Pittsburgh has always been known as a hard-working sports city with great teams and traditions. This rough-and-tumble mentality has gone a long way in shaping the way the city views its hometown squads. Penguins fans are carrying on this attitude by showing their appreciation for the shot-blocking sacrifices the team makes each game.
When the Penguins were struggling during the first period against the Florida Panthers in Friday night’s 3-2 shootout win, it was the shot block that kept the fans into the game. The team racked up 13 blocked shots in the opening frame and 24 in the game, most of them drawing a large cheer from the sold out Mellon Arena crowd.
“I’ve have (noticed the fan support),” shot-blocking specialist Jay McKee said. “I think different fans in different cities have different perspectives on the game. I think the fans here really appreciate hard-working players and you can hear them.
“When you’re out there and you make a couple big blocks to kill off a penalty they’re behind you. It’s a great feeling. I think for every guy that does it in this (locker) room. When they hear that support it just adds to what they’re doing and makes them feel better. It’s been great, great support here.”
Defenseman Mark Eaton appreciates the hockey knowledge that Penguins fans bring to the game and is happy to have the city’s support.
“For some guys, me probably being one of them, that’s one of the only stats that we have,” Eaton said. “If the crowd starts to embrace that then it’s even better.
“They’re extremely intelligent fans. They know the game of hockey and they know that that’s part of the game. That is a behind the scenes kind of thing that a lot of times goes unnoticed. It’s nice to get a cheer out of it every once in a while.”
Newcomer Martin Skoula collected four blocked shots playing his first game as a Penguin Friday night. It hasn’t taken him long to experience the respect Pittsburgh fans have for the game of hockey.
“It’s always good,” Skoula said. “In this town, from my experience, it’s a sports town. A lot of people don’t just follow hockey. They understand it. It’s a great thing.”
The shot-block love has even lead to a giant McKee fan sign that hangs from Mellon Arena’s F-section every home game. “Shots on goal are on lockdown with McKee,” it reads.
“That means a lot,” McKee said. “I know the fans in this town know their sports and they have a passion for it. That makes you feel pretty good. It’s nice.
“They respect teams that just go out there and give their all every night. I know here if you go out there and work your tail off the fans are proud of you. They know you left it out there (on the ice). It’s great to be part of a city like that.”