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Ice Time 19/2 (COL)

Hockey Nights in Pittsburgh

One week, three games. That was the point of the whole trip to Pittsburgh - to watch Mario Lemieux lead the Penguins out onto the ice and finally experience the big show, the NHL!!

The Penguins opponents? Stanley Cup favourites Colorado Avalanche, struggling Florida Panthers and the blueshirts, New York Rangers.

Our first experience of NHL hockey was on the Monday (19 February) with a 3pm face off against the Avs. The Penguins struggled to a 5-1 loss with Peter Forsbergís line dominating the game but in a way the result wasnít that important!! Sure, we were disappointed the Penguins had lost and I was doubly disappointed that Mario had note recorded a point but just the experience of being at an NHL game and finally seeing the greats such as Mario, Jagr, Kovalev, Forsberg, Roy, Bourque and Sakic to name but a few was unbelievable. These were guys we had only ever seen on TV back home in England!!

At first, we didnít notice that much difference between the game and one we would see at home in the UK Superleague but once the game opened up a bit you could see the superior speed and skill coming through - a level we can only dream of in the UK at the moment. Having said that, there are other comparisons where the NHL, and in particular, the fans, donít come out too well. The atmosphere in The Igloo was non existent to begin with and the fans only seemed to chant when the screen on the scoreboard urged them to - of course the regular season in the NHL is not the real deal, I assume for a playoff match the intensity of the crowd increases as it does with the players!! And, in fairness, on the Friday when playing against the New York Rangers, a team that the Pens have some rivalry with the atmosphere was in evidence more and it gave us a glimpse of what a playoff game could be like. And, those TV timeouts!!! The first time one happened we were

looking at each other thinking whatís going on then we realised - I think we finally got used to them by the middle of the third period on the Friday!!

Our second game of the week, on the Wednesday (21 February) was the Pens hosting Pavel Bure and the Florida Panthers. The first period of the game saw the Penguins hold the Panthers shotless - something I had never seen in a game before. The Penguins took what looked to be a relatively easy 2-0 lead only to see the Panthers claw their way back to 2-2 with their superstar Bure scoring one of their goals. So, after the defeat against Colorado, the Panthers game went into overtime.

Up steps Mario Lemieux - on the power play in overtime he rips an absolute beauty of a shot, a one-timer, from the left face off circle and past the impressive Roberto Luongo to win the game for the Pens!!! That goal will live in my memory forever as the first goal I saw #66 score in the flesh!!

Ice Time - 21/2 (FLA)
Ice Time - 23/2 (NYR)

Our third and final game of the week was the visit of the Rangers to The Igloo on 23 February. The Rangers have their share of superstars in the shape of Mark Messier, Theroen Fleury, Brian Leetch and ex-Penguin Petr Nedved. As mentioned earlier the atmosphere in the arena for this one was much improved over the previous games due to the increased number of away fans in the arena and the rivalry between the two teams.

In a game that swung backwards and forwards the Penguins were eventual 6-4 winners - our first regulation win and another goal from Mario - almost a carbon copy of the one against Florida - again on the power play. But, the night belonged to ex-Ranger Alexei Kovalev who scored a hat-trick against his old team. The sight of the hats raining onto the ice is one to behold and one Iím  glad we got the chance to see. As I am that we were there for the sumo hockey!!  Now thatís what you call period break entertainment.

Looking back, maybe we didnít have the best seats in the house (see pictures below!), we couldnít afford them, but somehow it didnít matter. To experience one NHL game had always been an ambition of mine, to get to watch three Penguins home games with both Mario and Jagr playing was an absolute dream!!! Add to that the well known faces of NHL hockey we had the opportunity to watch play and the experience was a great one. And, I was part of the comeback year for Mario and part of 3 of the many sellouts that follow him round the league!! Yeah, the crowds are different to the ones in the UK but then again when youíre watching the mastery of #66 and #68 maybe you donít have enough breath left to chant.....

The only problem I have now is getting back to the States, Pittsburgh in particular, and seeing some more NHL games!!! Those of you that are fortunate enough to watch any NHL team on a regular basis should realise how lucky you are to watch the big show week in, week out!! Iíll have to make do with middle of the night TV coverage for now!!

PD - 11/4/2001

View of Avs Game View of Rangers game
Face-Off vs Florida
Sumo Hockey!! Sell-Out!!! View of Florida game

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