Professional hockey is back in Pittsburgh!
The Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. when the Penguins return for their first game action in Mellon Arena since April 4, 2004. That 4-3 win over the Capitals seems like eons ago since a work stoppage wiped out the 2004-05 season.
“It feels pretty good to be back. It’s been a long time coming,” Penguins defenseman Ric Jackman said. “I have been chomping at the bit for two years. It’s nice to be here taping up your sticks instead of in your garage at home.”
In addition, Tuesday’s contest features the professional home debut of top-pick Sidney Crosby.
“The excitement is there,” he said. “Once the season is underway I think there will be more excitement.”
So far, Crosby has provided a lot of excitement in the ice in the two preseason games he played in Wilkes-Barre. He tallied a goal and an assist and wowed fans with his magical skills.
Winning the NHL Draft Lottery and picking up Crosby set off an avalanche of offseason moves in which the Penguins added free agents Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair, Andre Roy, Lyle Odelein and Steve Poapst in addition to a trade for goalie Jocelyn Thibault. Those players joined 2004 signees Mark Recchi and Ryan VandenBussche to form a group that totally reshaped the Penguins into a playoff contender.
“It’s a great turnaround for us. Winning the lottery and drafting Sid really allowed us to go out and put a great team together for this year to allow us to compete for the Stanley Cup,” Penguins captain Mario Lemieux said. “The atmosphere is going to be exciting. It’s difficult to play when this building is half-full. It’s going to be an exciting year for all of us.”
Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk is excited to get his team back on friendly ice.
“The last time we had hockey here was 17 months ago. It’s hard to realize,” he said. “When you put it in perspective, it was a long time, but it certainly worked out for the better because at least we fair there’s a fair economic system where all teams can compete.
“It’s great to have the players back. It was tough. We’re happy that we’re finally here.”
The Penguins narrowed their training camp roster to 35 players on Monday. Olczyk likes how the team is coming together.
“It’s exciting. Hopefully the players realize the opportunity and the excitement level that comes from the organization, from the leadership starting right at the top with Mario and filtering down right to the coaching staff,” he said. “There’s no other place in the world I’d rather be than in this position. We feel we’ve done a lot of good things and it comes down to building chemistry and a foundation for exactly where we want to get to.”
The Penguins travel to Ottawa on Thursday and trek to Washington on Friday before they return to Pittsburgh on Sunday to meet the Capitals at 7:30 p.m. in the preseason finale.