and was more than a little surprised at two people coming all the way from the UK to watch a few Pens games!! After a pleasant 20-25 minute drive and chat with the driver about how the Pens were doing, do they have hockey in England etc etc we arrived at the Iceoplex.
On entering we were immediately drawn to the photos above the entrance to the rink showing the Stanley Cup winning squads - one of which included Frank Pietrangelo who recently played for Manchester Storm over here in England. Then I was off into the rink to take a couple of snaps before the practice started. With the piccies out of the way we hit the team shop!!
Through all this (and ever since we booked the trip) going through my mind was ‘will I get to meet him?’ - I had brought an 8x10 picture all the way from England with me to get him to sign it if I did.
As we took our seats (damn, it was freezing in there!!) we caught a fleeting glimpse of #66 and his back therapist moving around behind the scenes and when the Pens finally took to the ice Mario didn’t join them - choosing instead to rest his troubled back.
Watching the practice was great and the personalities on the team seemed to come across more in the smaller arena with Darius Kasparaitis appearing to be the joker of the team and superstar Jaromir Jagr only joining in the drills when he fancied it!!! And then 45-50 minutes later it was all over, the practice was scheduled for two hours but within one the ice was deserted.
The 20 or so people that had turned up to watch the practice trailed outside and down the car park to the back door of the complex where one or two of the players cars could be spotted from our session outside the arena the night before (see The Pens for more). And then, the waiting began!
In an effort to avoid any disappointment on my part my wife kept telling me that Mario had probably already left not having practiced and all but we waited and got a few more autographs of players on the way out including Lang, Aubin, Kaspar, Parent and others - nearly got knocked over by Straka in his BMW though!!! Our patience was eventually rewarded when Jaromir Jagr emerged and signed a few autographs (he is, apparently, usually unwilling to do a lot of this type of thing!). But still, no Mario!!!
About 10-15 minutes later he appeared and everyone who was there surged towards him. At first I thought he was just going to get in his car and drive off as he seemed to ignore everyone and keep walking. When he did get to the car, he dropped his stuff on the seat and turned to the assembled throng proclaiming that he would sign one thing per person!