Pittsburgh: A great hockey town
At first, all the talk about the Penguins' potential move out of Pittsburgh didn't really phase me at all. Being Canadian, I really didn't care about the prospect of an American team moving from one city to another, especially since, earlier on, it seemed like the Pens moving to Hamilton was a distinct possibility. However, that was before I realized what a great fan base the Penguins have, and what a shame it would be for Pittsburgh to be without a hockey team next fall.
It's one thing for a team like the Florida Panthers to move, or even fold. Their attendance numbers are mediocre, and hockey in the Miami region almost always takes a backseat to football, baseball, basketball, and football again. On the other hand, the Penguins average a 93.2% operating capacity at Mellon Arena, an impressive number considering that the Pens haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and that Mellon is the NHL's oldest arena.
Evidently, the reasons for the Penguins' successes at the gate this year have a lot to do with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, two of the league's youngest and most explosive stars. Another factor is the Pittsburgh faithful's attachment to former superstar Mario Lemieux, who is part-owner of the team. In general, though, Pittsburgh is just a strong hockey market, and it would be a huge mistake to allow the Penguins to leave for Kansas City or wherever else the dollar signs may lead them.
Last night's Habs-Pens game was one of the most entertaining I've seen in awhile. The best aspects of the game were in full display in Pennsylvania: passion, speed, and skill. As Pierre McGuire mentioned on TSN, the NHL should "bottle this game up and show it to people around the world." The Penguins put on quite a show last night, and for that, they are my new second-favourite team. And the best part of it all is that they did it in front of a screaming, raucous, sell-out crowd of 17,132.
The atmosphere was unreal, and you could feel it emanating from the TV. If only all American NHL teams were the same way.