|Mellon Arena, often nicknamed the 'Igloo,' will host its 1,667th and final regular-season contest on Thursday.
They say the hardest thing in life is saying goodbye.
Whether it’s your first baseball glove, first car or maybe even that first true love, nobody enjoys ever having to say that word.
Hockey players are no different. They are a superstitious bunch who would rather sprint face first into a brick wall with zero padding before they would part ways with their lucky shin guards or taped-up shoulder pads.
Yet saying goodbye is exactly what the Penguins will be doing on Thursday night as they take on the New York Islanders in the final regular-season home game in the history of 48-year-old Mellon Arena.
The Igloo, as it has commonly been referred, might not possess the modern amenities fans will find at Consol Energy Center when it opens in September, but for many of the Penguins’ core players who have led this hockey renaissance in the city of Pittsburgh throughout the past five years, it is home, a place where they grew from the bottom of the National Hockey League’s scrap heap to the top of the mountain as Stanley Cup champions.
“I can definitely say I am going to miss this building because we have all been living together here for five years,” Maxime Talbot said. “Most of these guys in the dressing room have been here a while. It is the oldest building in the league but we have everything we need. It might be old wood and it might smell old, and it might not be that pretty, but it’s a great building to play in.”
“When I got here I found out pretty quickly that this arena has an amazing feel,” Sidney Crosby
said. “It’s an atmosphere you have to be at to really describe. The crowd feels like it is really on top of you they are so involved in the game. It’s a really fun building to play in.”
“I remember coming here out of college and living with Bugsy (Ryan Malone),” Brooks Oprik said. “We were living in the moment and didn’t really think of it as home. We just went with the flow for a little bit, but it has definitely become home over the last three or four years.”
And, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is.
Leaving “home” will be tough for players such as Crosby, Orpik and Jordan Staal
. Throughout the love affair that has developed between the players and the No. 1 fans in professional sports, an aura of invincibility has grown inside Mellon Arena as the crowd has become almost like a sixth attacker, especially during the postseason.
“When I got here I found out pretty quickly that this arena has an amazing feel. It’s an atmosphere you have to be at to really describe. The crowd feels like it is really on top of you they are so involved in the game. It’s a really fun building to play in.” - Sidney Crosby
“It is obviously not very luxurious in terms of suites as compared to some of the other buildings, but in terms of just watching the game it feels as if the fans are right there on top of you,” Orpik said. “The atmosphere is really good. It gets really loud in here, especially at playoff time. For players, I think it is a really good place to play.”
“It gets loud, especially when we get that momentum going,” Staal said. “That really helps this group during a game to take that momentum to another level. The way this building gets that roar going is pretty fun.”
While many of the long-time fans have memories which could stretch from 66 Mario Lemieux Place clear across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it’s always the freshest moments which stand out the most. Considering the Penguins have won 101 regular-season contests and 18 more in the postseason over the past four seasons, it’s fair to conclude we all have plenty of thrilling anecdotes to take away from the house formerly known as the Civic Arena.
Whether it was the night Crosby became the youngest rookie to hit 100 points, Gary Roberts’ tone-setting performance in Game 1 of the 2008 postseason or Staal’s series-changing shorthanded tally in last year’s Final, we all have vivid images we will take with us across the street next autumn – even the players themselves.
“Last year’s are the ones we can most relate to because we won the Cup and it was most special,” Talbot said. “I remember during the intermissions or TV timeouts they would show the people outside on the Jumbotron. That was pretty special to see 3,000 people standing outside watching the game on TV. You see them outside cheering for you and you always remember that.
“I remember Brooks Orpiks’ shift when he almost killed four players on Detroit’s team (in 2008). The crowd was just standing on their feet. I remember the crowd was chanting “MVP!” for Geno a couple of times. I remember when Geno had that hat trick against Carolina and had that awesome goal off of the faceoff. Those are all memories you are going to remember.”
“I remember we were cutting sticks one day and there were a couple of mice running around,” Orpik said. “Someone killed one of them and shoved it in Witter’s (Ryan Whitney) shoe. We were waiting for him (to see it) so that we could get a good reaction but he just put his shoe on and walked right out. He didn’t even notice. That one kind of backfired.
“But I would say the best memory had to be this year’s opening game against the Rangers with the banner ceremony because of what we accomplished. When I got here we were with Washington and Chicago at the bottom of the barrel, so I probably appreciate it more than some of the younger guys having gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.”
“For me, my first win against the Canadiens (on Feb. 19, 2009), walking off, the building going crazy and hearing (Mike) Lange say, ‘Elvis has just left the building,”’ head coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s a memory. I look forward to that every time I walk off the ice after a game.
“Walking out of the tunnel with two minutes until the start of a playoff game with a white out and the fans going, ‘Let’s go Pens!’ is something I will never forget either, and will miss that about this building.”
You might not miss that first glove, first car or first true love, but long after we hear that final buzzer on Thursday night, there is going to be a part of all of us that will miss Mellon Arena.