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"Penguin Nation" Invades Nationwide Arena

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Through the first 13 games of the regular season the Pittsburgh Penguins are racking up victories at a historic level. Perhaps even more impressive is how they have continued to increase fan support, as evidenced by the Pittsburgh takeover of Nationwide Arena during the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night.

“Penguin Nation” invaded the Blue Jackets’ home rink with a vengeance, providing an atmosphere that was almost “college-like”, especially during the game’s exciting conclusion the last three minutes of regulation through the Penguins’ 1-0 advantage in the shootout.

“I think this might have been the most electric crowd of the season,” head coach Dan Bylsma said after. “Right from warmups our fans were screaming and yelling.

“We had a lot of Pittsburgh fans here so it was entertaining and it was a great energy in the building … it was good to see.”

Pittsburgh fans came Friday from a variety of locations – Bethel Park, Pa. to London, Ohio, and even Detroit, Mich. It was one of the strongest showings yet at how popular the Penguins have become across the country.

Ian Artim and his friend, Brad Slezak, drove last spring to Washington for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and later to Games 5 and 7 of the Cup Final against Detroit. They were in attendance again on Friday night, and their reasoning is great news for the Penguins’ organization.

“Sometimes it is actually easier to get tickets to the away games than it is the home games,” Artim said.

With 125 straight sellouts and counting at Mellon Arena, the Penguins have become a hot ticket since that streak began during the 2006-07 season.

Not only are Penguins’ fans packing their own arena and ones across the National Hockey League, but it is how they support their team that has really began to stand out.

“Half of this arena is Penguins’ fans and that would never happen at Mellon Arena,” Christa Sturiale, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, said.

It was a sea of black and gold (and light blue) throughout Nationwide Area as fans wore not only the jerseys of current stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, but also ones of past heroes Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Darius Kasparaitis, to name a few.

Two fans attending college in the local area, Amy Milewski and Andrea Reinhardt, went as far as to have members of Milewski’s family mail them “throwback” jerseys of Jagr and Petr Nedved priority mail just for this one night.

Tim Pannett, a Penguins’ fan from Weirton, West Virginia, was taken aback by the showing of Penguin faithful.

“I didn’t know what to expect, that’s why I didn’t wear any Penguins’ gear,” Pannett said. This was Pannett’s first experience on the road, and he brought his young son, Luc, along for the ride.

Pittsburgh fans erupted and gave the building a definite “Pittsburgh feel” following goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and Alex Goligoski 39 seconds apart in the final three minutes of the third period.

“It was loud the whole game … The fans were awesome,” Goligoski said afterwards.

From that point forward, glancing into the crowd, it appeared nary a soul sat back in their seats as the game headed all the way to a shootout, where Sidney Crosby won the contest for Pittsburgh as the lone scorer in the breakaway session.

Cheering didn’t end with the game. Fans leaving the arena were heard throughout the concourse chanting “Let’s Go Pens” as they made their way through the exits.

As a team, the Penguins proved on the ice they can never be counted out of a game with yet another dramatic comeback. Off the ice, their legion of fans continue to show the NHL they remain the greatest fans in professional sports, and a huge reason for this team’s run of success.

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