The blue line at CONSOL Energy Center was never more solidified than on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t players guarding the neutral zone, but rather Penguins fans of all ages. Each was waiting in a long line to have a few moments with head coach Mike Johnston at the Penguins’ fourth annual “Skate with the Greats.”
“It’s a good time,” said Rachel Spinetti of Butler. “Got to meet a lot of old Penguin players and got to skate on the ice.”
In addition to Johnston, 14 Penguins alumni – including current assistant coach Rick Tocchet and assistant general manager Bill Guerin – were in attendance at the event. Fans could take the ice or opt for dry land with an autograph session.
“It’s nice to see some of the old, great, vintage players,” said Brad Zwierlein of Bridgeville. “I’ve talked to (Francois) Leroux and (Peter) Taglianetti. Great guys.”
For the alumni, it’s a chance to get in touch with fans both old and new.
“(They ask), ‘Who are you?’” Kim Clackson said with a laugh.
Unfamiliarity aside, fans are grateful for the experience.
“They appreciate us coming out,” Clackson said. “There’s a lot of great fans in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has been a great hockey town for a lot of years and it’s fun to get out and mingle with the fans.”
“The young kids throughout here, they don’t understand what we did and how we played,” Peter Taglianetti said. “But their parents do and their parents grew up with us.
“At the time back in ’91, the city of Pittsburgh hadn’t won a championship in a long time in any sport. Very unexpectedly we came around and we just brought a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people and that’s what they remember. You talk to some of them and it was one of the best times of their lives.”
Families seize the opportunity as a way of making lasting memories. Zwierlein was accompanied by his wife, three sons and nephew.
“I never played hockey as a kid and my sons now play hockey, so it’s great to be able to live through the Penguins with them,” Zwierlein said. “We had an awesome time last year, so we brought some friends and family with us this time.”
Penguins alumni see “Skate with the Greats” as a way of revisiting old memories with old friends.
“Seeing the guys brings back a lot of memories,” Taglianetti said. “We didn’t play in this building, but you see the guys, you hear the stories, you go in the hallway and the Cup’s there with your name on it and we had a chance to see it. It’s a pretty cool event.”
The event is one of many Penguins Alumni fundraising efforts. All proceeds from “Skate with the Greats” are donated to Penguins Alumni charities.
“You don’t get a lot of repeat customers,” Taglianetti said. “It’s growing. It gets sold out every year, which is great. We raise a lot of money for charities and it just gives everybody a little flashback down memory lane.”