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Behind the scenes at the Final

Friday, 06.12.2009 / 7:15 PM / 2009 Stanley Cup Final: Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

By NHL.com Staff

Pens fans vs. Wings fans
06.12.2009 7:15 p.m.

Eddie Fitzpatrick predicts a 4-2 Wings win in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena on Friday
The Hockeytown Riverwalk outdoor party was in full force when I arrived at Joe Louis Arena at around 5:15 p.m. The Wings fans were in a jubilant mood, obviously grateful that Game 7 is on their home turf. I've got the final list of celebs in attendance at The Joe … but I'll get to that in a bit.

I actually had a nice chat with Livonia, Mich., ticketholder Eddie Fitzpatrick. Eddie predicted a score of 4-2 and believes the home crowd will be a major player in tonight's decision. There was a nice battle going on between Pens fans and Wings fans as the Penguins team bus came rolling down the entrance into the arena.

There were a little over 200 Penguins fans standing and cheering their hometown heroes as the charter backed into its place before finally parking. Our old Penguins pal, Cy Clark, the Hulk Hogan lookalike, was front and center. Cy's a big Malkin fan, as you can see by his home-made poster.

There were a few Wings fans in the middle of the Penguins celebration, trying their best add a tinge
There's Cy Clark, the Malkin-maniac!
of red to the sea of black and gold just outside the steps to the front entrance.

"Let's Go Pens, Let's Go Pens." No doubt about it, Pittsburgh loves their Penguins - as well they should.

Anyway, back to Eddie. "The one thing that has driven us nuts this season has been the inconsistency of the team at times," he told me. "It drove us nuts in the regular season and it has happened again in this series. How can you defeat a team 5-0 and then lose the next one 2-1."

I tried to calm my new friend down - "Yo, Eddie, all is not lost just yet. Your team is involved in a Game 7 and you're home."

"I know, I know," he told me while adjusting his big Wings cape and taking another slug of his beer. "I feel good about tonight though."

We'll see.

Pens fans cheer as Penguins bus rolls into Joe Louis Arena.
The Wings certainly have an all-star cast in attendance this evening. Not only will Hockey Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay be in the house and signing copies of his book, '7', on the concourse near Section 105, but three-time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali is here and eight-time professional World Champion boxer Thomas "Hitman" Hearns will also be acknowledged.

A special welcome in Ali's honor will be featured during a TV time-out in the first period.

For the women out there, ABC's Thorsten Kaye, of the daytime drama 'All My Children' will also be in attendance and, as I mentioned earlier, Grand Rapids-native and star of the blockbuster Twighlight (2009), Taylor Lautner, is back home in support of the Wings.

Of course, Stanley is here as well!

All fans in attendance tonight will receive a rally towel upon entering the arena -- have fun and enjoy an historic event inside one of the League's most historic arenas.

--Mike G. Morreale

Fly me to the moon
06.12.2009 6:56 p.m.

Planes fly over Detroit River at Red Bull Air Race World Championships prior to Gm 7
In addition to a pretty tantalizing hockey game later on this evening, I was treated to a few trial runs for the annual Red Bull Air Race World Championships taking place along the Detroit River this weekend. Fans were not only treated to good grub and music at the Hockeytown Riverwalk Party, but an over-the-top air show along the Detroit river that was so mesmerizing, I had to stop and take a few shots.

The qualifying for the race was scheduled Saturday and Race Day will be staged Sunday, but the boys were in the plans taking some test runs prior to Game 7 -- and it was awesome! I was told during my viewing that the race pilots hit speeds of 250 mph and endure up to 10 Gs as they negotiate a series of inflatable pylons.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship revamped its format to accommodate the largest field expansion ever in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship -- from 12 pilots in 2008 to 15 in 2009. The expansion includes four rookie pilots from four continents who join the seasoned pros this year.

Canada's Pete McLeod, 25, will be the youngest ever pilot in the high-speed, precision flying race and will be joined by three other rookies -- Japan's Yoshihide Muroya, Australia's Matt Hall and Germany's Matthias Dolderer. The 15 gentlemen pushed their skills to the max, flying through the challenging, twisting race tracks just feet above the water with points awarded for the fastest times and least number of penalties.

After doing a little research, I learned that these acrobatic aircrafts are capable of doing a 420-degree per second roll rate and a 3,700 foot per minute climb rate.

General characteristics
•Crew: one pilot
•Capacity: one (pilot only)
•Length: 6.27 m (20 ft 7 in)
•Wingspan: 7.42 m (24 ft 4 in)
•Height: 2.87 m (9 ft 5 in)

--Mike G. Morreale

Who's Who at Game 7
06.12.2009 12:55 p.m.

Taylor Lautner will attend tonight's Game 7 between the Wings and Pens. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage
I've received word that Taylor Lautner of 'Twilight and Twilight: New Moon' will be in attendance at tonight's Game 7 at The Joe. Lautner is from Michigan, so he and his family will be rooting for the hometown Red Wings.

I'm in the process of gathering information on some of the other celebrities to be in attendance on Friday.

In the meantime, here's a list of predictions made by other celebrities who also happen to be big hockey fans. It looks like no one is going against the chalk.

Dean Winters (Dennis Duffy on '30 Rock' and Johnny Gavin on 'Rescue Me') - Detroit

Country music singer Dierks Bentley - Detroit

Geoff Stults ('October Road' and new ABC series, 'Happytown') - "My hometown Red Wings."

Brendan Fehr (Jared Booth on 'Bones') - Detroit

Teddy Sears (Richard Patrick Woolsley on 'Raising the Bar') - Detroit

John Ondrasik (lead singer of Five for Fighting) - Detroit

--Mike G. Morreale

Calm before the storm
06.11.2009 7:12 p.m.

Will the Wings add a 12th Stanley Cup banner?
Ok, I realize there may be a few thousand of you out there reading the 'Behind the Scenes' blog and looking forward to racing through the turnstile at Joe Louis Arena Friday night since you were lucky enough to score tickets to the 15th Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in the history of the League.

