It is time for another edition of Story time with Gretz! Today am going to look back at some of my favorite Penguins games I have attended both as a fan and a sports writer. Also, I want to hear your stories from your favorite games you ever attended, or the first game you ever attended, or any game you ever attended. Share your stories!
1. My first game: January 13, 1994 against the Florida Panthers. Had to look up the date on this one (my memory is not that good) but I knew it was during this season, and I knew it was against the Panthers, who were a first-year expansion team that season. Everything about this game was a total surprise for me because I had absolutely no idea I would be going until the day of the game. I was in elementary school and had never been to a hockey game before because they were just so damn expensive. I came home from school and my immediately told me I had to do my home work instantly. This was a change of pace because I was usually allowed to do it whenever I wanted, and I remember initially being pretty angry about it. But then she finally let me know that my dad had been given three tickets to that night’s Penguins game at work, and that the seats were three rows from the ice. It was insane.
Not only was I going to my first game, but I was practically sitting on the glass. I do not remember much from the game except random specifics. I remember it ended in a 2-2 tie. I remember Jaromir Jagr almost getting into a fight. I remember Mario Lemieux did not play because he was sitting out that season. I remember a guy sitting behind us spending the entire night screaming at Marty McSorley about how worthless he was. I remember being amazed at just the general speed and excitement from that close.
2. My first in-person look at Mario Lemieux: March 14, 2001 against the New York Islanders. In took me nearly a decade to finally get a chance to see Lemieux play in person. Every game I went to as a kid was either during a season where he was sitting out, retired, or a game that he just happened to miss. I only ever saw him play in person on two separate occasions. There was the face-off goal game we already talked about here.
The other was this random game against the Islanders in his comeback season. The Penguins ended up losing the game, but seeing Lemieux in person was worth it. Especially since he did this to future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara.
3. Game 7, 2017 Eastern Conference Final vs. Ottawa Senators: May 25, 2017. This was a work game and one of the most exciting hockey games I have ever witnessed in person. The only one that compares to it is Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston when Chicago scored two goals in 24 seconds to win the Stanley Cup. There is still something to be said for double overtime of Game 7 with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, especially when it is a team in the middle of a run of back-to-back championships. This was one of those games where you could tell no one in attendance was enjoying it. Fans were going insane and were stressed. Sports writers were freaking over deadlines and how much their story had to change. The players had everything right in front of them.
Then Chris Kunitz, who had really slowed down that season and in the playoffs, played the biggest game of his life with two goals including the Eastern Conference clinching goal to send the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final. I remember running down the hallway of the media level to try and get to the elevator and Sergei Gonchar sprinting out of the Penguins’ executive booth in excitement and nearly knocking me over.
4. Stanley Cup Final Game 1 in Detroit: May 24, 2008. This was the first Stanley Cup Final game I ever attended, and even though the Penguins were completely dominated (it was as one-sided as any Stanley Cup Final game I had ever seen) and ended up losing the series it was still an incredible experience.
At the time I was working a 9-5 office job and in the middle of a discussion with co-workers made the impulse decision to buy two tickets to the game just a couple of days later, not even having anyone to go with at that moment. I ended up going with a friend from work, spent a day exploring Detroit, and then went to the game. There were thousands upon thousands of Penguins fans in the arena, and I remember the staff at Joe Louis Arena being especially accommodating. They told us where to go to watch warmups, we met Penguins fans during the day and at the arena from all over the country that had arrived in Detroit for the game, and someone even yelled at former mayor Luke Ravenstahl who was also hanging out with the fans. We sat three rows from the top of the arena and had a blast.
5. The Henrik Lundqvist net flipping game: March 3, 2016. Probably one of the single most absurd things I have ever seen at a professional sporting event. Angry with a missed call by the officials and looking to get a stoppage in play because he was injured, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist turned around and flipped the net over just as the Penguins were starting an odd-man rush the other way. It was pure insanity and caused mayhem throughout the building.
After the game everyone was just walking around the locker rooms and hallways and media room just asking each other “have you ever seen anything like that before?” No one ever had. Not in person, anyway. The Penguins went on to win the game 4-1 to continue their late season push. It was such a big moment for the Penguins because it seemed to be a turning point game. At that point Lundqvist had owned them and the Rangers had already ended two recent postseasons for them. It was that game that the Penguins solved Lundqvist. They were just starting to get on a roll under Mike Sullivan and with all of their in-season roster changes, and they solved the goalie that kept standing in their way. It was that game where — for me — it really seemed like that team was capable of doing something special. Then they went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.