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Inside Scoop: Fan Perspective

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When the puck dropped for Sunday's game between the Penguins and the Boston Bruins at PPG Paints Arena, it officially marked Pittsburgh's 600th-straight sellout at home.

The sellout streak, which includes regular-season and playoff games, dates all the way back to Feb. 14, 2007 - a 5-4 shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks. Through those 600 games, a total of 10,888,963 fans have entered the gates. And on Sunday, I was one of them.

By my estimation, I've worked 365 regular-season home games and counting in my nine-plus years of working for the Penguins, but have never watched one from the seats. And I was absolutely thrilled about getting the opportunity to do so in my 10th season.

Here are my thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 4-3 comeback victory over the Bruins - as a fan.

WARMUPS

My seat was located in Section 115, Row D, Seat 3, which was in the corner of the Penguins' zone on the FedEx Level. I got there just in time for warmups, which began at 11:59 a.m. Despite the early start time, which stood out to me was how there was already such a buzz around the arena. The stands around me were filled.

The person to my left, Matthew Seeley, was preparing to watch his first-ever Penguins game in person by intently flipping through IceTime, the game day program. The person to my right, John Vaskov, was chatting with his daughter Emily and son-in-law Connor. Everyone else around us was taking videos of the Penguins as they went through drills along with photos and selfies.

It was the first time in a long time I had been outside of my bubble of covering the team, and it was AWESOME to have that perspective. It was also so cool watching all the pregame entertainment on the video board. Even upstairs in the press box, I like to sit and watch all of it - from my boss Sam Kasan doing the GNC GameTime Update to the In-Game Open - so it was great actually viewing it from the vantage point of being in the crowd. Especially since there was a brand-new In-Game Open that debuted, which turned out fantastic.

FIRST PERIOD

Once the puck dropped, what stood out to me was how fast the game was. I've heard Mike Sullivan and his team talk countless times about how they want to play with pace, but seeing it from that vantage point was incredible. Watching it on TV just doesn't do it justice. Even watching it live from the press box doesn't quite do it justice.

"I know the guys only play 30-45 seconds at a time, but when you're here you can see why because they are going full speed the whole time," said Steva Miller, who was sitting next to Seeley. "It doesn't look like that on TV."

Like the Bruins' first goal, for example. The speed at which that play unfolded was scary quick. In the span of just 11 seconds, Patrice Bergeron won the opening faceoff back to Torey Krug, who pushed it over to Zdeno Chara. He dished it off to David Pastrnak, who carried into the Penguins' end and flipped it back across to Bergeron for the score.

Overall, the Bruins couldn't have asked for a better start, getting out to a 2-0 lead just 2:02 into the game. And while I know there were some Bronx cheers for Matt Murray elsewhere in the arena, everyone around me was super encouraging.

Especially Gabriella Simora and Anthony Werth, who got their tickets through Student Rush. Despite being a few rows behind me, I could hear them being positive and vocal every time the Penguins had the puck, particularly Evgeni Malkin. "Come on, G!" they cheered.

"We just love the energy of being in here," Simora said. "Feeding off everyone's energy and getting excited about it."

That's one of the main reasons they love coming to Penguins games. They try to attend at least five a season depending on the availability of tickets through Student Rush.

"He took me to my first game ever, and it's just a whole different experience," Simora said.

"I've been to Steelers games, football games all over, soccer games, baseball games - nothing is like a hockey game," Werth said. "The energy is so much different, so intense. When you watch it at home, it seems almost like there's no energy there. But when you're at the game, it's totally different."

During the last TV timeout of the period, with the Penguins trailing 3-0, I started chatting with Vaskov to my right, who was there with his family. He goes to about three games a season, buying tickets for his children as birthday presents. Filling out the row next to us along with Emily and Connor were John's son Andrew, his daughter-in law Amanda and his granddaughter Addie.

"We've been doing this since Andrew was about 7 or 8 years old," Vaskov said. "I enjoy watching on TV, but being at the arena is a lot of fun and so is spending time with my kids."

In the middle of our conversation, Sidney Crosby made an amazing play behind the net down at the other end to feed a pass over to Dominik Simon for the score to make it 3-1. Vaskov and I looked at each other, smiled and shrugged then both stood up and cheered.

Overall, my immediate impressions from that first period was just how fast it went by - there were hardly any whistles! - and just how fired up people get over penalties. The refs certainly took a lot of grief throughout the game.

FIRST INTERMISSION

Once the horn sounded, I walked around the lower concourse and stopped at the Highmark Kid's Zone, which is adjacent to the Wall of Champions. I don't have kids, but if I did, I would definitely take them over here. The room is ideal for families, as it has an interactive play area and educational and recreational activities for children.

"I've been here probably like 50 times!" said 11-year-old David Ketterer, who is a forward for the Arctic Foxes. "I started coming here when I was 1 or 2. I come here almost every time I come to a Pens game. My favorite thing is the super deker over there."

