Section 120, Row HH, seat 23.
That’s where I got to see Mario Lemieux and a host of other Penguins legends take on the Washington Capitals’ alumni at Heinz Field.
Walking up to the entrance, I started to get a little jittery. It was probably from the anticipation of what I was about to witness. It’s a story I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids some day. I’ll have them circle around my seat in the living room with their Pens shirts on and tell them tale of the great Mario Lemieux skating on a rink constructed at Heinz Field.
As I walked up the ramp to my seat, I glanced back at the entrance and the main concourse area. It was a sea of black and gold. There were a few Caps fans sprinkled into the mix and the locals were sure to welcome them with some colorful words.
As I got to the top of the ramp, I got my first glimpse of the field area through section 116. I continued on down the hall to section 120, where I would take my seat to see Soixante Six return to the ice.
I hurried through the hallway to try and find my seat. It wasn’t hard. My seat was in the last row and on the aisle. I stood there for about five minutes just looking out at the frozen pond in the middle of the field.
To see it on television or the Internet is one thing, but to actually see it in person puts a whole new perspective on it.
The Capitals players were introduced first and came out wearing the team’s current home red uniform. The crowd was sure to shower them with boos as they emerged from the tunnel and made their way to the ice.
Then the players 99 percent of us showed up to see appeared and the cheers were thunderous. I can’t even imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like in there tomorrow with 65,000 people chanting “Let’s Go Pens!”
All the greats came out, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Kevin Stevens, etc. But one man waited a moment and came out last.
As Lemieux made his way to the ice, a special introduction was given by the late John Barbaro. I got chills hearing the recording say “Welcome back, number 66…Mario…Lemieuuuuxxxxx!”
I don’t think he stopped smiling once on the ice for the entire game. I know I didn’t.
The game itself was a slower-paced affair, but you had to expect that. It was simply amazing to see the guys I grew up idolizing on the ice one more time.
The first few minutes were a little sluggish as players on both sides worked on shaking off the rust.
Pittsburgh got on the board first on a goal by Rob Brown that was set up by none other than Lemieux. During the intermission, Brown showed off his famous windmill celebration.
The goals came fast and furious over the remainder of the first period, which ended with a 3-3 tie. (I was updating the status of the game from my phone. Check out some pictures and other thoughts as the game was going on, here.)
With the score tied 4-4 late in the second and final period, Brown broke free and walked in on Caps’ goaltender Don Beaupre. However, he was hauled down and the Pens were given a power play.
It didn’t take long for the Pens to take the lead either. Lemieux had the puck in his trademark spot on the right side of the ice, he fed Murphy at the point, who put the puck in an area for Ron Francis to easily deflect it into the cage.
How scary of a power play unit is that?
In the final few minutes, the pace started to pick up and the Caps began pressuring the net, looking for the equalizer. At one point, Jay Caufield, who scored the fourth goal for the Pens, laid down in front of a slap shot from the blue line. I refuse to believe that these guys were just out for a leisurely skate with some old friends after seeing that.
Everything was looking good for the Pens, until Washington pulled Beaupre. Peter Bondra raced into the slot and ripped a snap shot by Frank Pietrangelo to even the score.
The final horn sounded and the fans took over. No one wanted the event to be over. Chants of “Let them play!” and “Shoot–out!” began raining down on the ice. However, the players lined up, shook hands and posed for a picture at center ice.
(Side note: one of the funniest moments of the day came when current Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau made an appearance. I’m guessing he just wanted a look at the action, but when he walked out it took the fans all of three seconds to realize who he was. Boos rang out from the 10,000 strong. He didn’t miss a beat though, as he turned to the crowd pumping his fist in the air and waving. Hopefully HBO asks him about it so we can get his thoughts on being booed at an alumni game.)
I can’t even begin to describe how fast those 40 minutes of action went by. My brain couldn’t process everything I was seeing. Guys I used to collect hockey cards of and emulate in the back yard were all on one ice surface.
Granted the speed was slower, but their hands and vision are still there. Lemieux was making surgical passes and Coffey could still move the puck incredibly well.
When the final horn sounded, I found myself saying, “please, don’t let this stop. This is truly something special.”
After the Penguins, who will be on the ice for the main event at Heinz Field tomorrow, concluded their practice, I made my way to the exit.
As I walked to my car parked across the river, I stopped, admired the city skyline and took one more look at Heinz Field.
I thought to myself, “This day was great. No, it was Le Magnifique.”
The Winter Classic is only a few hours away. If you’re not going to be at Heinz Field, join me right here on KDKA.com for the first Shea-ved Ice live blog.
You can also follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens