|Sergeant Jake Raines traveled 1,380 miles to watch the Penguins play the Hurricanes on Saturday.
United States Army Sergeant Jake Raines flew 1,380 miles from Fort Hood, Texas to Pittsburgh to take in his final hockey game at Mellon Arena on Saturday. When he finally arrived at the rink, Raines missed most of the first period. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
At first glance this might seem a bit odd. Who in their right mind would travel such a distance and then be OK with missing a third of the game?
Well, probably anybody when the reason is a one-on-one visit with Penguins Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux.
“I got to meet with Mario Lemieux,” said Raines, who recently arrived at Fort Hood following deployment in Iraq. “I missed the majority of the first period because of it but I couldn’t care less because I met Mario Lemieux of all people. That is what really mattered.”
Just like he always does, Lemieux left quite an impression on Raines.
“He was pretty cool,” Raines said. “He was pretty soft spoken. I probably embarrassed myself because I was in shock getting to talk to him.”
Raines, who was honored on the Jumbotron during a stoppage in the second period, is a life-long Penguins fan from southeast Missouri. He became a Penguins fan during the 1990s when his brother Nick got him interested in the sport.
With an always-uncertain future as an Army sergeant, Saturday was Raines’ last chance to watch the Penguins at Mellon Arena before the team moves across the street to Consol Energy Center for the 2010-11 season. Because Raines does not have an abundance of free time on his hands with a job such as his, he had to get creative to make the journey to Pittsburgh.
Raines, who came to the game himself, flew into Pittsburgh early Saturday for the sole purpose of coming to the Igloo to watch the Penguins battle the Hurricanes. By Sunday morning, he will be back on a plane heading home to Fort Hood.
When Raines returns home, he will have plenty of fond memories from his trip, in addition to his encounter with Lemieux, to savor as he watches the Penguins via his NHL Center Ice package on DirecTV.
Raines was fortunate to meet almost the entire Penguins team while he waited outside the arena as the players arrived Saturday afternoon. Each player took the time to shake hands with Raines and autograph his Penguins jersey.
“They stopped on their way in and signed my jersey for me and shook my hand,” Raines said. “I thought that was really nice of them. They said ‘it’s nice to meet you.’ They were great.”
Raines said he was touched by how worthwhile the Penguins made him feel.
“I got first-class treatment from everybody,” he said. “It has been awesome.”
Like all of the great men and women who dutifully serve our great country, Raines never knows what’s in store for him in the near future.
“At this point I am not really sure what is going to happen in the near future,” Raines said. “I will be home for a little while, but after that I don’t really know.”
Wherever Raines goes next, he undoubtedly will have memories to last a lifetime.