Congratulations if you're among that group!

Now, for those planning a big Stanley Cup get-together on your television sets at home, heed my warning. Federal law requires that all full-power television broadcast stations stop broadcasting in analog format and broadcast only in digital format beginning Friday at 9 a.m. What this means is you must make sure you install a converter box to receive digital programming. If you have a set that still uses antennae, you might be out of luck.

Go here for more information.

Very quiet day here in Detroit. You know what they say: Calm before the storm. But I did attend the Red Wings skate Thursday morning and had a chance to speak with the oldest active player in the NHL, Chris Chelios. Chelios won't play on Friday, but he did have a lot to say regarding the season finale for the 2008-09 season.

The Penguins rolled into Detroit in the afternoon and Sidney Crosby, Ruslan Fedotenko, Sergei Gonchar and coach Dan Bylsma were all made available to the media. The club is staying at the MGM Grand -- I wonder if coach Bylsma will be making sure his boys are in their quarters and not by the slots later this evening.

Here are some other off-day stories to satisfy your appetite prior to the Game 7 showdown:

Dave Lozo tells us that there's no experience like Game 7 of the SCF.

Shawn P. Roarke explains the secret behind the success of Pens coach Dan Bylsma.

And Larry Wigge informs us that Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski feels right at home in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Once I get news of events and festivals taking place around the area, I'll post them ASAP. So stay tuned…

--Mike G. Morreale

A stroke of luck: Bring on Game 7!
06.10.2009  12:45 p.m.

It's been a long grind for the boys at NHL.com since the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs but it will all come to a head on Friday in Game 7 of the Cup Final when the Penguins look to pull off the upset against the Detroit Red Wings.

As is the case with just about every other writer in the business covering the playoffs from the outset, it's been a haul. For some, like myself, you miss the kids, the family. But we have reached a pivotal moment in Stanley Cup history and everyone, I'm sure, is ecstatic to be a part of it all.

To have an opportunity to participate and cover an event that has only happened 14 other times in the history of this League will be quite an honor. I'm looking forward to the atmosphere, the rowdiness and the outcome. Because, really, right now, who knows? This series has taken so many different twists and turns, I've given up trying to decide which side actually holds an advantage.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Pascal Dupuis raises his arms after putting the puck in the net during optional hockey practice in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
I worked the Penguins locker room following Tuesday's victory and, as you might expect, the club was extremely upbeat and, in some ways, relieved.

There was one interesting comment made by Pens forward Pascal Dupuis that didn't make any of the stories but one I'd like to share since it was so neat.

Apparently, the Penguins players have been calling defenseman Rob Scuderi "piece." Kind of strange and, really, I had no idea until I joined a scrum just prior to racing back to my laptop to being typing my stories.

As the story goes, a recent newspaper article quoted Scuderi as saying that he was "the piece of the puzzle." According to Dupuis, what Scuderi meant to say was that he was "ONE piece of the puzzle."

"So since then, we've been calling him 'piece','' Dupuis told us.

Just a little inside stuff that maybe you didn't know. Additionally, I saw Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday -- he was showing off his new Super Bowl ring. Maybe Big Ben motivated the Pens by strolling into the locker room and flashing the big jewel, who knows.

Well, our bus is leaving for Detroit at 3 p.m. today so we'll be back at The Joe Thursday morning for some more off-day stuff. Dot.com editor Dave Lozo is actually in Detroit right now, gathering information off media availability there.

As 'behind the scenes' news becomes available, I'll let you know so stay tuned. It's kind of quiet right now but I can't help but think what the scene will be like Friday evening.

--Mike G. Morreale

Fans enjoying pre-game festivities
06.09.2009   7:00 p.m.

Fans prep for Game 6 with some face-painting outside Mellon Arena

Even though there will be no big screen television outside Mellon Arena to view tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, Penguins fans flocked to the old igloo for a little pre-game festivities.

The feeling is upbeat around Mellon, actually. Fans are still cautiously optimistic following their team's 5-0 loss on Saturday at The Joe. Penguins anthem singer Jeff Jimerson and his band, Airborne, provided pre-game entertainment, most of which was a tribute to the classics of the 60's and 70's -- good stuff. There was face-painting, character drawings and several vendors taking orders right outside Gate 3.

Some fans were still in need of tickets and, actually, while taking a leisurely stroll to Mellon from our hotel, I noticed plenty of fans working the scalpers for tickets. All 500 of the remaining tickets that went on sale to the public on Monday morning sold out in less than 10 minutes.

As is customary at every Penguins game in the playoffs, a 'Whiteout' will take place at Mellon Arena with each fan in attendance receiving a white t-shirt and white rally towel.

--Mike G. Morreale

The moment of truth for Penguins
06.09.2009  3:16 p.m.

The city of Pittsburgh is doing everything they can to help rally their Penguins to two straight victories. At least that's what Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had in mind on Tuesday afternoon during a 'Penguins March to the Cup Rally' on Forbes Avenue.

There was live entertaining and the Thomas Jefferson High School Marching Band and several high school cheerleading teams sharing black and gold as team colors.

Qdoba Mexican Grill was also offering free chili BBQ pulled pork burritos -- yes, the same lucky burrito Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma enjoys prior to every home playoff game. There were plenty of smiles to go around as Turkey Hill provided ice cream while Eat'n Park offered black and gold smiley cookies.

The mayor declared Tuesday 'Black & Gold Day' and he encouraged fans to show their support by wearing their Penguins jerseys or anything with black and gold.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Hockeytown Cafe will be hosting a special Game 6 viewing party on Tuesday, beginning at 8 o'clock. Fans are asked to bring their own lawn chairs for outdoor viewing on the 9x12-foot screen that will come to life on the patio. An outdoor barbecue and beer stands will also be available.

