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Jeanine Wacker enjoyed first Pens game on 94th birthday

by Jeff Carpenter @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins and Olympic by PPG are working together on a series of stories to feature the most colorful fans in the game.

Jeanine Wacker has been a fan of the Penguins since the early 1980s, and has a lot of memories involving Pittsburgh's hockey team.

However, in December Wacker had an experience that trumped anything she's experienced over the past 40 years of her fandom - she saw a game live. 

Wacker could hardly contain the excitement of seeing her first Penguins game in-person. She didn't find out how she was spending her 94th birthday until a few hours before puck drop.

"Well, to tell you the truth it was a surprise from my children," Wacker said. "They planned everything. I didn't know I was going there until we got to Atria's in Mt. Lebanon. They told me we were going to have some appetizers. Then they handed me the envelope."

After Wacker received the envelope, she opened it and couldn't contain her emotions.

"It had the ticket in it and I started to cry," Wacker said. "I've been wanting to go to a game for a long time. My family gets to go, but I hadn't before then. They thought that would be great for my birthday. I had the most wonderful time. I was so excited, I was like a two-year-old."

While Wacker's family has partial season tickets, she never got a chance to attend a game live. For the 94-year-old's birthday, she got her wish and that finally changed. The Penguins beat the Islanders on Dec. 7, 4-3 in overtime, on Matt Hunwick's game-winning goal. Wacker's focus was locked in for the duration of the contest.

"It meant a lot to me," Wacker said. "My seat was great, I got to see everything. One of the gentlemen from the Penguins came up and talked to us during one of the intermissions. I didn't pay too much attention to him because I was too busy getting ready to watch the next period."

In 1954, Wacker moved to Peters Township and began following the Penguins in the early 1980s. When the Penguins selected Mario Lemieux first overall in the 1984 NHL Draft, her interest skyrocketed.

"When Mario came, that was it for me," Wacker said. "I just absolutely love that man, I admire him so much. I think he's such an asset to the city of Pittsburgh and he's done such a great job with Sidney Crosby."

She watches every game, and Wacker had a solid command on last year's roster that won the Stanley Cup. Due to the Penguins having a fair share of roster turnover and recent in-season acquisitions this year, Wacker is still trying to learn the entire makeup of the 2017-18 Penguins. If her habits are any sign of her progress, it shouldn't take very long.

"The Penguins keep me happy," Wacker said. "Well, except if they lose. I never go to bed without seeing the last of the game. No matter how late the game is, I see the end of it. They just make my life better."

The Penguins also had a great deal to do with how Wacker's birthday turned out, enough to supplant any memory she's had concerning the team in recent years.

"I guess my favorite memory now is December 7th when I got to go on my birthday," Wacker said. "All evening long people were saying 'Happy Birthday' to me. When the game was over and we were leaving, a group of eight people turned around and sang happy birthday to me."

"It was the best birthday I've had in a long, long time."

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