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Penguins

Notebook: Bettman calls league-wide attendance 'strong'

| Monday, Feb. 10, 2003

As was reported earlier this week in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Penguins' ticket sales are down about 6 percent from last year.

According to figures in Sports Business Journal, the drop makes the Penguins one of 14 NHL teams which have suffered faltering attendance this season, although some teams have drops as slight as .2 percent (San Jose Sharks) and .4 percent (Toronto Maple Leafs).

League-wide, attendance was down 1.1 percent through Jan. 27.

Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the issue recently, characterizing attendance as "strong." He said the potential still exists for the NHL to set an attendance record for the sixth year in a row.

The Penguins averaged 14,925, or 88 percent of capacity, through 24 home games this year before the All-Star break. That's down from 15,857 through 26 home games in the same period last year. They've had four games at 98 percent capacity or higher and three games at 75 percent capacity or lower.

Among the teams that have seen a substantial increase in attendance this year are the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (up 17.6 percent) and the Los Angeles Kings (8.1 percent).

NEVER TOO OLD

Mario Lemieux proves every day that 37 is by no means over the hill in the NHL.

But not even a youngster — let alone a 37-year-old — wants to get stuck on the ice for the full term of a penalty kill, which is exactly what happened to defenseman Marc Bergevin on Saturday against the Boston Bruins.

Bergevin is the senior member of the Penguins thanks to an Aug. 11 birthday, 24 days before Lemieux was born.

"My neck was stiff before the game. All the stiffness went to my legs after that," said Bergevin, who got as far as the blue line about a minute into the second-period kill before he had to turn around and get back.

The Penguins' bench was on the far side of the ice, which always necessitates well-timed changes. The Penguins were never able to get the puck to the other end of the ice, and Bergevin and Michal Rozsival had to stay.

It didn't adversely affect the Penguins, however, who killed all four penalties. Their penalty kill is ranked 12th in the league at 84.5 percent.

NIEMINEN SAYS WRITER LUCKY

Ville Nieminen said a Finnish hockey writer who was struck by a car last weekend in Hollywood, Fla., was very lucky that he sustained no head or spinal damage.

Vesa Rantanen was injured when he, Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Ossi Vaananen and another Finnish reporter, Kimmo Romanoff, were hit by an 89-year-old driver after they exited a taxi cab outside the Westin Diplomat hotel at 5:57 a.m. a week ago Sunday.

Nieminen said Rantanen, a friend of his, was heavily sedated for three days because of the pain and was released from the Intensive Care Unit on Thursday. He had surgery on his arm, broke both legs and also suffered MCL and ACL damage to both knees after going through the driver's windshield. Vaananen is back in Phoenix but will miss 4-6 weeks with a partial tear to his MCL. Romanoff suffered a broken leg and collapsed lung.

SLAP SHOTS

The Penguins did not practice Sunday because of their first-ever charity carnival at Mellon Arena. … The Penguins lost their top spot in the power-play rankings. They are now ranked second at 21.6 percent, behind Ottawa at 21.8 percent. … Nieminen, who was scratched for the first time Saturday, does not have a point since registering an assist Jan. 13 against Boston (10 games).

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