Welcome to the refreshed Pensburgh! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPost to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
True story: I didn’t start out as a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The very first hockey game I attended was in 1998, at the then-Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. Lower bowl, second row from the glass. I could only see half of the game in front of me; I had to rely on standard-definition video boards for the rest (OH, THE HORROR).
I don’t remember much about the game, other than:
- The New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers.
- Philly almost tied the game late, but had the potential equalizer denied on video review.
- I got yelled at by an usher for pounding on the glass.
- At one point, a puck flew over the glass and split open the forehead of a fan sitting one section to my right.
But there was something about the game that drew me in. Since the Devils won the game, I started following them. (Which, in hindsight, was a great thing; if Philly had won that game, who knows if I’d be here now. I might be writing this over at Broad Street.)
Yep...in the first few years of my hockey fandom, the New Jersey Devils were my team.
Did I know that the Jersey trap had set the sport back so many years? No, not really. Did I know a whole lot about the intricacies of the sport? No, not really. But late into the night of June 10, 2000, when Jason Arnott scored in double-overtime to give Jersey its second Stanley Cup, I felt just as excited as anyone else.
Right around that time, though, I started to waver. Even though I owned a red Devils jersey, starting in 2000 I also owned a white, black, yellow, and red WBS Penguins jersey.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins opened for business in the fall of 1999, which brought professional hockey to my back yard (literally; I live 10 minutes from the arena). While it wasn’t the farm team for the Devils, it was still professional hockey, and the night WBS came back from down 7-3 against the then-St. John’s Maple Leafs with four goals in the third to earn a 7-7 tie, I was hooked.
A funny thing started to happen as the years went on and WBS stepped to the line of the unthinkable by coming two wins short of the Calder Cup in their second season. Starting with John Slaney, when he was taken from the WBS roster during the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons to play in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins, I started watching Pittsburgh to see the player I loved watching so much in my backyard.
Slaney was the first. Tom Kostopoulos, then in his first stint for the Penguins, was second. Following in those footsteps were such notables as Toby Petersen, Andrew Ference, Michal Rozsival, Eric Meloche, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, and Maxime Talbot, among so many others. As I tuned in on TV (when I could) or radio (much more often) to watch or listen to the local guys play for Pittsburgh, I was introduced to the Pittsburgh stars of the time. Lang. Hrdina. Kovalev. Straka. Morozov. Kasparaitis.
And my eyes started to wander away from the Devils. Especially when the NHL Penguins brought their training camp to WBS and played an intra-squad exhibition game with the greatest of all the Penguins suiting up for WBS instead of for Pittsburgh.
By the time the Devils won their third Cup in 2003, I had silently jumped off the train. I wasn’t a fully fledged fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins by that time, but enough WBS players had graduated from the farm to make me prefer Pittsburgh games to any other franchise out there.
The lockout in 2004 removed all NHL fandom questions for a while, as the AHL became the top league in the country and a 19-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury, fresh off his rookie season in Pittsburgh, took up residence in WBS for a year.
But then, on a summer afternoon in July 2005 as I was getting ready to go out for dinner, all questions about my fandom were answered.
Why am I a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins? Watching players promoted from WBS succeeding for the parent team started the process, but the Sidney Crosby Lottery catalyzed my fandom once and for all.
That’s right. I’m a Crosby Lottery Fan.
Do I regret missing the glory years of Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, and Barrasso? My goodness, yes. Any time I watch Lemieux’s eight-point playoff game in 1989, Pittsburgh 8-0 over Minnesota to win their first Cup, Mike Keenan juggling goalies in Chicago in 1992 in a feeble attempt to stave off the inevitable, or any of the glory days, there’s a part of me that’s sad that I came to the party as late as I did.
But at the end of the day, does it really matter when any of us started with this insanity? I don’t think so.
You may have started on the Crosby lottery like I did. You might have started with the Lemieux draft in 1984. Or when the aforementioned Talbot shushed the Philly crowd in 2009 to spark a five-goal outburst that blew away the Flyers. You may have been as naïve as I was one day when I sat in the Igloo and asked Leafs fans sitting behind me what the “SIXTY-SEVEN” chant meant. Or you may have started just this summer by jumping on board with the defending champions, and you’re secretly still trying to figure out why that offensive rush was stopped all of a sudden as they crossed the blue line.
Our fandom shapes our experiences. My 19 years in this sport’s fandom, along with everything I’ve seen, have taught me that it’s a lot better to sit upstairs, away from the action, so I can see plays develop. It’s even better to sit behind the netting. And never, never, NEVER leave the game early (unless in case of emergency or a short night’s sleep), because you just never know. Why else do you think I own a Billy Guerin shirt?
(Turning a game off of the TV in frustration, though? That’s fair game.)
It doesn’t matter when you started. The bottom line is, you’re here now. That’s all that matters.
But just for fun...if you want to share your own origin story, either in a FanPost or in the comments, go right ahead. You might even win something out of the deal if you write a FanPost. Let’s all reminisce a little bit today as the SB Nation network puts on a fresh new face and as we prepare for Game 7 tonight.
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