By Andrew White | Staff Writer
When the NHL announced the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers rivalry was being brought outside as part of the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series this past March, excitement and anticipation flooded through the city. Hockey fans were thrilled that a big-time event like this was coming back to Heinz Field, and many were looking to attend.
To some, a game like this may not mean much, but to true hockey fans, it means a whole lot. It brings back the good, old-time hockey feel and tradition. To many, including the players, it also brings back the memories of playing outside on the pond as a kid.
Going to an outdoor game means more than going to just any regular season game. It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of either team, in fact, there were a decent amount of fans attending who weren’t. What really matters in these games for the fans is the experience of witnessing a spectacle like this.
When tickets went on sale, the prices soared way above the price most broke college kids would be willing to spend, no matter the level of fandom. Then the student rush tickets came, sending students racing to their computers to secure their discounted rate.
The announced attendance at the game was 67,318 fans. The number secured the game as one of the five-highest attended outdoor games in NHL history. According to the Penguins Twitter account on the night of Feb. 25, the high turnout now gives the Penguins organization and its fans three of the top five highest attended outdoor games. That’s a tribute to Pittsburgh as not just a sports town but more specifically a hockey town.
When Saturday came, the city was buzzing. The T was packed heading into Heinz Field and the parking lots were raucous. Located at Stage AE, just across the street from the stadium, was the pregame tailgate party where fans were entertained by live music and the NHL Centennial Fan Arena. Inside the Fan Arena is an interactive traveling experience honoring a century’s worth of extraordinary players, teams, remarkable plays and unforgettable moments.
Leading up to the game, there was a concern that surrounding rainstorms would impact the contest and that the recent high temperatures would impact the ice. All turned out okay, though; as the rain passed with no effect and the temperature was perfect for hockey, sitting in the mid to low 30s for most of the night.
The fans who braved the wind and the cold, especially in the upper deck where student rush ticket buyers were located, were treated to a 4-2 win by the hometown Penguins. The place was electric for most of the rivalry matchup and especially when the home team sounded the horn.
The beloved Sidney Crosby opened up the scoring in the first period, and the Penguins led the rest of the way. Goaltender Matt Murray made 36 saves on the night to keep the Flyers at bay.
Recently, the NHL has made a push to move the game outdoors to it’s roots, drawing mixed emotions from fans and analysts alike. Some believe that the outdoor games ruin the play due to slower conditions. Some also believe that the recent influx of outdoor games has taken away the magic of it, creating the demand for the games and the buzz they create to go down.
Others believe that the outdoor games bring the fans and the players together and create a better overall atmosphere that can’t be reached inside of an arena, which was on display this past weekend.
Overall the night was a win for all parties involved — minus the Flyers, of course. The NHL put on a great show and got everyone, including the fans involved. The Penguins won on the ice. The city of Pittsburgh was the center of attention across the sports world. And of course, the fans won by being able to experience an event like this.