Tuesday night might be both the end and the beginning for hockey fans in two cities. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings are on the verge of eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, and moving onto hockey’s grandest stage – the Stanley Cup Finals.
It will be the second consecutive year these northern teams will square off for Lord Stanley’s Cup … and it will also pit the two towns against one another for a best-of-seven showdown. While its tough to know who will come out on top in a second straights finals battle between the Pens and Wings, there is little doubt which town loves its hockey more … the title of “Hockeytown” now belongs to Pittsburgh.
This is not hometown pride and passion. This is a completely unbiased view from an observer. While there will always be a debate as to which town loves its football more ( Green Bay or Pittsburgh ), there is no doubt our city has stepped up and embraced the coolest game on ice like never before.
Before I even name the burgh “Hockeytown”, consider the roots of the name. It wasn’t even a tribute, but an advertising campaign organized by the city … and the name “Hockeytown” was actually the creation of the brother of a member of our Channel 4 News team, though I’m not going to spill the beans here as to whom that might be. However, as the Wings became more dominant on the ice, Detroit embraced the title off the ice.
However, the Wings winning ways haven’t always translated to success in the stands. Remember, Detroit is dealing with a declining auto industry. Hockey tickets are not cheap and there were plenty of unfilled seats at the “Joe” earlier this year.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, hasn’t had to worry about filling the seats … or drawing fans. The Pens play in the oldest and more decrepit arena in the NHL, yet they are selling out the place and their fan base is made up of an ever-growing number of young people. That passion for the Penguins reached a never before level last season with the idea of showing playoffs games on the JumboTron ( or the Trib Tron as its now being called ).
You know how it works, but if you are reading this from a different town, let me explain. Essentially, the game is shown on the large screen mounted outside Mellon Arena … and fans sit in lawn chairs and watch the game on TV. Think about it. You could watch the game at home, on your Hi-def screen with booze, a bathroom and a bed nearby. Instead, literally thousands of fans have given up the creature comforts of home to be with their fellow fans. If that’s not devotion, I don’t know what is.
Add to that the growth of youth hockey rinks in the region, as well as the merchandise sales for Pens gear, and you begin to realize hockey is not just something we do in between Steeler seasons. It has become a season unto itself. That’s not even mentioning the young, approachable talent that plays for this hockey team. Oh, if that weren’t enough, you can see the future of Pens hockey rising just across the street at the soon-to-open Consol Energy Center.
I don’t think the Hockeytown label will ever be taken from Detroit. However, its quite clear Pittsburgh has become a “Hockeytown” all to itself. A city and region that supports the game not only in great numbers, but in a unique way.
I will ask Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, should the Pens and Wings meet in the finals again, to challenge the mayor of Detroit. Last year, he wagered that if the Pens won the series that Detroit would surrender the name “Hockeytown” to Pittsburgh. The mayor of Detroit took a pass.
That’s OK. Pittsburgh has won the title by virtue of its support and its passion. Welcome to the new version of “Hockeytown”. All we need now — is the cup.