Another hockey goodbye? WHHHHHY!?!
We begin the 10th anniversary of this ESPN.com hockey blogumn by lamenting about another classic NHL hockey barn biting the demolition dust. (The musical season preview will appear Wednesday.)
The Pittsburgh Penguins have moved out of their unique, historical, 49-year-old stainless-steel yarmulke, and into a brand-new, elephantine LA Fitness with that new-skate smell and plenty of room to move and avoid your neighbor. It's a shiny, happy arena to complement the Pens' shiny, happy people.
Sadly, the new rink has a bland corporate name (not LA Fitness) that you will never read in this space. (The Civic Arena is four months older than Chris Chelios, and I don't see anyone demolishing him.)
The company that paid for the naming rights is the largest producer of high-BTU bituminous coal in the United States. (Ahh, romantic hockey nostalgia ... breathe it in!) For you high-BTU bituminous coal fanatics, you can follow the company on Facebook and Twitter. Seriously. Thankfully, as I type this, the company has just 335 followers on Twitter; that's 6,300 fewer than Maxime Talbot (@Max25Talbot) and 5,300 fewer than Mike Rupp (@Rupper17). What in the wide world of sports, and coal, would this company tweet, anyway?
we got a lot of coal today. Then we showered.
executives just got big bonus checks today. Keep buying those 89-inch hi def TVs, Upper St. Clair! lol
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ :-) :-) :-) :-)
To the mostly fine folks who work at this tweetable energy company, my beef is not with you. I thank you for generating the energy that powers my garage door opener. My beef is ultimately with my own useless skirmishes with dated romantic sports angles. I understand hockey arenas are no longer the alluring neighborhood bars they used to be. They are semi-private country clubs with overpriced and average food. I like small, grungy bars.
The Penguins' new home, like other NBA and NHL venues, is called a Center. You'd expect a bingo game or an eighth-grade parochial league basketball tilt to break out. I'm sure the bathrooms are large enough for mini-stick hockey games, and don't yet smell like hot dog water and cabbage.
The views are probably absolutely dreamy. And Sidney Crosby doesn't have to worry about brushing his backside on E.J. Hradek as he makes his way back to his locker stall from the shower.
Always good. So they got all that going for them. Which is nice.
But why couldn't they at least keep the "arena" surname? People could then at least say, "I'm heading down to the Arena to see the Pens," like they have for 50 years. Center? Maybe I'm the only one who cares. People seem to dig the Bell Centre in Montreal.
After many years, a name change is what they eventually had in Boston after opening a new bland arena in 1995. First, it was dubbed Shawmut Center for about five minutes. Then, after a merger, it was Fleet Center for 10 years. Then, it was Something-Else Garden. Now, it's called TD Garden. The naming rights are hidden and subtle. TD could mean Ted Donato Garden for all I know. But fans just call it The Garden, like they called the cozy, sunshine-yellow splashed Boston Garden, where Cam Neely severed spleens and took names, along with the landline numbers of North Shore Aqua Net abusers.
I know this is a played-out, Clint Eastwood, "get off my lawn" discussion I've intermittently yawped about over the years. And I imagine many Pittsburgh hockey fans will miss the bigger point and blast me for lamenting over the demise of The Igloo. I mean, after all the history of Three Rivers Stadium, they tore that down, built a new one (I haven't been there; friends call it substandard), called it a field and named it after a high-fructose corn syrup distributor.
To some Pittsburghers, the Civic Arena was never a classic hockey arena and their Penguins never belonged there. It was built for opera (Civic Light Opera, hence the name), not for a hockey team. The Pens began play in the NHL in 1967, six years after the building was hosting concerts (and the Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL). For many in Pittsburgh, the idea of hockey at the arena was an afterthought, just as hockey was to many. Until Mario Lemieux, and until now. They said the views were awful (I thought every seat was good and I was always wayyy up top) and the locker-room conditions horrid (I never had to smell Tom Barrasso).
To have an arena dedicated first and foremost to hockey, and financed in large part by the team, is actually more meaningful to many Yinzers than the Civic Arena ever was. It's as if the Pens are finally getting the respect they, and hockey, deserve in a town where football is, and baseball used to be, king.
So why the yawping from me? Because this one hits home, my captain. (I lived the first 11 years of my life in Pennsylvania, the next 11 in Ohio and the past 22 in New England.)
