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Pens Fans Get Pumped at Downtown Rally

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
A few morning showers couldn’t deter a crowd of fans from coming Downtown to Market Square on Thursday to cheer on the Penguins at the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic rally.

“It’s why you have a hood,” said Paula Gaus of Newcastle.

The student at Carlow University left her house at 7:30 this morning with two friends to head Downtown for the rally, which kicked off at noon Thursday.

“We’re a little crazy,” Gaus laughed.

“(The rally) promotes a lot of Pittsburgh spirit and gets everybody excited,” said Gaus' friend Joanna Rich, also of Newcastle as she gestured to the third member of their group, Adam Verdecchia, who is from Dayton, Ohio. “He’s not from around here, but he loves the Pens, so it gets people like him involved too.”

Mike Lange, Phil Bourque and WDVE’s Val Porter emceed the event, giving away a plethora of prizes from the Penguins after Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato addressed the crowd.

“I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than showing off the best hockey team in the country with the best player in the country, playing at the home field of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he said. “Isn’t it a great combination?”

Lange and Bourque called fans to the stage to answer a variety of trivia questions, such as which two Penguins formerly played for the Capitals (Brent Johnson and Matt Cooke) and which Penguin scored the winning goal in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic (that one should be a given). Each fan got a bit of help from the assembled crowd.

Prizes included overnight stays (including breakfast) at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa, tickets to the opening night of Mary Poppins, First Night Buttons from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, free admission to the North Park and South Park ice rinks and a Great Race gift bag, which includes a Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card and lift tickets to Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

But the biggest prize of the afternoon went to John Vestal, who won two tickets to the Winter Classic via text message.

Carolyn Kerwin of Oakdale came to the rally since she had the week off from work, and wanted to partake in what mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Onorato declared “NHL Winter Classic Week” in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County

“Oh my gosh, I can’t even believe it,” she said of her excitement level leading up to Saturday.

Kerwin and her husband had plans to attend the outdoor public skating session held at the Winter Classic Community Rink at Stage AE once the rally concluded.

“It’s awesome,” Kerwin said of the week in general. “I love the energy, I love the joy. Everyone’s so up, it’s nice.”

Jimmy Adler and Norm Nardini, who will be opening for Bon Jovi in February, provided the musical entertainment. Iceburgh and members of the Pittsburgh Penguins Ice Crew were on hand to rally the crowd, as were cheerleaders from Brashear, Gateway, and Riverview high schools and the Riverview High School Marching Band.
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