Bryanna McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
June 1992 –
Stanley is here to stay.
The Penguins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 6-5 on June 1 at Chicago Stadium to complete the four-game sweep, and now they bring Lord Stanley back to the Steel City for the second consecutive summer.
Pittsburgh fans – 30,000 strong – flooded Three Rivers Stadium, but instead of cheering for the Steelers or Pirates on game day, celebrated the city’s back-to-back Stanley Cup champions with a victory parade.
The spectacle marked the turning of a page for an organization that has faced much adversity over the course of its 25-year history. Years of empty seats in the Civic Arena and poor on-ice performance, partnered with bankruptcy in 1975 and the tragic deaths of rookie Michel Briere in 1971 and head coach Bob Johnson this past November have tried the organization for far too long.
It’s time for brighter days, and this Penguins’ team is bringing the city just that.
The attendance for the first five seasons of the Penguins’ existence averaged about 8,000 fans per game, despite the Civic Arena’s near-13,000 seat capacity. The past two seasons saw that number double, as the capacity of the arena increased and approximately 16,000 fans gathered nightly inside of “The Igloo” to see the Pens play.
A team that saw just three sellouts in the 1970-71 season had 28 during the 1990-91 campaign and added 32 more this season.
The organization is headed upward, and a star-studded cast of players is the main reason why.
Despite missing nearly 100 games over the past three seasons due to a back injury, captain Mario Lemieux posted remarkable numbers en route to back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies as the league’s playoff MVP.
“Le Magnifique” had an outstanding 176 regular-season points during the two seasons, adding on 32 playoff goals and 77 postseason points. Lemieux’s gaudy 131 points during the 1991-92 season earned the captain his third Art Ross Trophy as the league’s point leader in his eighth career season.
Jaromir Jagr, the Pens’ quirky young gun from Kladno, Czechoslovakia, tallied 59 goals and 126 points over the course of the last two regular-seasons, and added 37 postseason points en route to back-to-back championships with the team.
Despite outstanding consistency from No. 66 and No. 67, the 1991 and 1992 seasons have seen incredible highs and lows for the team.
In February 1990, Lemieux’s 46-game scoring streak was snapped when he had to leave the game with a back injury that would cause him to miss the next 21 games. On March 24, 1992, Lemieux recorded his 1,000th career NHL point in his 513th career game in Detroit to become the second-fastest player to reach 1,000 career points in league history.
December 1990 saw defenseman Paul Coffey record his 1,000th career NHL point, and netminder Frank Pietrangelo memorably made “The Save” against the New Jersey Devils’ Petr Stastny in April 1991.
Then, Coach Johnson was diagnosed with brain tumors in August 1991 after leading Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, tragically passing away just three months later.
It’s these moments that unite not just the men playing on the ice, but the entire city.
Pittsburghers, known around the world for their dedication to the NFL’s Steelers, have shown that same passion for the Penguins recently as there’s finally something to cheer about.
With the exception of Lemieux potentially reaggravating his back injury, there’s nothing stopping these Penguins from becoming the next great hockey dynasty.
With a healthy Lemieux, a fiery Jagr, strong defensemen like Coffey and a steady goaltender in Tom Barrasso, the perfect formula to keep Lord Stanley frequenting Pittsburgh is already perfected — at least for the moment.
Pittsburgh needs to soak in what is happening under the Civic Arena’s dome in Uptown because something special is happening within. Generational players like Lemieux come around only once in a, well, generation, and a dynamic duo like the captain and Jagr may never be seen again.
The framework is set to help the Penguins succeed in Pittsburgh even after these incredible talents hang up their skates for good. The Steel City is becoming a hockey town thanks to a couple visits from Lord Stanley.
There’s no telling what can happen in the next 25 years of the franchise’s history, but there is reason to believe that the hardest days are far behind the Penguins’ franchise.
Here’s to hoping so — for the sake of the team, its fans, the game of hockey and for the city of Pittsburgh.