Outside of the first day, no morning during the school year was more eagerly anticipated as a child than the final day of class each spring. It was a day to reflect on all the memories created the previous 180 days and a chance to look forward to a summer of sleeping in late and diving into swimming pools. Most importantly, it was a time to say goodbye to some of your friends you might not see during the three-month break.
|Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins left Mellon Arena for the final time on Friday afternoon. |
Friday afternoon at Mellon Arena was like the last day of school for the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, unlike when they were young eight-year-old kids sitting at their desks staring out the window and dreaming of swinging baseball bats or casting a fishing line, this was a final day that came all too soon.
Instead of packing up hockey sticks and loading equipment bags into SUVs, the Penguins would have preferred to spend Friday watching film and having practice in preparation for the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It is obviously not a fun day but at the same time it is our last day here in this building,” forward Pascal Dupuis
said. “We have a lot of great memories and moments. Not a great day though.”
In the National Hockey League – much like any other professional sports league – playing for and winning the championship every season is just not practical. We would all like to believe that to be the case for our favorite teams – especially when your team is the defending Stanley Cup champion and has been to the previous two Cup Finals like the Penguins – but it’s also impossible.
Of course, that doesn’t make losing any easier, especially when everybody – including the team itself – thought the Penguins had a golden opportunity to become the first team since the 1996-97 and ’97-98 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Cup champions.
“I wish I didn’t have human thoughts, but like everybody – if you look at that picture (of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup celebration) over your shoulder – I think this is a group of guys who could’ve been in that picture again this year,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The opportunity we had with playing Montreal in the second round – it is disappointing because of those expectations.”
Being that it had been less than 48 hours since the Montreal Canadiens ended their season with a Game 7 victory at Mellon Arena, it was understandable that the Penguins were still feeling a bit desolate on Friday. However, just like the last day of school left the anticipation of getting the gang back together for another run of fun when September rolled around, the players were able to look forward to better days ahead when the 2010-11 training camp commences in four short months.
Among the group of players under contract for next year is the Penguins’ impressive core of young talent including Rocket Richard Trophy winner Sidney Crosby
, last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin
, Cup-winning netminder Marc-Andre Fleury
, Selke Trophy candidate Jordan Staal
and top-four blueliners Kris Letang
and Brooks Orpik
Add in emerging defenseman Alex Goligoski, top-line winger Chris Kunitz
, playoff hero Maxime Talbot and a couple players coming off one of their best years offensively –Dupuis and Mike Rupp – and the expectation is for another great season in ’10-11.
“This team is obviously put together quite well,” Rupp said. “We plan on being in the position that we’re in – contending and being one of the elite teams in the league – next year and years to come.”
“This team is obviously put together quite well. We plan on being in the position that we’re in – contending and being one of the elite teams in the league – next year and years to come.” - Mike Rupp
“If it was me I would take the same team this year again and hope to try doing it again,” Dupuis said. “We were pretty confident in the group that we have.”
“You don’t really know what is going to happen,” Goligoski said. “There are a lot of guys in the locker room that we know will be back. That is always a good feeling.”
Many of the same players will be back when the Penguins get set for next season, but one thing that will change between now and then is the building the team calls home. After 42 years of skating on the Mellon Arena ice surface, the Penguins will make the 50 foot journey across Centre Avenue to the sparkling new CONSOL Energy Center.
That thought alone was enough to excite the players as they left the Igloo for one final time on Friday.
“There are going to be a lot of new things, that’s for sure,” Crosby said. “Not too many people have the opportunity to go into a new building. It’s a building that will be state-of-the-art. Especially here in Pittsburgh, we have had great support, and that’s exciting, too. I kind of have mixed emotions, and there’s a part of me that will be sad, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the new rink, as well.”
“I’ve played (in Mellon Arena) for six years now, and it’s all that I know from Pittsburgh,” Fleury said. “I think that it will be a little bit weird to move out. There is so much great history here, and we won our Stanley Cup here also. It will be a little bit weird, but it’s for the best.”
Summer might have started earlier than we all wanted in 2010, but that shouldn’t keep any of us down for long. Right about the time we all get tired of mowing the grass, pulling the weeds and having mosquitoes annoy us at night, our favorite players and coaches will return, a new arena will be christened and the 2010-11 season opener will mark the beginning of another magical season for the team we all love so much.