Ketterer loves to 'cheer really loudly' at Penguins games, especially for his favorite player, Jake Guentzel.

Elsewhere in the Highmark Kid's Zone, August Seibel was there for just the second time with his young son, who had been crying during the game because it was too loud for him. So they went to Guest Services, where they got him a pair of headphones before stopping down for him to play. 

"The Kid's Zone has been a lot of fun," Seibel said. "He's having a good time."

SECOND PERIOD

I didn't manage the clock very well during intermission, so the second period had just started as I was walking down the ramp back to my seat. And just 33 seconds in, Teddy Blueger got the Penguins on the board to cut Boston's lead to 3-2. I was a little stressed that I missed it, but made sure that I didn't leave my seat for the rest of the period.

A few Bruins fans were seated behind me, and it was hilarious listening to some of their commentary on the game. They couldn't get over how huge Evgeni Malkin is in person, and couldn't stop talking about it. They also acknowledged just how incredible Crosby is, which was a little surprising to hear.

With the score closer, the atmosphere was even better. I was impressed with how concentrated everybody was. Nobody around me was on their phones during game action - they were all intently watching. And when it looked like something exciting was about to happen, everybody literally inched to the edge of their seats.

For me, that stress is one of the things that stood out the most. The No. 1 rule of working in sports is 'no cheering in the press box,' so it was equal parts exhilarating and weird to disregard that. I was right there on the edge of my seat with everybody else, completely in the moment. 

As I turned to my left to chat with Seeley and Miller, it was pretty funny because KeyBank parachutes with shirts attached to them started floating around in our section, so the people around us were jumping and leaping around trying to grab them. I was more worried about being taken out by one of them then a flying puck!

SECOND INTERMISSION

At this point, I was starting to get hungry and decided it was time to stop by a concession stand. I'm the kind of person who likes to plan ahead - when I'm going to a new restaurant, I always check the menu ahead of time and know exactly what I want to order when I get there. 

I had seen City StrEATS, a new fresh grill portable that has a rotating menu named after local streets and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, mentioned on the Fan Guide for today's game and knew I wanted to stop there. As I was walking, I was stopped in my tracks by the tantalizing smell of bacon. I looked to see where it was coming from, and lo and behold - it was City StrEATS!

I ended up getting an order of the "Polish Hill Pierogies," which were mini pierogies topped with kielbasa, chives, onions and sour cream - and they were DELICIOUS. I decided to take them over to the Jim Beam Rackhouse located at Section 119. When it comes to beers, I only like to drink craft ones, so I was pleasantly surprised at the selection there.

I set up at a table with my pierogies and a Blue Moon, and it was a perfect place to just hang out, mingle and enjoy the crowd atmosphere. From there, I headed to a similar spot on the Giant-Eagle Snapple Level - the Coors Light Igloo Club, which is where the Burgatory concession stand is.

"That's where we usually eat," said Brooke Kaminski, who was attending the game with her boyfriend. "We've gotten it every time that I've been here, actually. This is the first time I've had the Steak Fries and they're actually really good. I recommend that. They're so good."

In addition to the food, Kaminski just loves the entire in-game experience.

"It's just something about the arena and the atmosphere of the whole game," she said.

THIRD PERIOD

For the final frame, my seat was located in Section 211, Row D, Seat 3, which was directly above the Bruins' net in the double-attack zone.

Right beside me was Jack Michalski, who came to the game with his brother Zeke. Sitting in front of them were two of their friends they play adult-league hockey with. They were a great group of guys who were super friendly, and that's another one of the things that stood out to me the most - the camaraderie. It felt like I was watching the game with a bunch of my buddies. 

When Jack Johnson scored a shorthanded goal just 1:41 into the period to tie the game at 3-3, watching everyone around me and in the entire arena explode to their feet put a huge smile on my face. And when Bryan Rust scored to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead at the 12:35 mark, the reaction was priceless. Everyone was literally 'jumping around' to the Penguins' goal song and cheering and high-fiving. It was the greatest.

"Hell of a comeback," Jack said.

I was happy to hear Mac Miller's 'Party on Fifth Ave' play as the Penguins congratulated each other following the win, as it's one of my favorite songs and so fitting for this arena. I then stayed in my seat to watch the Three Stars, something I have never witnessed live since I'm either waiting to go inside the Penguins locker room to interview players or running down from the media level.

Overall, the afternoon was an absolute blast, and I would recommend it to everyone. The product on the ice was obviously exciting, but it was truly wonderful to see up close the work that everybody in the Penguins organization does off the ice to make the in-game experience a fantastic one. From the music to the entertainment during TV timeouts and intermissions along with the friendly ushers and arena workers, everything was top notch.

And to be honest, I breathed an extra sigh of relief once the final buzzer sounded to signify a Penguins win. Hockey people are a superstitious bunch, so since I got a win in my first game as a fan, hopefully I'll be allowed back. 

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