Evgeni Mikheev and his group of fellow Penguins fans that make up the ‘Penguins Support Crew’ have proven themselves to be very loyal supporters of the black and gold.
|The Penguins Support Crew watched practice on Friday at CONSOL Energy Center. |
The Penguins Support Crew, which is comprised of 10 Russian Penguins supporters who live and breathe Penguins hockey from halfway around the world, are such devoted fans that they stay awake until 3 a.m. Russia time to gather together and watch live Penguin games. The group also has a website, www.letsgopens.ru
, where they keep in touch with each other on all Penguins’ related info.
Which means it should come as little surprise that the group was willing to make the across-the-globe trip from Moscow to Pittsburgh to witness the first official hockey game at CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday night in person.
“We have been waiting for this event for a long time,” said Mikheev, the only English-speaking member of the group. “This isn’t our native town, but we have always supported the Pittsburgh Penguins. We always felt it was important for the team to stay here. It was a great relief when we heard the new arena was approved and was started to be built.”
Mikheev and Co. are making their third trip to Pittsburgh. As loyal fans of the Penguins since the early 1990s, when they fell in love rooting for the superstars of that era such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, the Penguins Support Crew couldn’t pass up on the chance to be a part of history with the opening of the new building.
“Once they formally announced they were going to build this new arena, we began planning our trip to come here for opening night,” Mikheev said. “We are quite impressed with the new arena and how modern and technologically advanced it is.”RELATED ARTICLE: Bylsma Visits Malkin In Moscow During Family Vacation
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Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin
, who meets with the crew a couple of times each summer when he goes back home to Russia, is impressed by the devotion his fellow countrymen have for his team.
“They have a lot of passion because that is a long flight,” Malkin said. “That’s great for us because we have a lot of fans in Russia in Moscow and (Magnitogorsk). They watch our games and are great people.”
When Malkin and the Penguins Support Crew got together earlier this summer, Malkin brought along a guest who made quite the impression on the group of fans – head coach Dan Bylsma.
|Evgeni Malkin and Dan Bylsma visited the Penguins Support Crew in Russia over the summer. |
Bylsma was in Europe vacationing with his family when he took a detour to visit Malkin in Moscow. The two spent three hours having lunch with the support crew, who enjoyed getting to know the Penguins bench boss on an informal level.
“He was a very easy-going guy,” Mikheev said. “We were able to ask him any question that we wanted for about three hours, and he graciously answered all of them. We wanted it to be a fun meeting, so I think that is why he was able to enjoy it so much.”
Although his schedule is pretty tight right now with the Penguins having two games in three nights to open the season, Malkin planned to dine the Penguins Support Crew for a couple hours prior to Saturday’s home against against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We are definitely going to try to go to dinner and lunch,” Malkin said. “It’s always a great time going out with them.”
Just like it’s a great time for the Penguins Support Crew to watch Malkin perform his magic on the ice, which they say makes following the Penguins even more special.
“We would support this team anyway, even if there weren’t any Russian players on the team,” Mikheev said. “Of course, it is a much bigger pleasure to support the team with a Russian player like Malkin helping lead the team. That’s why right now this is a golden period for us rooting for the Penguins.”
Because the Penguins Support Crew enjoys watching Malkin and the Penguins so much, they hope to make a return trip to Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day so they can attend the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
“We definitely hope that we can make it back for the Winter Classic,” Mikheev said. “But New Year’s Day is very important in Russia, so a lot of our decision is going to depend on whether or not we can talk our wives into letting us come.”
While their wives might not be in favor of a return trip to Pittsburgh later this year, Malkin is certainly in support.
“I am trying to help them come,” Malkin said. “I have told them they have to come back for the Winter Classic because we want their support.”