The Igloo's Last Stand

Playoff hockey.

Let that sink into your cranium for a moment. Savor it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had my fill of old, bewildered sports journalists stumbling over buzzwords like “wake and bake,” “dope,” “hanky panky,” and the always unpleasant “residue.”

I feel like I’ve been having “The Talk” with The Golden Girls’ Bea Arthur for the past month. Thankfully, the Penguins are here to save us all from the boorish, train-wreck drama of Gossip Guys: the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s make like Roethlisberger’s hair and just put it all behind us.

Just when you thought the mullet had been vanquished from Pittsburgh sports, a new twist…

The Penguins start their defense of the Stanley Cup, and their Mellon Arena farewell tour, tonight at 7 p.m. Mario’s big screen is back. The white out is back. Beard-envy is back. And as soon as the first puck touches the back of the net—triggering either an explosion of fist pumps or an eerie cathedral silence, depending on which team scores—that one-of-a-kind playoff hockey atmosphere will ripple through every bar, basement and living room in Western Pennsylvania.

We will live and die with each blocked shot, rebound, scrum, and with each battle in the corners. Some of us will choke up during every national anthem and blame our glassy eyes on an unusually bad pollen season. We will scream, dance on couches, ruffle pillows in frustration to our wife’s dismay, and passionately reason with our television screens to “shoot the damn puck.”

They can’t hear you, bro.

We will see someone passing us on the street wearing a Brooks Orpik jersey, and we will give them a knowing wink. We will sit in class, or at work, smiling vacantly, pretending to pay attention, whilst in the back of our minds thinking “7 p.m., 7 p.m. 7 p.m.”

During the dark times, white clouds will billow over Oakland like in the old days of the coal stacks from all the Marlboro smoke. The domesticated among us will take the dog for a walk to calm the nerves between periods. Many of us will use said dog as a therapist.

“Rufus, I just don’t understand why Goligoski won’t pull the trigger. WHY?!”

For those of us lucky enough to attend one of the playoff games, we will walk up that winding hill to the area, and something will take us back in time to our first Penguins game. Maybe it will be the smell of exhaust fumes from the cars along Centre Avenue trying to find parking. Maybe it will be the sight of an old Ulf Samuelsson or Paul Coffey jersey.

Maybe it will be the saxophone guy, or the sun going down over the silver dome, or crank of the turnstiles and the smell of five decades of stale beer and nachos embedded in walls of the place.

Maybe it will be the first glimpse of the Stanley Cup banners and Lemieux’s hanging number 66 through the mouth of the entrance to B16, or C10, or F32.

Maybe it will be when the lights go down, or “please rise and remove your hats,” or that brief moment before the drop of the puck when 17,000 people collectively decide, “Let’s get crazy. For two hours, let’s forget we’re lawyers and plumbers and regional managers and lose our freaking minds.”

Whatever takes you back to your first time at the arena, savor it. Remember holding your dad’s hand to cross the street, looking up at the sea of black-and-gold jerseys in the crowd surrounding you.

Remember the shrill call of the cotton candy guy.

Remember that stranger that gave you the errant puck he caught.

Remember waiting for autographs in the parking lot in the blistering cold.

Remember how every single player stopped to sign the back of your ticket stub.

Remember driving home, falling asleep to the deep, smokey sound of Mike Lange recounting the game.

Remember every perfect blemish. Because there will never be another cathedral of hockey, burnt-orange pews and all, quite like the Igloo.

Thank you, Edgar J. Kauffman, for building your opera house on the hill. And sorry if we got a bit rowdy. It’s just our nature.

It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh. Believe.

Mellon Arena photo courtesy Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Categories: Pulling No Punches