Young Penguins fans gathered alongside Centre Avenue outside of the Trib Total Media Gate at CONSOL Energy Center beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night in the hopes of securing ‘Student Rush’ tickets to the first official hockey game at the new arena against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
When Penguins CEO and President David Morehouse arrived at the rink early Thursday morning, he couldn’t help but be taken aback by the tremendous support the ‘student rushers’ were supplying.
As Morehouse mingled with the students on his walk into the rink, he quickly noticed they seemed to be both tired and hungry. So he came up with the perfect solution to help re-charge their batteries – donuts and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts! (photo gallery here)
“When I walked by this morning I asked a couple of them what time they got here,” Morehouse said. “They told me 8:30 p.m. (on Wednesday). I thought they looked cold and hungry. Maybe we should get them some coffee and donuts to fuel them up because they have a long way to wait.”
Morehouse, with the help of general manager Ray Shero, head coach Dan Bylsma and several other team executives, not only ordered donuts and coffee for the student rushers – they hand-delivered them prior to the Penguins morning skate at CONSOL Energy Center.
“It was great to be able to come out here and see these kids,” Shero said. “A lot of them have been out here overnight. To give them some coffee and donuts and see their enthusiasm for the Penguins is great for everybody.”
“I hope I can perform half as well as they have in tonight’s match,” Bylsma added. “They are awesome and we love it. This is what makes our fans so special. Hopefully they don’t go hungry the rest of the day though.”
It probably comes as no surprise that Morehouse’s gesture went a long way with the students who braved the elements in the hope of securing one of the coveted tickets to Thursday night’s highly-anticipated opener.
“This really shows (Morehouse) cares about the fans,” said Pitt student Nathan Kilduff, who received his donut from Morehouse. “It makes you feel good when top executives like that appreciate your devotion to sit out in the cold.”
Morehouse wasn’t the only Penguin to hit it off big with the fans.
As Shero passed out donuts to the back of the line, he was greeted by a chorus of “We love Shero!” chants.
“I’ll have to come out here more often,” Shero laughed. “Of course, that was before Game 1. I’ll have to come back out again later in the season.”
Bylsma is also an advocate of special events that fire up the fans like the ‘Student Rush’ program. In fact, as he drove up Centre Avenue on his way to the rink, he honked his horn to the throng of partisans.
Fans came away impressed with the how cordial both Shero and Bylsma came off.
“I told Coach Bylsma good luck tonight,” said Nick Hoban, a Duquesne University student. “He then struck up a casual conversation with me and started asking me questions about what I do. He genuinely cared about learning about the fans.”
“I was getting cold and restless,” added Jordan Long, who came with Hoban. “Having Ray Shero reward me by giving me a donut made the wait all worth it.”
Speaking of waiting in the cold, nobody stood outside CONSOL Energy Center longer than Slippery Rock student Jesse Cibella, who made the 45-minute drive down I-79 and arrived at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.
“One of my friends told me at 7 p.m. (on Wednesday) that they heard on the news that people were already camped out,” Cibella said. “It turns that there weren’t people camped out at 7 p.m., but I didn’t know that. I drove in my car and came myself, so that makes me first in line.”
Cibella, who was featured on the 11 o’clock news Wednesday night and appeared on the KISS ‘Morning Freak Show’ with Mikey and Big Bob on Thursday, came prepared for the cold weather. He had on an actual Penguin costume from head to toe, which helped keep warm as he stayed up all night.
Cibella said everything about Thursday – bonding with fellow die-hards, getting donuts from David Morehouse and attending the first-ever regular-season hockey game at CONSOL Energy Center – is all a dream come true, although he did have one final wish that would really complete his special day.
“I hope my boss at my internship didn’t see me on TV or hear me on the radio,” Cibella said. “I called off just to be a part of this monumental day!”