Penguins players, fans share thrilling moment at center ice in Mellon Arena
When the white curtains draped from the scoreboard dropped dramatically, the Stanley Cup sparkled under a spotlight at center ice in the darkness of a sold-out Mellon Arena, formally welcoming home its world champions.
This time, the Cup came with company.
The Penguins raised a banner Friday night to commemorate their Stanley Cup championship, hanging it above the blue line in the south end after a 25-minute ceremony prior to the season opener against the New York Rangers.
The Penguins won 3-2.
The celebration came 112 days after the Penguins' 2-1 Game 7 victory over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings on June 12 at Joe Louis Arena.
"It was great because everything dropped, and the Cup was right there," said Mark Beere of Ford City, a season-ticket holder for 20 years. "This is a little more special because I got to go to Detroit for Game 7, and it was great to see how excited the players were and how they acknowledged the fans."
The banner, with black letters against a white backdrop with Vegas gold trim, simply reads: "Pittsburgh Penguins. 2008-09 Stanley Cup Champions," and it's adorned with their skating Penguin logo. It soon will accompany the pair marking their back-to-back championships in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
Those in the standing-room-only crowd of 17,132 — the 119th consecutive sellout at Mellon Arena — were asked to take their seats at 7:24 p.m. and given a two-minute warning for which they knew the outcome. A red carpet was rolled onto the ice along with trunks containing the Cup, the Prince of Wales Trophy presented to the Eastern Conference champion and Evgeni Malkin's Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies.
Highlights rolled atop the arena's dome before the drapes dropped, recalling the Penguins' run from 10th place in mid-February to clinching home-ice advantage in the playoffs and their journey through series against the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and the Stanley Cup Final rematch against Detroit.
The seven-minute video was narrated by comedian/commentator and Dormont native Dennis Miller.
The players were introduced in numerical order, with the loudest cheers reserved for Game 7 hero Max Talbot, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Malkin and captain Sidney Crosby. When the entire Penguins team was lined up at center ice, the players tapped their sticks on the ice in hockey's classic way of clapping to show appreciation for their fan support.
The ceremony sent chills down the spine of Richard Vernino from his front-row seat in the West Igloo Club.
"I've been coming to hockey games since they moved to the arena in 1967," said Vernino, 49, of Mt. Lebanon, a season-ticket holder since 1983-84. "It was wonderful to see it go up."
Making it more emotional is that the event marked the two-year anniversary of the last Penguins game attended by his late sister, Monica, a Penguins fanatic who died in November 2007 after a battle with cancer.
"It was a very special night for us," Vernino said. "She would have loved this."
Likewise, it was a special night for Mellon Arena, playing host to its final season opener. Next season, the Penguins will move across Centre Avenue to the Consol Energy Center.
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