Additionally, the Red Wings' NAPA Pit Crew will be on hand with giveaways and the chance to win prizes. There's no cover charge and fans of all ages are welcome.

--Mike G. Morreale

Pens sell out Mellon one final time
06.08.2009 3:15 p.m.

Fans await box office to open on Monday to purchase tiks to Gm. 6

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing in front of yet another sellout crowd on Tuesday in their final home game of the 2008-09 season. The fans who were waiting on line for over an hour this morning to make certain they had first dibs on a few of the remaining 500 tickets to go on sale at 10 a.m. at the arena box office hope it will be worth it.

It is a beautiful day here in Pittsburgh, so standing around wasn't so bad this morning, particularly for the few hundred who came out to make an attempt.

Tom McMillan, the Vice President of Communications for the Penguins, informed NHL.com that the remaining 500 tickets made available to the public on Monday sold out in less than 10 minutes. It will mark the Penguins' 118th straight sellout at Mellon Arena.

Joseph Stover of Carnegie, Pa., purchased one ticket and will be seated in Section C13 to see his Penguins in action.

"I just want to get in there," Stover said. "I got just one ticket, that's all I could get. They were
Brian Horner, 16, feels Game 6 is all about heart: "The Pens have to lay it all on the line!"
having problems finding tickets already when I got up there so they went pretty quickly but I'm happy." Not only were tickets moving at the Mellon Arena box office, but through Ticketmaster as well -- which likely led to some delays in purchasing tickets at the window.

"I think the Pens will be fine on Tuesday," Stover added. "There's so much they've been doing well this season, it's hard to pick just one thing. I'm just impressed with their whole play and very impressed with (Evgeni) Malkin. I think Osgood is pretty good, but (Marc-Andre) Fleury will be better tomorrow."

Brian Horner of Edgewood, Pa., has been a life-long Pens fan. The 16-year-old Horner feels Game 6 is all about heart and he expects the Pens to put forth a determined effort in their attempt to even this best-of-7 series.

"It's all about heart," he said. "They have the talent to beat the Red Wings and they know that. Now they just have to show it more than the Red Wings do. I'm big (Sidney) Crosby fan because I just like the way he goes out, no matter what, and tries his hardest. It's just awesome."

Joanne Geyer was the first on line at Mellon Arena to purchase tiks for Game 6 on Tuesday night
Horner isn't too concerned with Marian Hossa and the prospects of the former Penguin carrying the Cup around Mellon Arena if the Wings were able to score a victory to end the Penguins' season.

"(Hossa) did what he had do -- he's playing great in the playoffs and that's pretty much all you can say," Horner said. "I'm not going to rag on him, he wants a Stanley Cup just as much as everybody else does. It's up to him what he has to do to get it."

The gates at Mellon Arena will open at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday -- Game 6 will start at 8 p.m. Popular anthem singer Jeff Jimerson and his band, Airborne, will provide pre-game entertainment beginning at 5:30 p.m. outside Gate 3.

Pittsburgh native Joanne Geyer was first in line at the arena box office at 8:45 a.m. -- the office opened at 10 a.m. Unfortunately, however, Geyer might not even be attending the game despite waiting in line for over an hour.

"I got the tickets for my boss and even though I'd love to go to the game I don't think I'll be invited," Geyer said with a smile. "Even if I was invited, I don't think I'd be able to pay for the ticket."

--Mike G. Morreale

Back in Pittsburgh
06.07.2009 12:45 p.m.

Well, the dot.com crew rumbled into downtown Pittsburgh this morning just in time for the Dan Bylsma press conference at 11:30 a.m. Myself, Shawn Roarke, Phil Coffey, Brad Holland, Larry Wigge, Darryl Haberman, Frank Marrone and Bob Condor are all in Pittsburgh.

Brian Compton was left behind in Detroit, where he'll provide coverage from the Motor City until arriving in Pittsburgh Monday evening.

And I can't leave out our own Dan Rosen -- who's been blogging his fingers off with the Armchair Power Play. If you haven't yet heard, Dan's wife is thisclose to giving birth to their first child -- we're all waiting on pins and needles!

Following Bylsma, the venerable one, Bill Guerin, stepped to the mike and fielded a series of questions. It's great that the players can make themselves available on the off day. It's an extremely tiring day for all the dot.com men and daily beat reporters making the trip in the early morning hours. So it's nice when the teams are able to make players available, which makes our jobs a tad easier for sure.

In Detroit, coach Mike Babcock and players Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper were available to the media.

It's worth noting that approximately 500 tickets for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. Fans are encouraged to order online at www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets also are available by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000; at all Ticketmaster locations; and at the Mellon Arena Gate One box office.

If I see or hear of anything happening around town today, I'll break out the trusty camera and blog it ASAP. I don't expect much, though, as the city prepares for the big Game 6 on Tuesday night. It could very well be the final game of the Penguins season. The Pens fans have other plans -- like booking a return flight to Detroit on Wednesday morning.

--Mike G. Morreale

Predictions, predictions
06.06.2009 7:36 p.m.

I bumped into hockey analyst and reporter Joe Micheletti this afternoon at the Marriott Detroit at the Renaissance Center, where practically all the media is staying for the series.

We chatted about Game 5 and I asked for his prediction. "I think Detroit in a really close one," Micheletti told me. I asked Joe if the Pens needed to win Game 5 in order to have any chance at capturing the series and he said no. He feels this team has been so resilient throughout the playoffs that it wouldn't at all surprise him if they came back to Joe Louis Arena for a Game 7 and pulled out a victory.

Personally, I think the Pens need Game 5 in order to win the series.

--Mike G. Morreale

Wing Nuts in rare form
06.06.2009  7:10 p.m.

The scene outside Joe Louis Arena is hopping right now. Fans are flocking to Hockeytown's Riverwalk Party taking place right along the Detroit River.

Welcome to Hockeytown
I tell you what, there are quite a few Penguins waddling around as well, but the sea of red certainly dominated the landscape. All fans attending the fifth game of the Stanley Cup Final received a rally towel upon entry.

