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Season Ticket Holders Enjoy Annual Skate

by Deborah Francisco / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holders were given the chance to skate on the ice at Mellon Arena throughout the day on Saturday. The event attracted skaters of every level, as evidenced by the variety of skates they brought, and it gave them a new perspective of the Mellon Arena.

“I think it’s really cool to be on the Mellon Arena Ice; it doesn’t look as big from the inside as when you’re sitting up on the top,” 12-year-old Andrew Miller noted.

Many Season Ticket Holders posed for pictures during their time on the ice.
The event helped give long time fans like Wayne Bartolowits a close-up view of the oldest rink in professional hockey.

“I’m 51 years old, so it was rejuvenating for me,” Bartolowits said. “It’s nice to skate on the blue line and I went and threw myself on the boards in the corner to feel what that’s like.”

Many of the participants who had prior hockey experience noticed that the quality of the ice is much nicer than the ice they are used to playing on.

“To come out and see the Arena for one last time- it’s pretty wild and it’s pretty neat because the ice is a lot better than I’m used to” four-year season ticket holder Jon Conklin said.

The Season Ticket Holder Skate started at 9:00 am on Saturday morning and was broken up into five sessions of about 200 skaters at each session.

“We’ve done it for several years now,” Penguin’s Director of Customer Service Kathy Davis said, “We do it once a year, generally over one day, as an extra bonus for the season ticket holders to be able to skate out on the ice that the team does. People really enjoy it and they look forward to it every year. “

The skaters glided around the ice, some more gracefully than others, with the jumbotron going overhead. Almost everyone wore Penguins’ paraphernalia. There was an abundance of Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury jerseys but Letang and Lemieux jerseys could also be spotted.

“I liked skating over the goal place because Marc-Andre Fleury is my favorite,” 12-year-old Emily Cantell said.

Many of the season ticket holders in attendance know hockey inside-and-out from watching so many games, but this event taught them something new about the sport. This was especially true for Sandy Cooke, who has been a season ticket holder along with her husband for 20 years.

“It gives you a new appreciation for what they do,” Cooke said. “I’m just in awe with their ability to be able to skate on the ice so gracefully and yet manage the hits and the goals and the scoring and the puck handling, it’s just incredible; I consider myself to be athletic, but what they do on skates is just incredible and that’s the thrill.”

More than anything, the season ticket holder skate allowed many fans to fulfill a life-long dream. Al Calhoun has been a season ticket holder for over 20 years and this was the first time he made it out to a season ticket holder skate.

“I’ve dreamed about it all my life, coming down here, and it’s a great opportunity,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun also brought his ten-year-old son David along to the skate. David flashed a toothy grin at center ice as Al snapped a picture. The father-son duo typically only skates two or three times a year, but they were thrilled to be down on the Mellon Arena Ice.

“It’s very amazing.” David said. “I never thought I would live to see the day of skating on Mellon Arena.”

While season ticket holders like David and Al rarely get the chance to skate, other season ticket holders who attended the event have been skating their entire lives. Lou Ammon, a seven-year season ticket holder, has followed the Penguins since 1973 and has seen how hockey has grown throughout Western Pennsylvania as a result of the Penguins success.

“The great thing is that Lemieux is still a driving factor here… he chose to stay here in Pittsburgh and not only did he promote youth hockey, but he also promoted Pittsburgh to the league and I just think it’s the greatest thing,” Ammon said.

As a boy Ammon once participated in a shoot out between the periods at a Penguins game. He also played on the ice at Mellon Arena during high school as part of the South Hills Hockey Association all-star game.

“I was pretty good for around here, but I couldn’t go anywhere because we just didn’t have the competition,” Ammon said. “But now, kids here, they can play in this environment and this area…I think it’s fantastic, and it all started with Lemieux and it’s continuing on with Crosby.”

Ammon enjoyed skating on the Mellon Arena ice with his son Nicholas at the season ticket holder skate. It was an all out Penguins week for nine-year-old Nicholas who was also the winner of the Dick’s Sporting Goods junior starter of the game raffle earlier in the week. He got to sit in the penalty box during the Penguins pre-game skate on Tuesday night.

“It was pretty special,” Nicholas said.

While he was sitting in the box, Eric Godard skated over and gave him a puck to remember the occasion. Many of the fans at the skate have a lot of hockey experience, like the Ammon family, but other fans were skating for only the second or third time. This was the case for Brendan Dalaney, who learned how to skate just so he could get out on the ice at last year’s Season Ticket Holder Skate.

“I learned how to skate because I wanted to skate on the ice here, so we went once before, and then once to this thing, so we’re good enough to get around with the help of the boards,” Dalaney said. “It’s something that I always wanted to do… we’re a little bit embarrassed though, because we’re getting lapped by little kids.”

The little kids Dalaney mentioned zoomed around the rink with ease, many of them play youth hockey in the area. Overall, the Season Ticket Holder Skate is a highlight of the season for the season ticket holders and their families. Cameron Gadsby is one 11-year-old boy who won’t soon forget sitting on the Penguins bench and skating on the Mellon Arena Ice.

“It’s really amazing, I mean so many great players have sat here and been here,” Gadsby said. “It’s really special to sit on the bench. It’s even more special to skate on this ice because Lemieux, Crosby, Malkin and a lot of great players have played on this ice.”

Click here for information about joining the Season Ticket Holder Waiting List.

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