NHL insider: Fleury thanks fans by upgrading Student Rush tickets

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

Allyson Strahler's friends can believe it.

Strahler, 19, and Alyssa Mancini, 20, roommates at Duquesne University, watched the Penguins' victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night from arguably the best seats in Consol Energy Center.

Section 118, Row A, Seats 11-12.

“I have to take a picture because my friends won't believe me,” Strahler said.

Strahler, of Fox Chapel, and Mancini, of Aliquippa, were coincidentally — and fittingly — dressed in black Penguins jerseys with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's name and No. 29 on the back.

Upon placing an order for student rush tickets early Thursday morning, neither girl expected to attend the game as guests of Fleury. That also was true of Dave Bailey, 20, and Jake Cockrell, 21, each of Mt. Pleasant — and now two of Fleury's bigger fans.

“Oh, yeah, that's nice,” Fleury said, laughing. “Maybe I should buy everybody seats.”

That could get expensive even for a player whose annual paycheck is $5 million.

Fleury has committed to spending $500 a game to give four fans “glass seats” — the first row behind the cage he defends twice. The gate price for each seat is $125, and Fleury will spend around $11,000 this season.

Not a dime is tax exempt.

“I just thought it was important to do something extra for our fans,” Fleury said. “They are so great. They fill the building. They have cheered me during hard times. They stuck by us during the lockout.

“I wanted to thank them somehow.”

Jim Britt, the Penguins' manager of team services, suggested that Fleury buy seats that would serve as upgrades for some of the 200 people who attend games as part of the student rush program for younger fans.

The student rush program dates to the 1990s when the Penguins were consistently falling 200 to 300 seats short of a sellout at Civic Arena. Its popularity exploded in 2005-06, after a season-long lockout, and fans formed lines outside Mellon Arena to see the young crop of Penguins, including Fleury and Sidney Crosby.

Fleury, about to become a dad for the first time, said he has a soft spot for the student rush fans.

On Thursday night, Bailey and Cockrell ended up going from standing room only to Seats 5-6, also in Section 118, Row A. The Westmoreland County Community College students thought a Consol Energy Center staffer at the box office was pulling a prank when alerting them of the change in plans.

“I was like, ‘Is this real?' ” Bailey said.

Of the four students, only Bailey was a first-timer for the student rush.

Fleury was never among his favorite Penguins but as of Thursday night was “pretty much up there now, maybe behind Sid.”

Mancini has “always loved ‘Flower.' ”

Strahler, too — though on Thursday night she had even more of a reason.

“My dad is here; it's his first time at Consol,” Strahler said. “We were supposed to sit in Section 236, and he was in 120, and he was bragging about having better seats. He's gonna be so mad.

“Fleury is so awesome!”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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