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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League and have combined to give the public a chance for its voice to be heard on a grand scale.

The two entities are hosting a rally at noon on Saturday in support of the arena and Lower Hill development plan put forth by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Isle of Capri in an attempt to obtain Pittsburgh’s sole gaming license.

The rally will take place outside of Gate 3 at Mellon Arena at noon – two hours before the Penguins take on the New York Islanders.

“Hopefully, we can let [the elected officials] see there are people who care about this and get out the point that the Isle of Capri’s proposal is the best for the entire city,” said Mike Mooney, who co-founded with Sam Menchyk in July 2004. “There’s proof that voices do work [with politicians]. We want everyone in support of the proposal to come out even if they’re not attending the game. They can bring signs and their voices. We want them all to come out and let everyone know what’s happening here.”

“The arena is not just for the Penguins. It’s for the region and the entire area. And, under the Penguins’ and Isle of Capri’s plan, it’d get built with no tax dollars. It’s free!” said PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam, who oversees high school hockey in Western and Central Pennsylvania. “To me, it’s a no-brainer. The PIHL will be there to support this cause. The ancillary dollars generated by having a sports franchise like the Penguins in town can’t be met any other way. It’s important for us to show our support. There’s going to be a big contingency of supporters there. We hope to have them all there to show our support to the politicians and decision-makers.”

The PIHL and both have petitions on their web sites people can sign to show support for the plan put forth by the Penguins and Isle of Capri to build a new arena without taxpayer money. As of Tuesday afternoon, just over 30,000 people have signed the petitions.

Sam said if the Penguins do not get a new arena and leave Pittsburgh once their lease with Mellon Arena runs out in 2007, it would have an extremely negative affect on the growth of youth hockey in the tri-state region.

“I owe this to the Pittsburgh Penguins because, first of all, I look at my two kids who were pushed by the fact that Mario [Lemieux] was involved with Penguins and stayed involved with the Penguins. Had he not been there, my kids would not have learned about life through hockey because sports teach so much about life,” Sam said. “The sport has grown here since Mario was drafted. Now that Sidney Crosby has been drafted, it’s going to grow even more.

“It’s important that we support the Penguins and their quest for a new arena through the Isle of Capri. If the Penguins go away, high school hockey will still be there, but it will not have the growth it has right now because of the marketing efforts of the Penguins. They have done so much for high school hockey that we need to support them.”

Mooney and Sam hope the rally catches the eye of NBC Sports, which will nationally televise the Penguins-Islanders matchup.

“They are supposedly going to have a film crew [at the rally],” Mooney said. “We’re going to try to get them to show some footage between periods during their broadcast. Hopefully they will do that.”

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