ST. LOUIS --
Tonight's game against the Blues isn't just a run-of-the-mill hockey game for Pittsburgh Penguins
center Joe Vitale
. It's a chance to play at home.
Vitale, from nearby Sunset Hills, Mo., will make his first appearance on Scottrade Center ice since his senior year in high school, when he helped CBC High School knock off De Smet in the Missouri Mid-States State Championship game in 2004.
"I had some good memories here when I was a kid and playing two periods at Blues games," said Vitale, who has 2 goals and 9 points in 41 games this season. "I obviously played in playoff state championships here. To play here and come back and play (against) the Blues, it's pretty crazy, but I'm pretty sure it'll sink in sometime later this week when I'm on break."
Vitale will have a plethora of family and friends in attendance, to which he said: "I lost count. They got about three boxes. I let them have at it with that. People keep asking for tickets, but I finally had to shut my phone off. It's gameday and I'm trying to focus now."
His dad helped him in that aspect, but he's just glad to see a dream come true for a local kid.
"Twenty years ago, this wasn't really a hockey hotbed," said Vitale, who played most of his youth hockey at the local Affton Ice Rink. "So the expectations were pretty low. I was just kind of out there having fun. So it's definitely exciting being out there.
"I glanced at (the schedule), but I was hopeful that I would be here. Around Christmas time, I thought I had a shot to play here. I really started getting excited then."
Vitale's teammates know the feeling.
"It's a great thing to have your family, siblings in the stands and all your friends you grew up with," defenseman Kris Letang
said. "To have them get the chance to see you play live, it's pretty amazing that he has a chance to do that.
"I'm from Montreal, so when we play in Montreal, there's always a little something about it because I grew up watching (the Canadiens) play. It's always special to play in your hometown."