Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 29

Members of the Penguins watch as their 2008-09 Stanley Cup Championship banner is raised to the rafter at the Mellon Arena.
(Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
The home opener for a Stanley Cup champion is always special — a time for fans to again commune and bask in the dying embers of their team's accomplishment before Lord Stanley's Cup is put up for competition again with the first faceoff of a new season.

The Penguins hosted the New York Rangers for the season opener at the Mellon Arena on Friday, October 2. The fans fortunate enough to hold tickets were told to arrive early.

With spotlights swirling through the chilled arena air, fans were on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what was to follow. All of a sudden, four massive sheets were unfurled from the rafters surrounding the scoreboard. Several storeys in height, these sheets were printed with an image of the Stanley Cup, and a lighting effect that made the sheets appear electrified certainly electrified the crowd. Video highlights of the championship 2008-09 season, starting with a pivotal loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 14, were projected on these sheets. The Penguins' trajectory ascended from that date on — arrival of coach Dan Bylsma and the dramatic surge that led to a playoff berth, followed by highlights of the sensational playoff run that saw Pittsburgh systematically dump the Philadelphia Flyers, eliminate Washington's Capitals, trump the Carolina Hurricanes and then, in dramatic fashion, beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup.

Sheets hanging from the scoreboard at the Mellon Arena showing off an image of the Stanley Cup prior to the Penguins home
opener against the N.Y. Rangers.
(Kimberley Hrivnak/HHOF)
While the highlights were being shown, the Keepers of the Cup, wearing regular jackets in lieu of their Hockey Hall of Fame blazers (so not to tip off the fact that hockey's most precious trophy was in the house), surreptitiously pushed the case that held the Stanley Cup to centre ice along with two dummy cases. Eyes were trained on the sheets hanging from the scoreboard, so didn't notice that there was activity taking place at ice level.

Mike Lange, a Media Honouree in the Hockey Hall of Fame, then bellowed, "Ladies and gentlemen, Lord Stanley's Cup!" Just then, the massive sheets dropped from the scoreboard to the ice simultaneous with a loud bang. And there, at centre ice with the Penguins' faithful cheering wildly and snapping photos, sat hockey's most famous trophy in all its magnificence. That exact routine had been practised to perfection six times through the afternoon, and the seventh was no less perfect!

Accompanying the Stanley Cup were the Prince of Wales Trophy that the Penguins won as Eastern Conference champions, as well as the Art Ross Trophy earned by Evgeni Malkin as the regular season scoring champion, and the Conn Smythe Trophy won by Malkin as the most valuable performer in the playoffs. These three awards were situated closer to the blueline.

The announcer introduced the Pittsburgh Penguins family to the fans, starting with the owners, followed by management and then the coaching staff. Each took his turn striding along the red carpet closest to the trophies.

Under strobes and a spotlight's glare, each player was introduced, with the team skating out from the Zamboni entrance at the far end of the rink and lining up across the blue line furthest away from the rest of the staff.

A view from the crowd as the Pittsburgh Penguins watch as their 2008-09 Stanley Cup Championship banner being raised to the rafters at Mellon Arena. (Kimberley Hrivnak/HHOF)
After each earned enormous ovations as they were introduced, the master of ceremonies invited the team to surround the trophies at the other blueline. The boys huddled around the hardware as the announcer roared, "Let's raise the roof as we raise the banner!" A loud roar emanated from the stands while hundreds of camera flashes illuminated the Mellon Arena. Slowly the banner was hoisted to the rafters, each player craning his neck to watch as the banner indicated that the Stanley Cup champions of 2008-09 were, indeed, the Pittsburgh Penguins!

Following the National Anthem, the final opening night faceoff was set to take place at the Mellon Arena. This time next year, the players will inaugurate a brand new arena, situated next door to the Mellon Arena. And with that, the Stanley Cup celebration was brought to a sudden halt. From this point on, the reigning Stanley Cup champions must defend their title, and there are 29 other times who would like nothing more than to make certain the Penguins don't repeat.

While the Penguins' 2009-10 season had officially begun, the Stanley Cup and its three sister trophies were placed on display in the mezzanine, where a thousand or more pictures were taken through until the end of the second intermission. Meanwhile, on the ice, goals by Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy led the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Rangers.

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Hockey is truly the greatest reality program. No one can predict what is going to happen, and there are always some unforeseen twists that no one expected. Will the Penguins be able to capture the Cup once again? Will the NHL crown new champions next June? There is one thing of which you can be certain — the Stanley Cup Journal will be back next summer to celebrate with whoever wins Lord Stanley's Cup!

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Kevin Shea is the author of 'Summer With Stanley', a chronicle of the Pittsburgh Penguins' championship summer.

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