Before the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni said goodbye to the 48-year-old Mellon Arena prior to the final regular season game against the New York Islanders on Thursday night, the former members of the organization saw a glimpse of Pittsburgh’s hockey future just across the street as they took a tour of the Consol Energy Center during the afternoon.
After entering the new arena through the Trib Total Media Gate, the wide-eyed alumni stared intently at the tour guide’s small laptop computer screen, which showed them what the building will eventually look like once it is completed for the 2010-11 season.
“It’s actually breathtaking – just the space of it,” Troy Loney said. “I’m sure that it looks bigger now without everything in it. I would really like to see the finished product – not only the stands and the boxes, but underneath where we just went through to see all of the rooms. The dressing room is bigger than the whole place. You have everything that you can imagine there. It is probably twice the size of most of the dressing rooms that exist now.”
“I’m impressed,” agreed Andy Bathgate, who scored the first goal in Mellon Arena history and whose grandson was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “You can fit a lot of hay in here.”
As they laughed quietly with each other and spent time catching up, the alumni strolled through the Loge boxes, where they looked out into the lower bowl.
“The sight lines here are unbelievable,” Bathgate said as he looked out over the ice level.
After visiting the East Club and the Lexus Club restaurant, the alumni took a group picture in the locker room and caught a glimpse at the weight room and players’ lounge. Many alumni expressed their amazement at all of the new and improved player accommodations in the arena.
“We’re astonished at how nice it is and how fan-friendly it is,” Wendell Young said. “We knew that it was going to be friendly for the players with how big the dressing room is. We are in awe as players, because we’re not used to seeing a dressing room at that magnitude … but I think that the open concourse and the seating arrangement is fan-friendly. It’s modern technology. It was well-thought out. To get it right, they went through all of the other buildings and found what worked and what was impressive, and they went from there.”
After hearing about how the players will have a couple of pool tables, flat-screen televisions and a computer area with Internet access in their lounge adjacent to the locker room, Syl Apps stared around the room in disbelief.
“They are never going to go home,” he joked.
Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan also spent some time explaining to the former Penguins how the team wanted to have the best weight and training facilities available to attract new players and make them excited to join the organization.
“You’re a little late!” Gary Roberts joked.
At the last stop of the tour, the alumni made their way down to the ice level where they walked around the rink and took pictures of the view. As Gary Roberts walked through the arena and chatted with some of the players, he quickly caught the eye of one construction worker on site.
“Put on your skates in the playoffs,” the worker said. “We need you!”
After completing the tour, Roberts acknowledged that his career in Pittsburgh will always remain a special memory for him.
“It’s just the whole support from the fans and the support from the organization and all of the players that played for this organization,” he said. “I’m sure that they do appreciate it, but it’s not like this everywhere else. Enjoy it, because when it’s over, that’s what you look back on – these kinds of memories. You realize just how special they really were.”