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Banner night: Penguins celebrate Stanley Cup title before season opener

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 8:50 p.m.

The first standing ovation came when coach Mike Sullivan was announced to the PPG Paints Arena crowd.

The warmest reception was reserved for owner Mario Lemieux, who was playing a part in a ceremony like this for the fifth time.

The most ear-splitting roars were saved for franchise cornerstones Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

On Wednesday night, before the season opener against the St. Louis Blues, the Penguins celebrated their 2017 Stanley Cup championship one last time by raising a commemorative banner to the rafters.

For Crosby, the banner raising was different than the year before. Last season, he dressed in his gear and skated onto the ice with the Stanley Cup for the ceremony, but he couldn't play because he was recovering from a concussion suffered in training camp.

"I was still able to be part of it, which was huge," Crosby said. "That whole night and everything that comes along with it, seeing the banner go up, it puts a close to everything. … It's pretty quick to realize we're starting fresh and we've got to do it all over again."

Among the rest of the roster, defenseman Justin Schultz got a loud cheer, too, which makes sense. No player saw his public profile rise more after the team's second straight championship last June.

Thanks to a Miller Lite-fueled walk down the Boulevard of the Allies during the championship parade, a moment that was immortalized on T-shirts by merchandising entrepreneurs, Schultz has become a cult hero.

"I feel like I get recognized more being out. And you see some of those shirts people wear all the time downtown," Schultz said. "It's cool."

The banner raising was an unusual moment for heavyweight Ryan Reaves, center Greg McKegg, goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Matt Hunwick, offseason additions who weren't part of last year's championship run. They were announced first and lined up at the far end of the blue line before their new teammates filtered onto the ice.

It was a particularly awkward situation for Reaves, who played for the Blues for the previous seven seasons.

"I think it's a little weirder raising a banner with a new team looking across at my old team," he said. "That's the weird part."

The ceremony was notable for the players who weren't in attendance, too. Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen moved on in free agency over the summer. Longtime fan favorite Marc-Andre Fleury was chosen by Vegas in the NHL expansion draft.

No one in the Penguins locker room denied the feel was different without Fleury around.

"It's a little bit hard, but it's life. It's business," Malkin said. "Every year, we see different faces, a different team. We understand it's hard for us, but we've got to look forward. Flower's a good player, a good goalie. I hope he plays very well in Vegas."

A banner raising can probably never become a ho-hum experience, but for Brian Dumoulin, it's become a rite of fall. He won national championships in two of his three seasons at Boston College before both of his full seasons in the NHL ended with a title celebration.

"It's cool. Everyone's just staring up at the ceiling, watching that thing go up," Dumoulin said. "It's cool standing there with your teammates, both from last year and the new ones this year. It's a special moment. It's good that it's only five or 10 minutes and then you kind of park it and that's kind of the end of that season. It's nice."

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

The Penguins raise the Stanley Cup banner before the Penguins-Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins raise the Stanley Cup banner before the Penguins-Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup before the Penguins-Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup before the Penguins-Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins raise the Stanley Cup banner before the Penguins Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins raise the Stanley Cup banner before the Penguins Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup  before the Penguins Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup before the Penguins Blues game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
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