When the gates to the CONSOL Energy Center opened to the public at 2:30 p.m., Penguins fans of all ages began piling into the arena to find a seat to watch the organization’s talented prospects take the ice for their development camp scrimmage.
As the players hit the ice for warmups, the arena filled with cheers from over 6,000 fans taking up two-thirds of the lower bowl who were delighted to be watching hockey in July.
“I’m really ecstatic for this game,” said Penguins fan Bobby Wehrle. “It’s awesome that the event is free and it’s a great time to come by, see the other fans and see some of the new players that we’ve got.”
For many fans, it was an opportunity to see the Penguins' deep pool of talented prospects in game action. With many of these young players still in juniors or at college, this is one of the few chances that fans will get to see them perform under the CONSOL Energy lights before they hit the big stage.
“I’m really excited to see (Olli) Maatta play,” Cameron Reeder said. “I’ve seen him play in juniors a lot and I think he’s going to be a great fit for the team.”
The prospects divided into two teams – Team White (coached by assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald) and Team Black (coached by player development coach Bill Guerin, who elicited perhaps the loudest cheers of the day when shown on the videoboard).
Fans were given two 25-minute halves, with a shootout after the first intermission, a 3-on-3 overtime after the final score turned out to be a tie (2-2) and witnessed an AHL-style five-round shootout to close out the game, with the White Team coming out on top, 3-2.
After a week long of hard practices, it was an opportunity for the prospects to put together what they had learned over the week in front of the large crowd – who the players saluted at the game’s end.
“It was a great way to end the week,” defenseman Simon Despres said. “We had a nice game and everyone played hard. It’s fun to have a lot of fans. The fans were incredible to come and see us prospects.”
The Penguins faithful brought their immense enthusiasm throughout the game, as the gasps and cheers were heard in the arena after each big play. It was a whole different experience for some, like Swedish-born center Oskar Sundqvist.
“It was really fun and with all the people it was amazing,” Sundqvist said with a smile. “In Sweden, it’s just a couple hundred that come to the games.”
I think it’s fantastic that the fans come out like that to watch what is in the cupboard and what’s coming down the road here. Our fans are our fans. These guys are going to be playing for them someday. For them to come out, I think it says a lot about the city and the fanbase. - Assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald
“I think they were surprised at the number of fans,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. "I think it’s fantastic that the fans come out like that to watch what is in the cupboard and what’s coming down the road here. Our fans are our fans. These guys are going to be playing for them someday. For them to come out, I think it says a lot about the city and the fanbase.”
The turnout of over 6,000 fans for this year's scrimmage exceeded last year's impressive count of just over 5,000, and the players couldn't be more grateful to have such support.
"It’s the best, to have a fanbase like this," 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow said. "Just to have that many fans come out just for prospects and for a couple of kids playing out on the ice is just phenomenal. It really makes you appreciate the place that you play in. To have over 6,000 people out there, it was really special. The same thing happened last year. It’s fantastic. It’s a lot of fun."
Throughout much of the game, the stockpile of blue-chip defense prospects that the Penguins possess were put on full display as Team Black contained the 2012 first-rounder Derrick Pouliot, 2011 draftees Morrow and Scott Harrington and newly-acquired Brian Dumoulin. Team White had Pittsburgh's other 2012 first-rounder Maatta, along with Simon Despres and Harrison Ruopp.
“There’s a lot of great players on the ice here, especially great defensemen,” Harrington said. “For all of us to get on the ice at the same time in a game situation is a bit of an eye opener for all of us so we can kind of see where everybody’s at. I think that everybody played pretty well. It’s hard gelling with a defenseman if you’ve never played with him, but personally I think Morrow and I did pretty good job and it was a lot of fun.”
As the final chapter of this week has closed, a new chapter begins for some of these prospects as they head to their respective teams in juniors, college or with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. One thing is for sure – the future appears very bright for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“This is by far the best group of talent we’ve had at development camp,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “That’s not a knock to the kids in the past, but overall the talent pool is getting richer. We’ve got some really talented kids and it’s our job as an organization to mold them to the way that we want to play.“
Joe Morrow (and D partner Scott Harrington coming in to help)
Zach Sill gets hugs from teammates after he scores a goal #awww
Kenny Agostino, Brian Dumoulin and Zach Sill after Dumoulin's 3-on-3 tally
A lot of peeps on Twitter said they were excited to see Dominik Uher at the scrimmage
2012 first-round draft pick (22nd overall) Olli Maatta