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Starkey: About those quiet Consol crowds

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Credit the Penguins for addressing some issues and altering the early course of their season.

Coach Dan Bylsma made the first move after a dreadful loss to the Islanders nine days ago. Instead of stubbornly sticking with a failed power-play design, he took James Neal off the point. The new alignment is sensible and effective so far.

General manager Ray Shero went next, alertly plucking winger Zach Boychuk off waivers. Perhaps most importantly, the team clearly decided that preventing goals should be objective No. 1 and that offense, with a roster this talented, will take care of itself.

The result is four straight wins in which the Penguins have allowed a total of six goals.

So what do we complain about now?

Well, there is one issue: those solemn crowds at the ironically named Consol Energy Center. The masses targeted this topic on Day 1 and haven't let go.

Seems the only time the place gets energized is when the Penguins are doing wonderful things on the ice. Otherwise, it's a library.

“Quiet, please! Hockey game in progress.”

I don't mind, actually, because I enjoy the sounds of the game — pucks hitting tape, skates carving ice. I don't need constant yelling at a sporting event. I find Penguins crowds to be eminently knowledgeable, if rather subdued. And that makes them similar to many traditional Canadian hockey crowds.

I just wish the constant scoreboard pleas for more noise would stop.

If Jimi Hendrix's “Fire” song and Gene Hackman's “Hoosiers” speech don't work, nothing will. Yet fans are bombarded with ear-splitting music (we're still playing Gary Glitter?), power-play appeals (“Come on, make it loud, the Penguins are on the POWERBALL POWER PLAY!”), a “Live Decibel Tracker,” a “Get Loud Meter” and scoreboard commands such as “Scream!” “Loud!” or “Everybody Clap Your Hands!”

They don't want to, OK?

The topic has inspired some spirited debate. I took special note of the atmosphere early in the Jan. 29 Islanders game because so many people had complained about the crowd at the opener.

I didn't mind the environment at the opener. It was electric for introductions. Then a hockey game happened. Sure, it wasn't especially boisterous even before the Leafs took the lead, but so what? The real point was that people filled the building after the NHL's unconscionable 113-day lockout.

I paid closer attention in the Islanders game and tweeted out a question near the end of the first period: What does this game sound like on TV?

Among the litany of responses:

“Silent”

“Dead silent”

“Like a golf tourney”

“Like a tomb”

“Quiet, very quiet”

“Like a Monday night game at PNC Park”

“Crickets”

“Like a candlelight vigil”

For a better feel, I made my way to the Captain Morgan Club on the lower level, opposite the benches. An enthusiastic woman next to me had abandoned her seat and was standing in the club so that she could, you know, cheer.

This was before the Islanders took a commanding lead.

Jay Farmerie, 60, said he has been a season-ticket holder for most of the Penguins' history, starting in 1967. He claims the Consol crowds are much more subdued than the old Igloo crowds.

“I think it's just the cost of tickets,” Farmerie said. “It's more of a business crowd.”

Other theories abound: the acoustics are different; fans are spoiled; etc. Critics will tell you the team's intra-squad scrimmage played to a raucous gathering.

OK, but that crowd was skewed younger and got in for free. The reality is that somebody has to pay for tickets, and that somebody will be who they are.

The important fact is that people continue to show up in record numbers. They fill the place, to the tune of 257 consecutive sellouts.

Yes, it's a middle- and upper-class crowd that isn't especially loud and is taken out of games pretty easily. Times have changed, here and elsewhere.

Deal with it.

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