Penguins' deep playoff runs has merchants, fans catching hockey fever
An eight-day layoff between games might not be optimal for the Penguins as they enter the Eastern Conference Finals, but it fit right into Bill Adams' business plan.
“The out-of-towners will come in Friday and spend some money,” said Adams, owner of Black and Gold Forever sportswear shop in the Strip District, where Penguins gear covers walls, racks and display cases.
“Then we'll have all day Saturday before the game, and that should be really busy,” Adams continued, describing an expected spending frenzy among hockey fans. “People should stick around for the Pirates game on Sunday, and then Game 2 is Monday. The schedule worked out beautiful.”
Three days before the Penguins' third-round National Hockey League matchup starts Saturday at Consol Energy Center against the Boston Bruins, signs of playoff fever began to intensify across Western Pennsylvania.
The Pens' deepest run since their Stanley Cup championship in 2009 means dollar signs for vendors such as Adams, restaurant owners and hoteliers. VisitPittsburgh estimates each home game in the third round generates more than $4 million in spending.
“We are expecting huge business this weekend,” said Joe Redlinger, manager at the T.G.I. Friday's restaurant that opened at Consol Energy Center in 2011. “On game day, every single person in here will have a Pens shirt on.”
Some merchants said the fan frenzy took off slowly.
“It's getting there. Maybe people are waiting until the weekend,” said Kerry Nauhaus, who runs Albert's Gifts in the Strip District, which specializes in Steelers, Penguins and Pirates gear.
“Maybe people are spoiled by having the greatest player in the world here and their expectations are too high,” said Christine Dickey, a server at the Dor-Stop Restaurant in Dormont, the only business along Potomac Avenue with a Pens sign in its window on Wednesday.
Allegheny County officials will help stoke playoff fever at noon Friday with their third fan rally at the Courthouse, Downtown. County spokeswoman Amie Downs said fans can expect cookies and tea from Oakmont Bakery and Turner Dairy, musical acts, face painting and contests for best-dressed fan, best banner and best Pens look-alikes. Fans can bring donations for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Players said they notice and appreciate the team spirit.
“I don't think we take it for granted. We feel the support. I don't know how to measure that, but we know that's a lot,” said center Sidney Crosby, that “greatest player in the world” Dickey mentioned.
“The city has a lot of pride in their sports teams here,” he said.
Left winger Brenden Morrow, who joined the team from Dallas in March, said fans already recognize him around town. In Texas, he said, only the Cowboys get such support.
“It's a good feeling to be recognized and know that the fans are enjoying this run that we're having,” Morrow said.
Center Tyler Kennedy said fans stop him on the street.
“It's great,” he said. “A lot of restaurants are really good to us. They fit us in there when we kind of call at the last minute.”
Even with playoff beards, a player appearance can cause a buzz.
“My boss texted me the other day to tell me (winger) Matt Cooke was in with his son,” said Sue Ritchey of Ross, a fan who works at North Park Driving Range in McCandless.
Ritchey likes to change the message on the range's sign on East Ingomar Road. Last week she made it: “Hey Pens, Send Em Golfing.”
“I think Penguins fever is with us,” she said. “People are wearing more Penguins T-shirts and hats. I think it's great.”