Upon entering the Riverwalk Party, which is located directly across the street from the main entrance of The Joe, there is a huge tent for fans to shoot the breeze. There's plenty of food available and a lot to drink -- a lot! The food smelled absolutely divine. Sausages, dogs, burgers, chicken -- everything and anything worthy of being barbecued…was barbecued.

Derek Gluth of Highland Township, Mich., gripped a beverage of choice and was all smiles when I approached and asked for a picture. Derek wore the fashionable octopi hat and predicted, as expected, a big win for the Wings on Saturday night.

"I think the return of Pavel Datsyuk will be the difference," Gluth said. "We miss Pav and I know he'll
Derek Gluth enjoys festivities
get a big ovation when he steps on the ice."

There was also Red Wings memorabilia for sale underneath the WOMC tent. Another vendor had cigars for sale as well as t-shirts and hats. It was here I came across Brighton, Mich., residents Dana Gottlieb, Tresa O'Rourke and Debbie Porlick. They each had octopi painted on their cheeks and Dana wore a Wing-Nut hat -- she looked marvelous!

"I predict a final score of 5-2 Detroit," Gottlieb told me. "We believe this team is going to bounce back in a big way tonight. Just when you think they might be vulnerable, BAM, that's when they bounce back."

There were also several Pens fans milling about, including James McRae and Alex Smith. The Ontario natives didn't have to travel too far.

"We haven't seen an overtime game yet and I think everyone is waiting for one," Smith said. "Either way, I think it's going to be a very close game -- probably decided by one goal."

Pens fans James McRae (left) and Alex Smith invade Riverwalk Party
McRae agreed.

"Yeah, but this is the Penguins year," he said.

There were other interactive activities for the fans, including an accuracy shooting game where participants shot a ball at a goal cage that had just four openings -- each corner. It didn't matter whether or not you scored one as each player received a t-shirt anyway.

--Mike G. Morreale

Faces in the crowd

06.06.2009 6:50 p.m.

Fans looking for the hot spots around The Joe can begin by heading over to Section 105 on the concourse where Hockey Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay will be signing copies of his book, '7'. Through photographs and words, "Seven: A Salute to Ted Lindsay" captures what Lindsay has meant to a storied franchise, teammates, the NHLPA, a legion of loyal fans and the entire hockey world.

In addition to Lindsay's book signing, there will be a few other notables sitting inside The Joe this evening:

* Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola will be catching tonight's Game 5 from Section 110, Row 14, Seats 1-4.

* Television and film star Mike Starr will be in attendance. Starr has appeared in the films, Summer of Sam (1999), Dumb & Dumber (1994) and Goodfellas (1990). He's sitting in Section 128, Row 2, Seats 13-14.

* The Wings will also welcome representatives from the American Legion Post 216 out of Milford, Mich., to present our Nation's colors prior to Game 5 in honor of the 65th anniversary of the Allied Forces Invasion of Normandy, France. The presentation of colors will be followed by a tribute to Budd Lynch who, as part of the Canadian Army's Essex Scottish Battalion, stormed the beach at Normandy 65 years ago today.

If you're looking for something to during intermission, check out these fan favorites inside The Joe.

* Red Wings NAPA Pit Crew - Throughout every home game, Red Wings staff will be providing t-shirts and merchandise to fans.

* Pizza Toss - In the first period, 100 fans throughout the arena will receive a Little Caesars Super Slice during the Little Caesars Pizza Toss.

* Coke Red Zone - Fans in one lucky section will receive a red 'The Beard Is Back' t-shirt sponsored by Coke. The giveaway takes place during the first period.

* DMC Defensive Zone - In the second period and in the end of the arena that the Wings will defend, the lucky fans sitting in one section will receive DMC scrubs courtesy of the Detroit Medical Center.

* Face painting - Face painting will be set up on the concourse level near Section 124 and on the suite level across from Suite 43. Sound like a good opportunity to have that octopi inked on your cheek!

--Mike G. Morreale

Prepping for Game 5
06.06.2009  9:21 a.m.

Good morning. The NHL.com crew had quite an evening on Friday. Despite the fact the Tigers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Angels, it was still a beautiful night for baseball in the Motor City. It was without question the fastest game I've ever attended. The pitching was great and not until the ninth inning was the game determined -- all three runs were scored in the final frame.

We sat a few rows from the Detroit dugout, which was very cool, and took in a fine fireworks show from our seats -- at the advice of Brad Holland -- following the last out of the game. The crew then headed on out to the Detroit Beer Works pub and eatery for some late snacks before hopping on the infamous people mover to the next destination.

By the way, contrary to what dot-com editor Dave Lozo might think, the people mover is very cool -- every city should have one. On top of that, it's cheap ($0.50) to ride. Lozo, who admits to enjoying his days back at the office since returning home last week, was a little leg weary riding the old thing, which creaks and moans on every turn.

If you're looking for something to do leading up to Game 5 between the Wings and the Penguins on Saturday, you might want to check out the Hockeytown Riverwalk Party outside Joe Louis Arena beginning at 4 p.m.  
The party will offer a variety of grilled favorites prepared by the Red Wings executive chefs along with beverages and beer for purchase. Live music will be provided by the local band Morning Glory and radio station 104.3 (WOMC) will be on-site playing the some of your favorite oldies. Face painting and other interactive activities will be available as well. The Riverwalk Party is open to the public and does not require a game ticket for entry.

I hope to be on hand to take some snapshots. Stay tuned…

--Mike G. Morreale

Headed back to Hockeytown - Morreale's Bus Journal
06.05.2009  7:46 a.m.

Morreale set to board the NHL.com bus in Ohio
Well, we're back on our trusty Trinity, headed to Detroit for Game 5 on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. It's sure to be another fun-filled adventure.

