PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 15: Pittsburgh Penguins fan Owen Murphy watches warmups prior to the start of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Attending an NHL game is an experience unlike most professional sporting events.
The biting chill from the ice, the organ filling the arena between plays, the tangibility of momentum swings. It's become an insatiable addiction for many, especially in cities that boast teams that regularly give their fans something to cheer about.
Pittsburgh is certainly one of those cities with its rich history and circulation of talented players. It's even been affectionately dubbed "hockeytahn." While I don't doubt the passion the city has for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one questions has plagued the fan base for some time:
Why is Consol Energy Center so quiet during Pens games?
Being a recent college graduate from the DC Metro area, I don't frequent the Pens' home arena often so when my dad and I bought tickets to the Nov. 25 Pens game against the Ottawa Senators, I was drunk with hockey excitement. I was buzzing the entire day in anticipation for the game that evening, showing up at Consol Energy Center over an hour and a half before puck drop since it was my dad's first trip to the arena. The game would ironically boast the largest crowd ever at Consol for a Pens game - 18,610 people.
I had warned my dad about the silence many fans complained about this season but he refused to believe me. He was used to the time buses would transport hundreds of college students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania to the Civic Arena and the stands would shake with cheers when Dave Schultz got into a scrap. It wasn't long before my dad believed me.
The game itself was a strange phenomenon. It wasn't that the fans weren't paying attention to the game because they were. Very intently so. It reminded me of watching Taken at the movies; everyone is focused on the story but not saying a word until an "OH!" is warranted. Other than that, total concentration.
Pens fans are very knowledgeable in the sport of hockey. Despite what many rival fan bases claim, Pens fans have been watching hockey for decades and know what's happening on the ice. For the most part, they don't gripe when a clear offsides is called against the Pens and they will let the refs know when a rightfully questionable call has been made.
However, when the jumbotron prompted fans to "Make some noise!" or start a "Let's go Pens!" chant, they hardly batted an eyelash. I barely had to raise my voice to be heard in the chant. It was pathetic and not indicative of the passionate fan base Pittsburgh claims as a whole. Mind you, the Pens dominated this game, winning 6-3 so there was plenty to cheer about. I was even stunned to notice strange looks toward my dad and me when we would make exclamations about the game (and not in an obnoxious way). I felt like I was disturbing some of these people from watching the game. It was truly uncomfortable.
This discomfort is the problem. For some reason, Pens fans hardly get excited during regular season games unless there's a goal/fight or the Pens are playing a rival like the Philadelphia Flyers. And even then, the silence still creeps into games. There are enough people like this in the arena that the discomfort spreads to those who want to be crazy and cheer loudly for 60 minutes.
The whole situation is as frustrating as it is awkward in the arena. Pittsburgh has one of, if not the most talented team in the NHL. Why is it so difficult to get the crowd going with a "Let's go Pens!" chant? This should be easy, the Pens have a good team that, more often that not, puts on a good performance for the home crowd. We also see that craziness in all Pittsburgh Steelers games so it's not like Pittsburgh fans are incapable of making some noise.
So what is it?
Today, the Pens opened their doors to approximately 8,000 students for the Students Open Practice. Reporters described the event as Justin Bieber-like because of the noise levels coming from the youth. The vibe was similar when the Pens gave out tickets to students for the preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Clearly the problem is the ticket holders, not the actual fan base. I know for a fact that if the Pens fans who are on Twitter for every game were to become season ticket holders, Consol would never be silent. It's no secret that the Pens sell a lot of tickets to corporations which means less crazy college students from Student Rush. These are the people who are going to sit and watch a game as if it's a movie instead of the interactive experience it's meant to be.
Unfortunately, I don't see this behavior changing any time soon. Pittsburgh loves the Penguins, but they aren't the Steelers. They never will be.
What do you think it would take for fans to get more into the game?