As a Penguins fan, I’ve been looking forward to the Penguins’ home opener in a new arena since before they actually had a deal for a new arena signed. I worried it wouldn’t happen and that the Penguins might end up in another city. Thankfully, everything worked out for the Pittsburgh fans and their team is sure to be in Pittsburgh for a long time. They have a beautiful new arena which is (for now) right by their old home. There is talk of the old arena (which some will always call the Civic Arena, but closed as the Mellon Arena) being etched into the glass where you can see it from the new arena now, but I haven’t heard any official word on that happening. Naturally, I took plenty of pictures of the Igloo from CONSOL Energy Center.
The CONSOL Energy Center is the first NHL arena to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. Green building is definitely important and it’s nice to see a new arena achieve LEED Gold status. For more information on green building and LEED, see the U. S. Green Building Council website.
There are many things to love about CONSOL Energy Center. As you look at a mostly empty arena, you can see gold stripes of seats through the black seats around the arena. The arena has open concourses, so you can look down at the ice while walking around the arena to get concession stands. The arena has a beer garden (which still needs a bit of work from what most fans I’ve talked to think – I’m not a beer drinker, so I can’t really comment) and a couple clubs (Captain Morgan & Niagara). They have Tim Horton’s coffee (I’m not a coffee drinker, either, but I understand it’s very good) and quite a few improved food options. Obviously, they also improved the rest rooms available. Anyone who sat in the sections that were added on over the years to the old arena knows that going to the rest room in intermission was almost impossible without missing part of the game. Now, one can wait until the middle of intermission and walk right into the rest room without waiting in a long line. They have a lot of recycling containers to keep up with their green efforts.
Not surprisingly, the capacity of the arena for hockey is 18,087 for Crosby and there are 66 suites (4 of which are party suites) for Lemieux. As you go in the main entrance, there are what look like giant pucks above you as you go up the stairs or escalator. Before you get to that point, there’s a bench where you can have your picture taken with Max Talbot (my sister’s favorite) and other player cutouts. There’s a big mural of Sidney Crosby (which is lit all the time and can be seen from outside the arena) and murals of other key players (like Fleury). The large Mario Mosaic has been seen by most in pictures already, but it really is wonderful to see it as you have your ticket scanned and get your Ice Time program (and in the case of the first game commemorative ticket).
I also really appreciate that the Penguins had student rush at a game where they could have clearly sold beyond capacity for more money than they normally charge. They could have sold the tickets for well over the $20 they charge for the rush tickets, but they chose to allow some lucky students (who had been camping out since Wednesday night) to experience the first regular season game in CONSOL Energy Center. Additionally, the students who camped out were treated to coffee and donuts delivered by Dan Bylsma (Penguins head coach), Ray Shero (Penguins GM), and David Morehouse (Penguins CEO). These are signs of a classy organization. It’s nice to see that not everything is ruled by money.
Of course, there were a few things that were a bit disappointing about CONSOL Energy Center. Though the lower level has cup holders, they decided those in the upper levels didn’t deserve them… Even the Honda Center finally installed cup holders for their regular seats. I couldn’t believe a brand new arena would skip that. The entrances are all sponsored by someone. They don’t have gates A, B, C, etc. or 1, 2, 3… They have four entrances and the main ones have names (American Eagle Gate (the main Fifth Avenue entrance), Trib Total Media Gate, Verizon Gate). The fourth gate is a private parking garage entrance for Penguins’ suite holders. To my knowledge, that gate doesn’t have a sponsor yet – any takers?
The red carpet was also very disappointing. They only had it running the short distance from the curb straight to the arena. Players got out, scribbled their name on a couple fans’ items as they quickly walked by and went into the arena. I couldn’t believe the short distance walked by the players on the red carpet, but if you watched the game and saw the pre-grame portion, you saw Sidney Crosby get out of the car and how close he was to the arena. That was it for the red carpet, though it was nice to see Iceburgh (the Pens’ mascot) in a tux for the occasion.
The opening video was very well done and the water from the ice of the old arena was a nice touch. I’m sure the backup goalies are happy that they’re finally a part of the team in the Penguins’ arena. Those of you who saw games in the old arena probably noticed that the goalie sat over where the players entered (across the rink diagonally from the player bench of their team). Now, they can sit at the end as in the other arenas.
The press box looks great from the outside, though I haven’t been in it yet. It seems to have a lot more room than the old one, which is no surprise. New arenas always seem to take the media into account. One of these days, I’ll get around to visiting the Penguins press box, but for now it was wonderful to enjoy my first game in the new arena as a fan and actually use the ticket I’ll get framed once we get the commemorative tickets customized. There is definitely something to be said for the fan experience and getting to cheer for your team.
Clearly, I wish the Penguins had won their first game in the new arena, but it’s only one game in their 82 game season and they played well. A friend of mine who’s a Flyers fan sent me a text saying the opening game was a preview of the conference finals and that might very well be the case. I do think the Penguins and Flyers will be dominant in the east again. The night was a lot of fun and I definitely appreciate how lucky I am to have a father with season tickets who always has a ticket ready for me if I’m able to come back to Pittsburgh for special events. It doesn’t get much better than this.