We returned to the hotel at around 1 a.m. Friday morning following our recaps, game reports and video uploads, and got a quick bite to eat at hospitality. We returned to our rooms at around 2 a.m. and were forced to set a 5:30 wakeup to catch the holy Trinity.

I'm happy to inform you that editor/writer extraordinaire Shawn P. Roarke officially nixed the 'rookie' label attached to my name -- for the eighth time over the last year-and-a-half I might add -- after I successfully made it to the bus without the assistance of a phone call. Apparently, all it takes to become a veteran employee for the greatest League in the sports world is a little tap on the back from Julie Young, the Director of PR in Toronto. As soon as Julie glided over and tapped my right shoulder for a job well done in making sure I was on the bus at the scheduled time, Roarke announced, "You're in now."

Gee thanks. Nice open-toed shoes Roarky! In addition to Young, John Dellapina, director of media relations, and Bob Condor, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief, also offered a few quick hits. "Have you been here since 4 o'clock?" Dellapina chirped. Condor solidified my place among the vets with a simple thumbs up. Wait a minute? How did Mark Fischel, our coordinator of Events & Entertainment, get a pillow? By the way, Della is a workout fanatic. I thought I was bad but the former N.Y. Daily News journalist was hitting the weights hard -- dumbbell curls, lat raises -- a machine!

Anyway, when I arrived in the lobby at approximately 5:36 a.m., esteemed writers Brian Compton and Phil Coffey were already raring to go. Compton has certainly received his share of laughs at my expense throughout this trip and I'm about ready to hammer the 6-foot-4 Sleestak! Frank Marrone, another respected producer for dot-com, seems to enjoy the little quips offered by Compton. I'll put an end to this soon. We Italians can only take so much before breaking out the heavy artillery.

Well, 6 o'clock came and went and no bus. It was at that point when Holland and Roarke began hammering Events & Entertainment manager Nick Gennarelli. "Hey Nick, did you have our bus picking us up Pittsburgh, Pa., or Pittsburg, Kansas?" I probably could have gotten away with sleeping in a tad later!

At around 6:18 a.m., the Trinity was spotted rumbling down the street in front of the Omni to collect
That's Mr. Shawn P. Roarke up front and Frank Marrone in the back -- ready to roll.
the crew. Once Holland reached the back of the bus, he tore off his dress pants to the horror of those in the back of bus. Underneath the dress pants were those raggedy sweat-pants along with that god-forsaken undersized white t-shirt. Wait a minute, I see no sign of Roarke's head which leads me to believe he's sprawled out over four seats in a deep sleep -- again.

Should be a fun night in store as a majority of the staff will be headed to Comerica Park to see the Tigers battle the Angels. It's Verlander against Santana. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the third inning of his team's 6-3 loss to the BoSox on Thursday. The Tigers are first in the Central, 2 1/2 ahead of the Twins. The Angels are second in the West, 3 1/2 behind the Rangers.

Hopefully, I'll have a chance to go for a 20-mile run (yeah, right) upon check-in at our hotel in Detroit. If not, I might have to "bury" someone. Roarke and myself are hoping to catch the big MMA battle on Sunday in WEC 41 featuring the California Kid, Urijah Faber, and featherweight champ Mike Brown. It's going to be a war.

Well, hope you enjoyed the bus journal. Lots a snoring taking place on the bus right now -- the boys are tired. It was a long night and our goals were accomplished -- informing our fans of the events that transpired in Game 4. We're looking forward to doing it again Saturday night. I'll begin posting some behind-the-scenes ice hockey material once we're settled in Detroit. Until then, peace out.

--Mike G. Morreale

March of the penguins
06.04.2009  7:12 p.m.

Pens fans flock to Mellon
Remember that scene in the Disney movie 'Happy Feet' where thousands of penguins congregated on the huge glacier and began dancing and singing uncontrollably?

Well, I witnessed the same thing right outside Mellon Arena this evening as fans flocked in by the truckloads. My goodness - it really was quite a sight.

While sifting through the crowd, I came across some pretty good costumes and decked out fanatics.

My favorite was the Hulk Hogan look-a-like. Did you know Hulkamania is alive and well in the city of Pittsburgh? Yeah, that's right. All you little Hulksters listen up -- "Malkin is going to have a four-point night!" Cy Clark of Verona, Pa., told me. Boy, does this guy have the face only a lil' Hulk-a-maniac could love.

There were several homemade Stanley Cups scattered about. They're expecting approximately
Cy Clark, the Hulk Hogan lookalike, predicts a 4-point night for Evgeni Malkin
7,000 fans to watch the game on the big screen just outside the front of Mellon. A few fans had lawn chairs set up in the very last row -- just a few feet from the street actually. "These are the best seats in the house because you can have a great view of all the fans and the television screen," one fan told me. "This place goes nuts when the Pens score."

I also discovered two Red Wings fans in this sea of black and yellow -- they stuck out like a sore thumb. Ron Richter of Allen Park, Mich., and Tony Cortese of Lincoln Park, Mich., made the trek to Pittsburgh to root their Wings to victory.

Of course, everywhere they turned, they were surrounded by 'Happy Feet'.

There was one sign in the crowd that had Evgeni Malkin's face on an Incredible Hulk body. Pretty funny stuff. I tell you what, there were more Malkin fans than you could imagine. Is there any question today's Russian players, including Ovie in Washington and Pav in Detroit, are really taking the NHL by storm. In particular, the younger generation. These kids like speed and big hits and the Russians pack plenty of pop.

--Mike G. Morreale

Pre-game soccer sessions
06.04.2009 5:40 p.m.

The usual pre-game soccer sessions were once again alive and well in the Detroit end of the rink.
Five Detroit players shooting the breeze and kicking the soccer ball prior to Game 4 at Mellon Arena
Here's a shot of several Wings kicking it around prior to Game 4 deep within the heart of Mellon Arena.

Whether it's game days or off days, the soccer matches have really been a way for players to put their minds at ease. Many of the players feel kicking the ball around relieves some of that stress that builds up over the course of an intense playoff series. It especially helps put their minds at a better place.

