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Dedicated Penguins fans make trek to Detroit

Sunday, May 31, 2009

DETROIT — Wearing a gold knit cap and matching Mario Lemieux sweater with a Penguins logo painted on her face, Joanna Brunken stood out in a crowd of Detroit Red Wings fans at Joe Louis Arena.

The Spring Hill resident made the road trip for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, only to be surrounded by red jerseys — including one worn by her uncle, Richard Michael, a Wings fan since moving here in January.

"It's my first away game," Brunken said. "I'm not a big fan of the Red Wings. It's not really scary, but it definitely makes me nauseous.

"Penguins fans• Don't underestimate them."

While those wearing the black and gold — as well as some in baby blue — were outnumbered by their counterparts in red and white, Penguins fans took advantage of the short distance and available tickets for Game 1.

Their visibility is not lost on Penguins players.

"You see a lot more in warm-ups because they move all the way down to our glass," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "They kind of disappear during the game. They're all scattered (because) they don't get seats together. We have very good fan support at home, and it's a short drive, so I'm sure if they could get tickets, they got 'em. It's always good to see the fan support."

Mike and Kate Filoni, of Hampton, were stunned they could buy two seats together for $190 apiece in the lower bowl through the Red Wings' official Web site as late as Thursday. They weren't surprised, however, by the number of Penguins fans making the five-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

"Whether it's the Penguins or Steelers, we always travel well — because tickets are so hard to get for home games," Mike Filoni said. "I went to Game 3 (of the Cup final last year), but she didn't get to go, so we decided to take in a game here. There's no guarantee they will be in it every year."

It just seems that way, considering the Penguins played the Red Wings in the Cup final last year. Andrew Scampone, of Fox Chapel, attended that series opener last year with friends Sarah Moen, of Gibsonia, and J.B. Loughney, of Forest Hills. The trio had such a positive experience that they decided to purchase tickets on within minutes of the Penguins' sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday in the Eastern Conference final.

"I was taken aback by how many Penguins fans are here," Scampone said.

"It was electric last year," Loughney said.

Moen finished his thought: "That's why we came back."

Co-workers Rachel Moyer and Jackie Prescavage traveled here from Wilkes-Barre, home of the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, despite their differing rooting interests. Where Moyer wore a Red Wings jersey, Prescavage donned a Penguins baby-blue throwback.

"We were rooting for each other's team to win," Moyer said. "As soon as they made the finals, we said, 'That's it!' "

Added Prescavage: "Now, the battle lines are drawn."

Not all of the Penguins fans had to travel so far.

Aaron Zeddell, of Ann Arbor, waited outside the arena loading dock before the morning skate, hoping to get an autograph from Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The 16-year-old midget-hockey goalie is a fan of Fleury's style, having followed him since his junior hockey days.

"Everyone says I'm crazy," Zeddell said. "No one likes the Penguins around here. I usually get booed going into the arena."

Orpik, however, smiled when recalling how Penguins fans drowned out Carolina fans by chanting "M-V-P" for Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin after he scored a goal in Game 3 at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. Orpik believes the fans could play a part, home and away, in this Cup final.

"You don't see that in too many other places," Orpik said. "We've been a pretty good road team, especially down the stretch. Sometimes, starting on the road can be an advantage. You don't have to play up to the crowd or to your fans, which some teams fall victim to."




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