'Igloo' chills Penguins' opponents

| Friday, Oct. 24, 2008

Pittsburgh isn't Montreal when it comes to citizens' enthusiasm for the local NHL club.

"But it's getting there," center Max Talbot said Thursday prior to the Penguins' 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Mellon Arena.

The Penguins played before a 72nd consecutive home sellout crowd, one a little more juiced due to about 600 area college and high-school students that secured hard-to-get tickets through the team's student rush program.

About twice that many hopeful students waited outside the arena -- the first set up a tent sometime around 7 p.m. Wednesday -- for the chance to watch players that insist their fans, especially the young ones, play a pivotal role in home success.

Talbot, a native of Canadian province Quebec, where he was raised among a rabid core of Montreal Canadiens fans, believes Penguins fans have created "a big home-ice advantage." Statistics back up his words.

The Penguins rated third in the NHL with 57 home points last season, fourth with 26 victories. They are 52-20-10 at home over the past two seasons, with a 0.85 average goal differential.

"We're a team that's energized by our home fans," captain Sidney Crosby said, adding that he first consider the Penguins' home-ice advantage as true when it won nine consecutive home games to start the playoff last season.

Talbot said opposing players are "jealous" of the oft-frenzied atmosphere at Mellon Arena.

"You talk to guys from different teams, and you know how fortunate you are," Talbot said. "You talk to (center Mike Zigomanis) and (left wing Bill) Thomas, who came from Phoenix, where they don't have all this craziness. It's not just in the building on game days; it's all around town, you see Penguins flags at houses, people wearing hats downtown.

"Obviously, Montreal is crazy and over-the-top, but you can say that Pittsburgh is getting there. Three years ago, it was all about the Steelers. The Steelers were everywhere. They still are, but we're stealing the show a little bit."

The Penguins are the show at FSN Pittsburgh.

Shawn McClintock, FSN Pittsburgh's assistant general manager and executive producer, said Penguins games attract 41 percent more than the national average for viewers 18 to 34 years old. With males in that age group, a coveted advertising demographic, Penguins games are 113 percent above the average.

The median age of FSN Pittsburgh viewers for Penguins games is 43, compared to 48 for Pirates and 47 for Steelers.

McClintock also said that the top five rated hockey games on any FSN regional network last season involved the Penguins, who are "well above the average" in every adult male category.

So, when defenseman Brooks Orpik says "it seems like we have a lot of young fans," he is not promoting a widely held belief by team officials.

"The fan support has always been there," Orpik said. "We haven't always played up to it. Last year, for some reason, we really struggled at home to start the season. But going into the playoffs, we felt like we couldn't lose here.

"It wasn't something we talked about, but it was something we were aware of. It might sound like a cliche, but these fans definitely give us a little more of a jump going into games. For whatever reason, we feed off (the fans)."

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