeezing in their lawn chairs behind ours, and they’d brought dinner too. Nothing like munching on cold subs! I got hit in the head no less than 10 times by various flying objects – beachballs of various sizes, Frisbees, you name it. It was all in good fun. (Except some kid who threw a burrito at some lady. That got security involved, and was kind of chaotic.) Two lone Red Wings fan had set up camp in our area, the girl affectionately known as “Ozzie” for her Osgood jersey and her boyfriend, who just kind of glowered at the rest of us the whole time.
I can’t explain to you what it felt like once the puck dropped. Sitting outside on a beautiful (albeit slightly chilly) June evening, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of Pens fans, screaming and yelling and groaning and crying all at once – there was nothing more perfect to me. I knew in those hours that these were my kind of fans, and that my next goal was to get into a game – maybe not this season, of course, but next. I would be there. One of the highlights of the night, of course, was Jordan Staal’s shorthanded goal in the second period to tie the game. I had chosen to wear Staal’s numbers – Dan insisted we all support different players, and since he’s rather superstitious I went with it - and like everyone else outside, screamed with disbelief and excitement that he’d gotten the goal. Dan picked me up from behind so that I was practically standing atop the back of my lawn chair, laughing, shouting; the crowd was insane as I had to gingerly find my way back to pavement.
The Pens won that night, 4-2, and would, as you’re all aware, take us to win the Stanley Cup to end the 2009 season. Even as I sat in a heinous amount of traffic, listening to replays of Mike Lange calling the game on WXDX as Autumn slept in the passenger’s seat (she had to be up for work at 6), I knew that I would always remember this night. I hope to have many a more Pens memory to share with years to come, but there are not that many chances now to make any more at the Mellon Arena. Here’s to you, ol’ girl, and for making a better memory with the Pens than my childhood one of “Sesame Street on Ice.”