Mark Messier is My Dad, and other amazing memories from the Igloo | Jesse White |

Mark Messier is My Dad, and other amazing memories from the Igloo

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This week I will be attending the final regular season Penguin game at Mellon Arena. Anyone who has visited my office or engaged in casual conversation with me knows I am a die-hard Penguin fan; so saying goodbye to Mellon Arena is not without some mixed emotions.

The Civic Arena, circa before my seats were even built

By my admittedly rough calculations, I have seen nearly four hundred Pens games, all of which have been at the Igloo (the sole exception was the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo), the overwhelming majority of which were from high atop my perch in the F balcony. While I was a student at Duquesne Law School, I went in with three friends and purchased partial season tickets; now I’m the sole owner of two seats for a full season plan.

What a view.

Those seats have seen more than their fair share of triumph and tragedy, amplified by the blue-collar atmosphere (including blue-collar language) of being up in “the cheap seats”, which everyone knows is where the true fans sit. We’re a family up there, with relationships forged from the shared experiences of watching our beloved Penguins through good times and bad.

One year I bought a large roll of bright yellow paper and made banners for as many games as I could; the impact of the banners varied from being featured in the Vancouver Sun to being asked politely but firmly to put away a banner which may or may not have suggested that Mark Messier of the New York Rangers fathered several children out of wedlock.

In our own defense, there was no scientific proof that he isn't any our dads. And yes, that is Stoosh on the far right.

I was privileged to see some of the most amazing hockey imaginable, from Mario Lemieux’s breakaway goal in his final game before his first retirement in 1997 that brought the house down to Jaromir Jagr’s incredible seven point night in 1999 to the amazing beginnings of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

But the moments I’ll remember the most are the ones that you had to be in the Igloo to appreciate, like the night against Toronto when there were so many fights both on the ice and in the stands, my eyes didn’t know where to turn. Or the feeling of an overtime game-winner in the playoffs; the F balcony got so crazy one night, my friend was nearly thrown over the balcony by sheer momentum. One game that sticks out was the electric atmosphere of Game 3 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals- I’ve never felt anything like it at a sporting event in my life. The video below was actually the end of Game 4 of the 2009 Cup Finals, another electrifying moment.

[vsw id=”a5Pfv8Znn0c” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

And alongside the heroes, there were the scapegoats. Oh, were there scapegoats. Players like Kevin Hatcher, Ian Moran, Josef Melichar, Kip Miller and others were regularly vilified by the Mellon Arena faithful- and those were the home team players. You can only imagine the vitriol reserved for the opposition, much of which is probably not suitable for a family publication.

Most nights, no one was more shocked to be playing in an NHL game than Joe Melichar.

During the 2000 playoffs, a group of friends and I decided to take my 1988 Chevy Cavalier down to the Igloo between the 4th and 5th overtimes of the marathon Pens-Flyers playoff game, with the crazy college student logic that we would be allowed in to fill the empty seats. Parking my car outside Gate 1 at approximately 1:30 AM, we were denied access and forced to watch the game on televisions through the windows of the Igloo, which were out of sync with my car radio. As a result, we heard the Penguins’ crushing defeat about three seconds before we saw it, which somehow hurt much worse.

Whatever, jerk. 1975 called- they want their Stanley Cup back.

To add insult to injury, my engine blew up about two miles before the Heidelberg exit of I-79. We didn’t get home until about 4:30 AM, and my car never moved under it’s own power again. Despite the cornucopia of failures, I wouldn’t have given up the experience for anything in the world.

I think that car may still be on I-79

I’d love to see a list of everyone I’ve ever taken to a game at Mellon Arena; it would be a fascinating inventory of friends and family I would never be able to recreate. From family to friends who have drifted away to first dates that never materialized into second dates, they all had a shared experience at the Igloo that will shortly cease to exist outside of my memory.

Game 5 of the 2008 playoffs with my brother Cody

Taking Hayden to his first game

From the cramped concourses to the urinals crafted from troughs to the piece of black iron railing that sticks up just enough to obstruct my view, there is a lot I won’t miss about Mellon Arena. But I’m sure it won’t take many nights at the new Consol Energy Center before we start waxing nostalgically for the Good Old Igloo, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

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1 Comment on "Mark Messier is My Dad, and other amazing memories from the Igloo"

  • sarah says

    Jesse, what a darling account of your time spent at mellon arena (igloo). My first time was when my ex boyfriend asked me if I wanted to see a Pens game the day after my senior prom. Needless to say, I ditched my then date and got to witness an event that to this day makes me grin. He was friends with Johnny Barbaro and used his comp tix. We sat two rows behind Martin Brodeur. Man that guy can stretch! It was 1995 and the first game of the playoffs. Pens won in dbl overtime against the Devils. They didn’t win another game that year but damned if I wasn’t hooked. I remember listening to the Friends theme song on the radio on the way home….it is strange that when something so profoundly affects you you remember all of the details. I take a small amount of comfort in the fact that the new arena is being built where St.Francis’s hospital was. Six months prior to my first Mellon Arena experience a doctor performed a sextuple bi pass surgery on my father that still holds up to this day. There is good mojo there and many more firsts and happy endings.

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