The attendance at the Penguins’ preseason game against Columbus at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday night was a max-capacity 18,087 fans. But it wasn’t exactly a sellout, since there wasn’t a single ticket that was actually sold.
The Penguins teamed up with ImaginePittsburgh.com to gave away every seat in the house to the area’s youth hockey teams and college students as a part of the “Ultimate Home Game.”
The Penguins donated 5,000 tickets to the Pennsylvania Amateur Hockey League as well as to the Penguins Kids Club and the Tickets for Kids Foundation, and 8,000 lucky college students won tickets by signing up at www.ImaginePittsburgh.com.
The fans were treated to a 3-1 Penguins victory and a crowd-pleasing five fights throughout the night.
“This is so wonderful and generous,” Jen Diamond said.
Diamond’s husband, Bob, coaches the Johnstown Warriors. They brought their two sons, Colin and Alex, to the game with the rest of the Warriors team.
Colin and Alex play in the mite league, and they were excited for the opportunity to see the Penguins play.RELATED ARTICLE: Penguins KO Blue Jackets
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“I’m looking forward to just the thrill of being at a Penguins game,” Alex said.
According to Bob, all of the Warriors’ families got together and decided how to best use the tickets.
“We made sure that kids who don’t normally get to come to a game were able to come to this one,” Bob said.
“There are some kids whose families take every extra part of their budget so their kids can play hockey, because it’s an expensive sport to play,” Jen said. “This was wonderful for those kids who might not get to see a Penguins game to get to come today. It just gives me chills.”
Joe Creighton, who coaches the Youngstown Phantoms mite team in Ohio, received 18 tickets for Saturday’s game. His team was sitting a few rows up behind the net where the Penguins shoot twice.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Some of these kids have never been to an NHL game, so it’s nice to come down here.”
Phantoms 7-year-old defenseman Alex Radchenko was fiercely waving his rally towel – which were given out to all fans – while the Penguins were warming up in front of him.
“I’m just excited,” he said.
Creighton’s son, James, was amazed by the new arena.
“I love it,” he said. “I want to play here.”
His father appreciated the fact that the Penguins were supporting youth hockey.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re giving back to what (the Penguins players) started out at one day in their life,” he said.
The Highmark Kid’s Zone and Wall of Champions was a big hit before the game and during intermissions with players posing in front of their team’s jersey, which are all mounted on the wall in the main concourse.
Three members of the Allegheny Badgers, a PAHL team that plays in Delmont, were checking out the Badgers’ jersey on the wall. Steven Cable, J.T. Douglas and Tom Maroon were all excited to be able to come to a Penguins game.
“I’m just excited to see the new arena,” said Douglas, a student at Latrobe High School. “It’s really great.”
In addition to enjoying the experience of a Penguins game, some of the youth players in attendance were also looking forward to learning from some of the world’s best players.
Cable, a Badgers defenseman who attends Indiana High School in Indiana, Pa., said that since his father is a coach, he told him that he could learn from watching some of the Penguins’ defensemen.
“I have to watch Brooks Orpik
because I just moved from center to defenseman,” Cable said. Kris Letang
, who had an impressive game by blocking four shots, said it was great to play a game in front of so many kids.
“Kids are the future stars of the NHL so it’s fun to see all those fans,” Letang said. “It’s fun to see that they’re cheering for us and we’re having a night for them.”
The college students who won tickets filled the upper level of the arena, but there was plenty of excitement for them in the lower concourse – including possibility of finding a job.
Businesses like PNC Bank, Westinghouse, Bayer and US Steel took part in a career fair organized by ImaginePittsburgh.com in the arena before the game. ImaginePittsburgh.com is an initiative to help out local college students and young professionals by emphasizing the job growth in the Pittsburgh region.
Abigail Mosier and her boyfriend Mark Lang won tickets to the game and were browsing the career fair shortly after the gates opened.
“This is my first Pens game so I’m excited just to be here,” Mosier said. “I brought some resumes, too, so maybe I’ll find a job.”
Josh Pace said he was surprised that he was able to get tickets, which were won by his girlfriend, Julie Aloia, a graduate student at Wheeling Jesuit University.
“I was pretty surprised because I never win anything,” Pace joked. “I haven’t been to a Penguins game in three years, and I also just wanted to see the new arena. It’s very impressive.”