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Fans Take in Historic First Practice at CONSOL Energy Center

by Tony Jovenitti / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins’ first preseason game isn’t until Wednesday, Sept. 22, but more than 6,000 fans still packed CONSOL Energy Center Saturday morning to witness the Penguins’ first practice at their new home.

Most of the lower level was full, as well as some of the upper level, as fans came from near and far to see the Penguins in person – free of charge. The Penguins held an open practice so that fans can get a closer look at this year’s team. There will be another open practice tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Many fans took advantage of the opportunity to watch the Penguins hit the ice for the first time this year.

Jordan Cherry, Justin Cogley and Amanda Erickson left Altoona, Pa. at midnight and were first in line at 2 a.m.

“We wanted to make sure that we were the first ones here,” Cogley said. “It was definitely freezing cold standing out here, but it was certainly worth the wait.”

They wanted to be sure they saw the Penguins at the new arena during its inaugural season.

“This might be the only time that we are able to make it here all season because we don't have tickets,” Erickson said. “But we wanted to make sure that we came at least once.”

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Altoona may be a few hours away, but some made even lengthier road trips just to see their favorite team in person.

Sisters Tory and Laurel Blakslee traveled four hours from Olean, N.Y. to come to training camp. They wanted to come earlier, but since they had to drop off their dog at a friend’s house, they settled for getting in line at 6 a.m.

“I missed not having hockey over the summer,” Tory said. “And I wanted to see Sidney Crosby.”

But one fan came from even farther away – much farther. Dawn Duffy came all the way from Sudbury, Ontario, a 10 hour drive, by herself.

Duffy received a text message yesterday from the Penguins about the open practice, and after she got out of work at 6:30 p.m., she hopped in the car and headed south.

“I'm just crazy like that,” Duffy said.

Even though she is from Ontario, she said she is a Penguins fan “because they are a team that cares about their fans.”

“Events like this where they allow us to be a part of the team is what makes me just love the team,” she said. “That and Sidney Crosby."

All of this isn’t lost on the players. The team appreciates the fans as much as the fans enjoy the Penguins.

“I got to the rink at 7:15 a.m. to get ready for practice and people were lined up outside,” Pascal Dupuis said. “That just shows you how Pittsburgh is. It’s just amazing. This is a great sports town.”

Arron Asham – who signed with the Penguins last month after playing with Philadelphia the past two seasons – was impressed with the fans’ devotion.

“I was walking in from the hotel and I saw a pretty big line out there,” Asham said. “The fans are dedicated to this team. They want the best out of us.”

Once the fans finally got inside the arena, many of them hurried down to the front rows so they could get close to the action. And Crosby received a nice cheer when he emerged from the locker room shortly after the fans found their seats.

Penguins fan Karen Peckyno said she enjoyed the new arena, as well as being able to see the players perform their skills.

“I liked when Crosby was dancing with the puck,” she said.

Friends Sam Cavolo, Lauren Franczak and Kelly Diehl came to CONSOL Energy Center for a special occasion. Cavolo said she heard about the open practice from the and she and Franczak decided to bring Diehl to celebrate her birthday.

Diehl lives in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., but is an avid Penguins fan. All three girls hail from Brentwood, and they all said they enjoyed the experience.

“We’re having a great day,” Cavolo said. “I’m really enjoying the atmosphere here.”

That atmosphere made an impression on the players, too.

“I didn’t expect to see so many fans,” Tyler Kennedy said. “It makes you work that much harder. It’s great.”

One of the newest Penguins, Zbynek Michalek – who signed with the Penguins at the start of free agency period after spending the past five years in Phoenix – said that he was impressed with the number of fans who showed up to cheer on the team during training camp.

“It was an amazing atmosphere out there during the practice,” Michalek said. “With so many fans coming out here and supporting us, it’s something amazing. I was really excited when I saw that on the ice.

“It makes you want to work even harder when you see all the support we get here. It’s nice of them to come and support us.”

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