Thursday, June 5, 2008


I have been straying away from writing about this due to the fact of accidentally jinxing the team, but since the Stanley Cup Finals ended last night, I felt I could comment on what I believe is the start of something magical.

I am not going to lie to you, I am not a hockey fan. For some reason I have never truly gravitated to the sport. I even tried it once a long time ago, but it appears that you need to have a pretty good idea on how to skate to participate. Who knew?

There is just something that has always thrown me off about the game. Perhaps it's the fact that I live in a city where it's winter for basically 9 months out of the year. Going into a building to watch hockey, a sport that needs to be cold, just doesn't seem logical. Then again, it could also be the fact that I am a huge basketball fan, and the two sports coincide with each other during the season. Or, and this could be the main point (much like soccer), there just isn't enough scoring.

The only thing that has ever gotten me interested, at least to a point, is the Pittsburgh Penguins. I was born in Pittsburgh, and have lived there for 13 years of my life. I now consider myself a New Yorker, but my roots and my sporting allegiances will always lay in the great city of Pittsburgh.
The Penguins were the team in the early '90s, capturing back-to-back Stanley Cups on the wings of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. But, the Hodgkin's disease and injuries that Lemieux suffered over the years stopped the cups at two. And Jagr was traded to the Capitals to help with a struggling franchise.

It soon became apparent that the Penguins were no longer a draw in Pittsburgh. They were finishing in or around last for years, and had filed for bankruptcy. Lemieux purchased the team to help save the Penguins in the city of Pittsburgh, but even up to a few years ago it appeared that if the Penguins were to survive - it would be in another city.

Things began to change, however, a couple of years ago. With multiple losing seasons, Pittsburgh had built up a number of high draft picks over the years - that amazingly (unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates) began to play well together at the same time. Plus, landing a born superstar in Sidney Crosby, was just what Pittsburgh needed to stay in the city.

And now, the Penguins will be moving into a brand new building in the 2010-2011 season. Mellon Arena (or the Igloo) has been a staple in Pittsburgh for years. The arena is one of the oldest in the NHL, and the team definitely needed an upgrade (especially with fellow Pittsburgh teams - the Steelers and Pirates - moving into better fields a few seasons ago).

The Penguins had pulled me back into the NHL Playoffs this season. I watched a little bit last years, as this young team made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2000, but were knocked out in the quarterfinals.

This year, however, Pittsburgh had a bit of magic. They rolled through the first round against Ottawa, then lost just once to the Rangers. They defeated in-state rival, Philadelphia, in the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-1. The Penguins rolled through the playoffs, going 8-0 on their home ice.

The Stanley Cup Finals completed last night, as the veteran Detroit Red Wings knocked off the up-and-coming Penguins in six games. But, Pittsburgh can take a lot from this series, and this playoff run. Their core of players are in the 21 years old age range, and if they are able to stay together (if greed can stay subdued) then they have a chance to be one of the greatest teams ever - with multiple Stanley Cups in their future.

Pittsburgh, once for sale and about to move to Kansas City, is now the second best team in the NHL, the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the team with the most promising future. Detroit had been there before, they owned the experience - and in games 1 and 2 it showed. But the Penguins didn't roll over, and they made this a series. The City of Pittsburgh will be expecting big things from this team - and I think their expectations will be met.

Thanks for a great run Pens. You even made a non-hockey fan like myself, interested in a sport played on ice (what were they thinking?).

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