Well, I'm heading out to the front of Mellon Arena again to take some more shots of these insane Penguins fans. There's a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on.

--Mike G. Morreale

Early risers at Mellon
06.04.2009 12:07 p.m.

They're already setting up shop and dipping into the coolers outside Mellon Arena in preparation for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday -- 10 hours before the start of the contest!

(L to R) Drew Kosmack, Craig Spory, Tim Trathowen, Doug Trathowen
There were an estimated 5,000 fans watching the big screen that sits in front of Mellon for Game 3 on Tuesday and they expect as many as 7,000 for Game 4. The party-like atmosphere outside the arena prior and during playoff games this spring has been quite impressive. In fact, following each goal scored at Mellon, the jubilant fans outside the arena are immediately captured on the Jumbotron inside the famed igloo.

Call is a day-long tailgate party with friends, family and all the food and drink necessary to survive an overnight campout. Some enjoy being right on top of the action during the game, slapping hands and clicking glasses whenever the Pens register a goal. Others enjoy hanging out along the perimeter to soak in the celebrations.

Doug Trathowen and his younger brother, Tim, joined friends Craig Spory and Drew Kosmack in the early morning hours in an attempt to get a prime spot almost dead center in front of the outdoor screen.

"This is awesome that the Pens do this for their fans," Doug Trathowen said. "I feel a victory tonight. The Pens might not be as popular as the Steelers, but I'll tell you what, it's getting pretty close. The city has really embraced this team, especially the last two seasons."

Winning will certainly do that.
Plum HS graduates Jen Slane (left) and Katelyn Stiglich preparing for Game 4 outside Mellon Arena

Katelyn Stiglich, 17, and Jen Slane, 18, arrived nice and early and picked a spot to the right of the big screen on the lawn. Stiglich and Slane celebrated graduation from Plum High School in Plum, Pa., on Wednesday. Plum is 25 minutes away from Mellon. They didn't even get to bed until 12:30 a.m. but were not about to miss the all-important Game 4.

"We were here on Tuesday and it was just great to be a part of it all," Katelyn Stiglich said. "We wouldn't miss this. It's great that the city does this for their fans. We were upset when we weren't able to watch Games 1 and 2. For fans without tickets, it's the next best thing."

Slane is a huge Evgeni Malkin fan. "He's so cute!"

Stiglich was wearing a Pascal Dupuis black Penguins t-shirt. "He's the best," she announced.

The girls will be breaking out their cap and gowns just prior to the game. Slane has Malkin's name on the back of her gown and Stiglich, of course, has Dupuis on hers.

--Mike G. Morreale

Datsyuk: "I take in lots of beer"
06.04.2009  11:00 a.m.

While sidelined the last six games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a foot injury, Pavel Datsyuk admitted to "taking in lots of beer."

Leave it up to Datsyuk to once again send the media home happy with great comments.

"I tell you, just this is not fun to watch," Datsyuk said. "I take in lots of beer. But it's better when you play in the game and you be there with the teammates on the ice to try to help."

When told of his response, Kris Draper, who has been sidelined the past five games with a groin injury, admitted he didn't tag along with his Russian teammate during his rehab. Should we believe him?

"I can tell you I wasn't (Datsyuk's) running partner," Draper said. "But that's Pav using his sense of humor. I did as much conditioning on and off the ice as I could. I know the intensity and emotion is going to be great out there and I'm looking forward to going out there with the guys."

--Mike G. Morreale

The lucky burrito
06.03.2009  12:49 p.m.

It appears Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has discovered a pre-game meal that has not only satisfied his appetite, but provided his team with some luck throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bylsma is a loyal patron at the Qdoba Mexican Grill on Grant Street in the downtown area. In fact, before each home game during the season, the first-year coach has stopped in for the Pork BBQ Burrito and the Penguins won all but one time. The playoffs have brought similar results -- Bylsma was back at the Qdoba for a pre-game snack on Tuesday before Game 3 and, of course, the Pens scored a 4-2 victory.

Wonder what's on his pre-game list of things to eat prior to Thursday's Game 4?

A special shout out to the 'Morning Freak Show' report online for providing the details on Bylsma's trip to the Mexican Grill.

--Mike G. Morreale

The Real Deals
06.03.2009  9:24 a.m.

Good morning all. I just wanted to make one quick entry this morning before taking down eight cups of coffee.

Since I was sitting beside Evander Kane and his father, Perry, and John Tavares' mother, Barbara, all night for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, I did have a great opportunity to chat with the parents of each budding hockey superstar.

Here are two neat inquiries I made that Perry Kane and Barbara Tavares answered for me during the first and second intermission on Tuesday.

I asked Perry about his son's name, Evander, and how he came about to choosing it. Now, let me begin by saying Perry Kane played University hockey and was an amateur boxer. We also spoke for almost 15 minutes about the decline of the sport of boxing and the rise of the MMA and UFC -- exposure is everything!

But back to Perry's decision to name his child Evander.

"I liked Evander as a boxer; I remember his first fight. It was a six rounder and they went toe to toe and I thought this guys' going to be good, real good," Perry Kane said. "It wasn't a name that you heard all the time and I thought, you know, that's a strong name and I mentioned it to my wife. I liked the name Evander and she said, 'Yeah, I like it too' and so we went with that."

The way Evander describes it: "My dad and grandfather are big Evander Holyfield fans and they liked that name and my mom did as well. I understand there were other names thrown around, but they agreed with that one, so it worked out."

With all the hype surrounding John Tavares for several years now, it was amazing to me to see the humbleness and level-headedness he mustered. I asked Barbara Tavares what she would like to see happen for her only son.

"Nothing that I wouldn't want from my other children," she said. "I just want him to succeed in life and do what he wants to do. He has to eventually be where he wants to be and, as a parent, you want to be there to help him along the way. But I want that for my daughters as well (Barbara, 16, and Laura, 17)."

