CRANBERRY, Pa. -- It may be the preseason, but the atmosphere certainly had the intensity of a Stanley Cup Playoff game when the St. Louis Blues defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in the third annual Kraft Hockeyville USA game at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Sunday.
The Penguins, playing in front of 1,500 fans in their practice rink, were the home team after Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, topped the more than 1,300 entries to win the title. As a result, the Rostraver Ice Garden received $150,000 in renovations and the community had numerous festivities leading up to the game, including a visit from the Stanley Cup.
"They seemed like they were into it and excited and it's a place we are used to practicing and not having a full rink and playing a game," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It was neat that way. Unfortunately, we couldn't give them more to cheer about."
Prior to the game, 17-year-old Jordyn Walker sang the national anthem. Walker, from Cranberry, won a contest held several weeks ago. A familiar voice was heard over the speakers; Penguins PA announcer Ryan Mill was in attendance. So was Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot and Louie, the Blues mascot.
When the game started a few minutes later, the Penguins fed off the crowd to take an early 1-0 lead with the Penguins' normal goal horn blaring. Sidney Crosby, making his preseason debut, fed Jake Guentzel on a 2-on-1 for a goal against Blues goalie Carter Hutton at 2:05.
Video: STL@PIT: Guentzel hammers home nifty feed from Crosby
"It's fun for everybody, including the kids to see it up close," Crosby said. "We usually practice here with a few people in the building; not necessarily sold out like that. For them to be able to share that with us and for us to be able to share that with them was pretty cool."
Crosby, along with forwards Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and defenseman Kris Letang, each made his preseason debut. Matt Murray made 43 saves for the Penguins.
Murray has good memories from his previous Hockeyville USA game in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 2015.
"I still remember that game," Murray said. "I think it was my first full exhibition game in the NHL so Hockeyville definitely has a kind of special place in my heart for sure. It's a ton of fun to play in these games and this one was no different."
Vladimir Tarasenko and Jordan Kyrou scored less than two minutes apart early in the second period to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead. Hutton made 28 saves.
Video: STL@PIT: Tarasenko knots game with quick wrister
Paul Stastny scored an empty-net goal with 23 seconds left and Dmitrij Jaskin scored 12 seconds later for a 4-1 lead.
"I think this is always fun for us," Stastny said. "We don't get to experience this much, but we follow the NHL and see all the buildup starting for the whole weekend. That is what hockey is about. Growing the sports in the small communities, small places that need it and kind of where the roots of the game start. Anything you can do to host a preseason game and be able to play in it for these guys is always fun."
After the game, players saluted the fans at center ice. Roughly 40 jerseys were given to children signed by either the entire Blues or Penguins team.
"It was a great event," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I think that it was extremely well organized, good turnout. Good venue. It was a good night."
The Penguins will open their regular season and raise their 2016-17 Stanley Cup championship banner against the Blues on Oct. 4 at PPG Paints Arena.
"It's a more intimate environment," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "The fans are so close to the game. I think they can get a whole different appreciation for the speed of the game. I know our players were excited to play in it. I think it's just a really neat opportunity to see an NHL game up close. I thought it was a great event."
Video: STL@PIT: Jaskin dances around Murray for fancy goal