The Civic Arena, as it was called when I was a kid, was also a bland name. It was not named for the Honda Civic, but at least the word civic does ring of community. The people. Plus, the word civic is a palindrome. I've always been a huuuuge fan of palindromes (Bob, pop, dad, mom, race car, do geese see God?, rotator). I might even open a palindrome Twitter account tomorrow and post a different palindrome every day until I run out. "No sir! Away! A papaya war is on."
A consolation for me? If the fine folks at Iron City Brewing Company had acquired the naming rights. Then the fans could have called the new arena "The Can."
Husband: "Honey, I'm thinking of going to The Can tonight."
Wife: "Don't forget to spray afterward."
(If Daren Puppa still played, it could have played even better.)
The death of the Civic Arena also irritates me because it was the first place I saw an NHL game in person. It might have been below par to some, but it was complete magic to me, watching Bobby Orr skate and seeing the Broad Street Bullies in person. Remember, before hi-def television, the clearest picture was in person. I can still smell the pages of Goal Magazine and recall two distinct feelings I had there watching games as a little sparky:
1. I would get slightly depressed as the game clock ticked to 9:59 to go in the second period because that meant the game was more than halfway over. Regular-season overtime was not introduced until I was 17. By then, I was more depressed when Lisa Saggio would not return my calls than by a hockey game being more than halfway over.
2. I would feel physically ill until my team cleared the puck out of its defensive zone. I was petrified of being scored against.
The Civic Arena also was the place my boyhood friends Steve DiBartolomeo and Jim Gibson and I would drive to from Ohio in the early '80s. When we arrived, we bought one scalped ticket for a Saturday night game between the Penguins and Minnesota North Stars. We then gave that ticket to some creepy dude I am sure has since served time somewhere in Allegheny County or become the Pirate Parrot, or both. That dude then entered through the turnstiles of the Civic Arena and began circling his way around the perimeter of the arena while we followed along on the outside. This was when the Civic Arena had see-through glass and you could see the concourse traffic from the outside.
Eventually, Creepy McCreepmeister found an unguarded door and gave us a little nod. Creepy then looked both ways and opened the door, and we scurried in like racing rats.
We enjoyed the mid-October game. First-period goals by Rick Kehoe and Greg Malone (Ryan's dad) helped give Pittsburgh an early lead on its way to a 5-2 win.
On the way home, we required a little more gas in the 1975 Chevy Nova so we could make it all the way back to Steubenville, a half-hour away. Steve said he had a few bucks and would pay for the $3 of regular gas. Steve then reached into his pocket and pulled out six rolls of pennies. He handed the stunned attendant his 300 tightly packaged pennies, and on we went.
But enough about me.
Losing the Civic Arena also means another North American sports arena will be vaporized (revenues over culture) and another sports legend will have his playground torn down. Just imagine, there is probably a guy who went to the Penguins' first game at age 20 in 1967. He at least watched the final game on TV last spring at a still-young 63. He can't watch anymore games in his underground icehouse.
And what about Lemieux and his Penguins alumni? Their playground is being torn down. But Mario, as part owner and revenue beneficiary, certainly likes the change. He wanted the upgrade, and Mario always made the right play in Pittsburgh.
I suppose the way to get over the loss of people, arenas or things is to simply understand that life is undoubtedly and undeniably about renewal, change and evolution. The end gives purpose to the present. It's nature, it's natural, and if we are smart and creative, we can make things even better for the 70-year-old fan and the 7-year-old going to a game for the first time.
Standing still breeds the staleness of pond water; we do have to keep moving. And, at times, we need to rent that Dumpster and throw things away, however temporarily painful it might be to part with our VCR or our daughter's first bike. Otherwise, we can suffocate underneath. It's just nice when we can move on and preserve at the same time.
And that's why we love sports, and especially love hockey. Because hockey is not a thing, but an emotion we can proceed with and preserve. Hockey fans take off their hats and sing the anthem because that also means something emotional, and not political. This is an emotional game.
The game does move forward while nodding to respect the past. That's what the Hockey Hall of Fame is for. That's what the Stanley Cup is for. And what Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin are for. And that's what our own sons and daughters who play hockey are for. They all emit feelings, hope, inspiration, meaning and purpose. The past and the present.
And so, we begin anew. Another regular season brings the same feeling we get when we hypnotically watch a Zamboni simply, yet magically, turn old ice into new at our local rink as Enya plays in our heads. We wish life could be so efficient. We wish we could resurface the mistakes we have made, the pain we've caused and the distress others have caused us. Erased. The slate wiped clean. Hope and remote possibility wait to be realized. (Wade Redden for the Norris!!!)
Believe, I say, believe!
Enjoy the game. Enjoy the games. There is new ice again. And it's perfect.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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