Opener Representative Of Pens’ History
It was appropriate the
Penguins celebrated the 20th season in team history Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Their 3-2 victory against Springfield was an encapsulation of the team’s existence.
The win had a little bit of everything, with Zach Aston-Reese playing the hero as the only scorer in a decisive shootout. However, the chaotic first period — which featured two fights and the opposing captains screaming at each other on the benches — stood out for its overall zaniness that harkened back to the first home game Nov. 13, 1999 and other memorable moments that defined the Penguins’ first few seasons.
The grand opening of the then-Northeast Pennsylvania Civic Arena and Convention Center was far from smooth, as Penguins President and CEO Jeff Barrett recounted during a practice at training camp.
It was 5:30 p.m., and the permits needed to open the building were missing. Once that crisis was avoided, a new one quickly popped up. The manifest on the ticketing system wasn’t accurate, so 500 fans showed up and didn’t have a seat for the game.
The on-ice action was just as bizarre.
“We go in there and Kentucky, the team we were playing, the time sheet was off so they didn’t go on the ice at the right time,” Barrett continued. “We had a big fight with them to get them on the ice. Then we go on, and we’ll talk about Dennis Bonvie forever. Ten minutes into the game, he gets thrown out. In between periods, he tries to go down the hallway to attack the other team and we have to stop that. Then Shawn Heins (whom Bonvie hit, leading to the ejection) hit someone else and he gets thrown out. On his way out, he swings a stick at a fan. We have a bench clearing brawl at the end, and Bonvie went back on the ice in his suit, which was a six-game penalty at the time.
“This is the opening night, and all I could think was, ‘God, I hope we don’t have to do this every night.’ But, it was exciting, it was a good time.”
Barrett said that game was critical in setting the tone for fans who were unfamiliar with the style of play and atmosphere of the American Hockey League.
“They saw it live for the first time and said, ‘Holy smokes — this is pretty entertaining,’ ” he said. “After that first night, the whole event got people in the area excited and it took off.”
Saturday’s opening period wasn’t quite as crazy, but it was full of animosity that mirrored that of earlier rivalries against teams like Philadelphia and Binghamton. The 6,294 in attendance cheered and booed in equal amounts as the teams combined for 46 penalty minutes.
But once both teams regrouped at the first intermission, the game shifted to what you would expect from the modern AHL. The big hits continued, but they were clean and part of the game’s flow. The skilled forwards of both teams took over, speeding up and down the ice for transition scoring chances. And, of course, overtime and the shootout delivered on the dramatics.
Attendance at Mohegan Sun Arena rose last season for the first time since
2012-13, according to
Hockeydb.com. A game like Saturday night’s was just what the organization needed to carry that momentum over into the new season.
The team was thrown into the fire out of the gate and never wavered.
“That was a good first game for our guys,” head coach Clark Donatelli said afterward. “That was a spirited hockey game and great one to start off with.”
Pens reassign three
The Penguins roster was trimmed ahead of this weekend’s road trip to Cleveland, with three players being reassigned to Wheeling.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton reassigned defenseman Kevin Spinozzi and forward Cam Brown to the Nailers, while Pittsburgh sent defenseman Dane Birks down to the ECHL squad. None of them played in Saturday’s win over Springfield.
Spinozzi played 16 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season after making the team out of training camp on a tryout agreement.
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Eastern Conference Atlantic Division
GP W L OL SOL Pts GF GA
North Division GP W L OL SOL Pts GF GA
Western Conference Central Division GP W L OL SOL Pts GF GA
GP W L OL SOL Pts GF GA
Two points are awarded for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss.
Cleveland 5, Rockford 2 Syracuse 3, Hershey 2 Utica 3, Belleville 1 Laval 3, Providence 2 Lehigh Valley 6, Bridgeport 3 Penguins 3, Springfield 2, SO Charlotte 4, Rochester 2 Binghamton 7, Toronto 5 San Antonio 4, Grand Rapids 0 Milwaukee 4, Texas 3, OT Ontario 6, Stockton 5, OT Chicago 5, Colorado 1 San Jose 5, Bakersfield 1 Tucson 6, San Diego 4
Hartford 3, Laval 1 Iowa 8, Manitoba 1 Bridgeport 2, Hershey 1
Cleveland at Toronto, 3 p.m.