This is the reason John Tavares appears focused and determined to attain his goals and isn't that the case with most of today's NHL superstars. Family support means everything.

By the way, in case you missed it, Lightning owner Oren Koules has invited Tavares, Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman to Tampa Bay for a tour of the city. Read the story here.

--Mike G. Morreale

Prospects enjoy playoff hockey
06.03.2009  12:50 a.m.

As the National Anthem played and the fans began to roar at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night, five of hockey's most talked about hockey prospects stood and smiled.

You'd be smiling too if you learned you'd be selected somewhere among the top ten picks in the NHL Entry Draft on June 26 in Montreal.

(L to R) Schenn, Duchene, Tavares, Kane, Hedman
Heck, it's quite possible that John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane or Brayden Schenn could one day be among those NHL players standing along the blue line preparing for a Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Maybe that's what was filtering through their minds. Kane even took the white t-shirt that he was given upon entering the arena and pulled it right over his suite jacket and tie -- it didn't really matter. He was a fan on this night.

I had an opportunity to sit next to Kane and we chatted and discussed game strategy and missed opportunities. Tavares sat to my left, in between his father, Joe, and mother, Barbara, while Schenn, Duchene and Hedman were all to my right. It was quite a night. Every so often, a young lad would even approach one of the five teenagers and ask for an autograph.

It was at that point when I turned to Kane and asked, "That's pretty cool, huh?" He looked at me with a big grin and said, "Yeah, it is."

"Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought that I'd be in an arena watching a game in the Stanley Cup Final and knowing my son would soon be drafted by a team of the same League," Kane's father, Perry, told me.

The boys really took in the atmosphere. They enjoyed the fact that several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the stands and thought it was pretty cool how all those in attendance wore white t-shirts and waved those white rally towels. All the boys were extremely humble and respectful and I can say with earnest that any one of them would make a fine selection -- both on and off the ice.
John Tavares chats with Marian Hossa

"It's really neat because you get an idea what it's like to play at this level and what the playoff intensity is all about," Duchene said. "Obviously, we're not down on the ice or on the bench, but you can see the little things and the little battles that go on -- it's awesome."

Duchene was most impressed with the quick puck movement and the little things necessary to win hockey games -- like setting a good screen or lifting an opposing stick at just the right moment.

"Detroit moves the puck so well and Pittsburgh is just a young team that wants it," Duchene said.

--Mike G. Morreale

Pittsburgh rallies behind Penguins
06.02.2009  8:34 a.m.

Whether you're a Pittsburgh native or just visiting, there's certainly a lot for you to do today as the city prepares for the pivotal Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Detroit Red Wings.

Here's a sampling:

* Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Penguins will have a rally at Market Square to "Dethrone Detroit" beginning at noon. The Penguins mascot, Iceburgh and face painters will be on hand and musical entertainment will be provided by Kardaz and the Jimmy Adler Band. The Mayor and County Executive actually declared Tuesday "Black & Gold Day" and are encouraging fans to show their pride by wearing the team's colors.
Pens fans (L to R) Ryan Williams, Matt Grossman, Jess Rostek and David Fedor

* The Penguins are inviting fans attending Games 3 and 4 to visit the "Tailgate on the Terrace" -- an open-air concession area located above Gate 3. Admission to the tailgate is free but patrons must have tickets to that evening's game to enter. Aramark will sell a variety of food, beverages and merchandise. Live entertainment will be provided from 5:30-7:30 pm. Fans can have their tickets scanned and enter the terrace beginning at 5:30.  The entrance will be located near the Will Call windows at Gate 1.

* The Penguins are encouraging fans in the Pittsburgh region to show support for the team during the Stanley Cup Final by displaying "Let's Go Pens" yard signs in front of their homes. The 26x16 signs featuring the Stanley Cup Final and Pittsburgh Penguins' logos.
"Our fans have played an invaluable role to our success on and off the ice leading up to this series," said team president David Morehouse. "We are excited to offer fans a unique way to show their Penguins' pride while we compete to bring home the Stanley Cup."

* And, finally, the Penguins are calling for a 'Whiteout' for Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena. Each fan entering the game will receive a white t-shirt and a white rally towel.

--Mike G. Morreale

On the road again
06.01.2009  8:15 a.m.

Good morning from aboard a Trinity bus along the Ohio Turnpike! That's right, it doesn't get any more behind the scenes than this.

The NHL.com writers, editorial staff, production managers and PR department are en route to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday. I'm pretty sure our bus driver will take us through three states -- Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- before finally reaching our destination. In a way, I kind of feel like Chevy Chase in movie 'Vacation' -- Hey kids, we're headed to Wallyworld!

Unfortunately, we aren't joined on our journey by NHL.com editor Dave Lozo, who flys out of Detroit this afternoon to the delight of his two only friends back home. Loze did a superb job filling in when the need was there. Brian Compton should be back in the mix in Pittsburgh.

We grabbed a quick boxed breakfast and hopped on the bus. Boarding time was 6 a.m. and although the alarm in my room never went off, I was fortunate that Mr. Shawn P. Roarke was there to lend a hand with a phone call to my room. It's pretty cool that I'm able to pick up internet access on the bus -- but nothing much is happening right now.

With the exception of veteran writer Larry Wigge and myself, it's pretty quiet actually as the majority are taking the opportunity to get some shut eye following a heavy night of work in Game 2 -- which saw the Wings take a 2-0 series lead following a 3-1 victory. I'm told several potential 2009 NHL Entry Draft picks will be on hand Monday afternoon in The Steel City to talk about their experience in the limelight following the dreaded Combine in Toronto last week.

Expected to participate are Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn and John Tavares. All four players are expected to go among the top 10 picks later this month at Bell Centre in Montreal.

