PITTSBURGH - Tim Braden had fresh ink of a skating Penguin on his right forearm and Brandon Sutter‘s name and No. 16 on the back of his black T-shirt. He was ready for the Penguins.
So were more than 18,000 fans who packed Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night for a Penguins scrimmage, one that a week ago did not exist on a schedule.
“Our fans just announced en masse that Pittsburgh is also a hockey town,” Penguins CEO David Morehouse said. “I‘d like to say I‘m surprised, but I‘m not.”
For the first NHL “game” in Pittsburgh since April 20, Morehouse ordered the arena‘s luxury suites be opened to accommodate fans who otherwise would have been turned away.
Admission and parking was free, so was the love for hockey.
“I just want to see Geno skating on USA ice,” Braden said.
MVP centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby skated for Team White. Team Black‘s defense pairing of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin had their hands full.
So did arena workers, who said fans started lining up about 11 a.m., when Penguins players were taking part in a morning practice. The scrimmage was broadcast on Root Sports, which made the decision to air the game early Monday. But that hardly convinced fans to stay home instead; it was standing-room only at the Trib Total Media gate by 2 p.m.
Braden attended the scrimmage with his father, Tom, 55. They made the drive from Fawn after the younger Braden had the Penguins‘ logo tattooed onto a right arm already marked with the Steelers emblem.
Emily Waskowitz, 17, is not that over-the-top for her Penguins.
However, like Tim Braden, she is a diehard fan of Malkin‘s, who played his first game in Pittsburgh after dominating the past two months in Russia‘s KHL.
She wore a replica of Malkin‘s sea-blue Metallurg Magnitogorsk jersey — a Christmas gift from her father, Mike, 50, who said he played for the local Junior Penguins from 1980-81.
The Waskowitzs are from Point View, and their spot in line was adjacent to TGI Friday‘s on the Fifth Avenue side of the arena.
“I‘m a little surprised by this crowd,” Mike Waskowitz said. “We got here at 4:30 p.m., and now I‘m wondering if some people we see coming now will get in.”
Everybody did. Even Elvis had trouble leaving the building.
Trib Total Media’s Josh Yohe reflects on the scrimmage:
Orpik impact felt
Bylsma had said he wanted every aspect of the scrimmage to feel “like a real regular-season game.” Defenseman Brooks Orpik followed his coach‘s wishes.
Just 6:30 into the first period, Orpik saw Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Warren Peters skating with his head down in the neutral zone. And so Orpik did what he normally would do, sending Peters crashing to the ice with a thunderous check.
Bennett, Tangradi perform well
Both players battling to play on Malkin‘s left wing acquitted themselves well.
Beau Bennett, the leading scorer for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, scored the game‘s first goal for Team White. He danced around defenseman Philip Samuelsson by the left wing boards, cut toward the net and beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the short side.
Tangradi did not register a point but did what coaches want from him when center Evgeni Malkin and right wing James Neal had the puck: He went to the net consistently.
Top power play shines
The Penguins‘ top new-look power play scored a couple of goals. Left wing Chris Kunitz dug a puck from Fleury and scored in the first period. Then in the third period, Malkin scored a five-on-three goal by burying a wrist shot past Fleury from the right circle.
Letang, Despres productive
The new defensive pairing of Kris Letang and Simon Despres enjoyed a productive evening after being on the ice for the first goal against. Letang recorded a goal and an assist, looking in mid-season form. Despres added two assists.
The Penguins named fans the No. 1 star of the game. That would be a first.
This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.