This article was sent in by Mateusz Ostrowski from Penguins.pl. I felt the need not to fix the English translation of the article to preserve some of its Polish beauty. Below you'll read some history and some sacrifices. But most of all you'll read about some passionate Pens fans across Pens Universe. Enjoy!
The collapse of communist regime and the beginning of democratic transition in Poland in 1989 arguably was one of the brightest moments of the country’s history. The positive impact of democracy and capitalism is out of question. However, for some particular areas of communist Poland, the dawn of new order was the beginning of big trouble. When it comes to industry, it was the light industry taking a huge blow. When it comes to transport, it’s the railroads still struggling to find their way to operate in the free market reality. And finally, when it comes to sports, without any doubt the biggest victim was ice hockey.
In new reality, where all of a sudden everything has to make sense from financial point of view, Polish ice hockey was simply doomed. The costs of equipment and maintenance of hockey-friendly arenas was way too much to handle for most sports clubs, primarily because the popularity of hockey was not even close to much cheaper soccer, basketball or volleyball. To this day professional hockey teams survived mostly in smaller towns, where there is no high level soccer team (although with notable exceptions – Krakow and lately resurrected professional team in capital Warsaw). All the organizational problems found their reflection in descend of level of Polish hockey. Since 1992 Polish National Team only once played at elite-pool World Championships tournament (in 2002) and never qualified for Winter Olympic Games.
In spite of all that, it were the last two decades, when Poland saw two of their players making their way to the National Hockey League. The first one, Krzystof Oliwa also known as “The Polish Hammer” is the only Polish player who has his name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup (after Devils won it in 2000) and the only one to ever wear a Penguin jersey. Oliwa is still considered as one of the best enforcers to ever play in Pittsburgh even though his one and a half season tenure with the Penguins was relatively short one. The second one was Mariusz Czerkawski who also should be well recognized by older Penguins fans, as he spent most successful years of his career playing for division rival Islanders through years 1997-2002 and in 2003-04 season.
All the above, with the rapid growth of broadband internet and the popularity of EA Sports “NHL” games series (which is surprisingly much more popular than hockey itself) caused many people to look across the pond for some NHL hockey. That led to breed of several internet fan bases, mostly for Original Six teams (for example, at 2008 Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Red Wings already had their polish – language fan sites). As for the Polish Penguin fans – although events like drafting Sidney Crosby and finally winning The Cup in 2009 raised the popularity of the Penguins in Poland, for quite some time there was no web site for polish Pens fans.
That changed the day Dawid Szewczyk, the Penguins fan and web site designer decided to create the Pittsburgh Penguins Polish Fan Site which was launched less than a year ago and is constantly developing since, gathering all the Pens fans from Poland. The site has it’s own message board, chat system used during the games, little shop with some original Penguins merchandise and pretty much everything that polish-language fan needs.
And if you’re thinking we’re down here probably are not as much devoted as fans in Pittsburgh, let me ask you this question: how many fans you think Penguins would have, if the games started at 1 am?
Yes, that’s right. 7 pm Eastern Time is 1 am Centreal European Time. Which means in order to watch a game live (which in most cases means to watch it at all, since most of us don’t have DVR or Gamecenter Live subscription and their only option is illegal internet streams) , we have to stay awake until 3.30 am. And it gets even more ridiculous when Pens play some Western Conference team. Well, occasionally there’s 1 pm ET (7 PM in Poland) game here and there that you Americans hate as much as we in Europe love them, but these are rather rarity.
And if that is not enough, let me riff a quick list of things to give you an idea how devoted of a fan base we are. Some of us, including me, are wearing playoff beards. Not for charity, just for the heck of it. One of the fans in Poland has a Penguin – themed tattoo. Where? Well… all over his back. Yup. A whole square meter of tattoo pictures ancient Roman solider holding a shield with Penguins logo. And this very same guy claimed last season that if Penguins will reach Stanley Cup Finals he will not shave even tough he has his wedding scheduled in early June (well, fortunately for the bride, that never happened). Well, I can understand his commitment very well, since I myself did not shave for my final high school exams. And, since it was in May 2009, I took one of the exams after 2 hours of sleep (Game 2 against Capitals). Imagine that: a completely under slept guy with big beard and a suite on about to take what is considered in Poland the most important exam of a lifetime. But in category of ‘Important Events’ I got flat out beat by one of our readers, Kuba. He missed his cousin’s wedding, because it was on the same day that Game One of 2009 Cup Finals. He didn’t write how close of a cousin that was, but yinz have to admit, that is some outstanding commitment one way or the other. Not to even mention how depressing it is for us to see Civic Arena being demolished just like that even though we obviously have never been there or how emotional it was for the older fans when Mario was fighting with cancer and then with politicians to keep Penguins in Pittsburgh. You would be surprised how much we wanted the Pens to stay in Steel City.
To sum things up, we hope it was entertaining and interesting for you to find out what fandom of a Penguins fan from Poland looks like. And if you’re going to CEC for a Pens game, we have a little appeal from us here: be really loud. Especially during playoffs. And NEVER, EVER scream ‘shoot’ during Pens power plays ;)
Mateusz Ostrowski and the whole Staff of Penguins.pl