We just made a stop at a McDonald's in Ohio where guys picked up coffee, bagels and some breakfast sandwiches. The NFL Hall of Fame isn't too far away, but that isn't a scheduled stop -- it's Pittsburgh or bust. There's a restrooom on the bus, so no need for the driver to pull over until the natives feel the urge to eat. Check in later this evening for some more tales from the road.

--Mike G. Morreale

Penguins come flocking to The Joe
05.31.2009 7:00 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needn't worry about fan support while in Hockeytown for the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Truth be told, while there were a good number of Red Wings fans milling around the front entrance here at The Joe, they were outnumbered by the Penguins fans hooting and hollering and whooping it up every chance they got.

John Hall and his family
In fact, John Hall and his family made the 5-and-a-half hour drive from Uniontown, Pa. (just South of Pittsburgh) with the hope of seeing their hometown Penguins even this best-of-7 series. Hall was joined by his wife, Linda, daughter, Kim, and three grandchildren, Megan, Ashley and John - and they all wore Pens jerseys.

"I just think the Pens were a little tentative in Game 1 and they'll be fine Game 2," said John Hall, who wore Sidney Crosby's No. 87 jersey.

Friends David Fedor, Jessica Rostek, Matt Grossman and Ryan Williams also made the drive from Pittsburgh to root their team to victory. Grossman felt that the "lively boards" cost the Pens in Game 1, but that the club will be ready to go Sunday for Game 2.

Mike Bozied of Sterling Heights and his girlfriend, Emily Clawson, who donned Red Wings jerseys, could only shake their heads when listening to the chants of the Penguins fans. "Ah, Ozzie will be the difference again," said Bozied in reference to Wings goalie Chris Osgood.

Bozied, who was attending his first Wings playoff game, enjoys the fan-friendly atmosphere in and around the Joe. The weather was fantastic outside as well, in the upper 70's, so fans certainly were able to soak in some sun alongside the Detroit River.

"The atmosphere is infectious," Bozied said. "I really get into it and it's really cool meeting the fans. It's a good time but this team means business once the game starts."

--Mike G. Morreale

Super charged Winger
05.31.2009  6:55 p.m.
William Reichow might have the coolest job outside Joe Louis Arena. He is the driver for the Detroit Red Wings stretch Hummer that sits just outside the arena. Fans were all around the thing, getting pictures.

Atop the roof of the car sits a miniature Stanley Cup that emits smoke whenever Reichow hits a button inside the car. The limo is owned by Entertainment Express, Detroit and Southeast Michigan's leading limo service. According to Reichow, the company offers a fleet of over 40 limos.

--Mike G. Morreale

Your backstage pass to the Cup Final
05.31.2009  3:35 p.m.

So while NHL.com staff writer Dan Rosen provides you with an armchair look at the Stanley Cup Final while awaiting the second most spectacular event to occur in his life, it'll be my pleasure to offer a little backstage pass to the events going on throughout the series.

I flew into Detroit at approximately 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning, so I wasn't able to get a good feel for both locker rooms although I did stroll through the Pens' where Craig Adams and Jordan Staal were holding court. Most of media members were hoping for a chat with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but the Pittsburgh keeper wasn't available.

Both Adams and Staal were questioned about the team's demeanor following a Game 1 loss and what they needed to do to turn it around. I'm also hearing a lot about playing on consecutive days but to be perfectly honest, I like it. It's the way hockey used to be staged during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Heck, it used to be four games in five nights - and most of the old school fans out there can remember that!

It was good catching up with NHL.com buddies who I haven't seen since the start of the playoffs. A special thanks to senior editorial director Phil Coffey for startng up the 'Behind the Scenes' blog prior to my arrival. We're in our own little nook on the ground floor of the arena and the set up is good as we're just a stone's throw away from the conference room area.

Just outside the Penguins dressing room, several players were holding their usual soccer game. This is something that has become tradition throughout arenas prior to games -- regular season and playoffs. It's a time for the players to chill and get their minds off the big game for, at least, a few minutes. The object is to keep the ball off the ground, so each player will head, knee or kick the ball to a teammate in an effort to keep the ball off the floor.

Here is Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma's take on these ever-popular soccer matches.

"I think the media uses those words as foot loose and focused," he said. "We knew after Game 1 someone was going to have a 1-nothing lead and after the game, much like we would after a win, we have a meeting on what we did well, what we need to do better and watched some video. It's business as usual for us and (playing soccer) would be a usual locker room for us. If you see something totally different than what we normally are, then I would look into it. But that's what guys would normally do on a day like that. We took our time to be focused on what we need to work on, what we can get better at, what we did well, and the guys played soccer and kicked around the tennis ball like they would normally on an optional day."

I had a chance to speak with the NHL's ice guru, Dan Craig, regarding the lively bounces coming off the back boards at Joe Louis Arena. That story will be posted in the 'Top headlines' of NHL.com later today.

--Mike G. Morreale
Pens fans 'invade' Detroit
05.30.2009 / 7:20 PM

Heading out of the hotel to make the short trip to Joe Louis Arena several hours ago, the NHL.com crew ran into plenty of Penguins fans decked out in their jersey and some armed with "Terrible Towels."

Larry Wigge spotted one couple with the man wearing a Sidney Crosby jersey and the woman decked out in a Brendan Shanahan Red Wings jersey. They must have some interesting domestic disputes.

-- Phil Coffey

Wearing the message
05.30.2009 / 7:15 PM

Many of the Penguins are wearing interesting gray T-shirts with the Stanley Cup Final logo and the message "The Pens In Your Hands."

In other words, write a winning story.

-- Phil Coffey

Mario speaks!
05.30.2009 / 6:50 PM

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux has shunned the media spotlight for quite some time now, but he just appeared at a press conference here at Joe Louis Arena.

Not much earth-shattering in terms of news, but Lemieux said he is obviously hoping for a different result than the 2008 Final.

Asked to compare himself to Sidney Crosby at the same age, Lemieux smiled.

"Well, he's a lot more mature that I was and he's a better player."

-- Phil Coffey

Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp