While there wasn’t a winner on the ice in the alumni game on Friday – the Penguins alumni tied the Capitals, 5-5 – the day’s true winners were the fans, who witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Mario Lemieux lace up for the Penguins once again.
Fans arrived early to tailgate and even watched the Penguins alumni walk into the stadium. With the weather cooperating – chilly and partly cloudy – it all made for a great atmosphere.
“This is fantastic,” said James Danger, a Penguins fan from Erie, Pa. who came to town just to see the alumni game. “I’m hoping to try to score some Winter Classic tickets.”
Most fans were just excited to see the former Penguins take the ice again.
Don Passamani and Chris Clark came all the way from Naples, Fla. to see the alumni game and the Winter Classic.
“It’s very nice to come back to Pittsburgh,” Passamani said. “The alumni game is very exciting.”
Passamani went to the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, and she said it was great to see the alumni get a chance to play outdoors – especially Gary Roberts, who missed the first outdoor game because of a leg injury he sustained a few weeks prior.
“Gary Roberts didn’t get to play, and I felt really bad,” Passamani said. “So it’s great to see him get to play in an outdoor game.”
“It’s nice to see all the old players,” Clark said. “We’re all getting a little bit older, so it’s nice to see guys that played 20 years ago back on the ice again.”
Only 10,000-plus seats were sold, and the tickets sold out quickly. The fans even crowded the gates waiting to get in to the 9:30 a.m. game.
“It was a hard ticket to get,” Danger said. “But it’s Mario skating one more time, and you can’t put a price on that.”
“It’s the Penguins that we grew up with, and it’s a good group of guys,” Penguins fan Tracy Helfer said.
Helfer and her husband, Mike, have tickets to the Winter Classic on Saturday, but they said the whole week of events is really special.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” Mike said. “How lucky can we be? We’ve had the best player in hockey for the past 20 years.
“From going from where the team was about to move to where it is now is great. It’s like we’re on top of the world.”