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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon

Viewing blogs tagged Pittsburgh Penguins

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 20/12/2017 08:17:47
Updated by Joel Dixon at 09/08/2018 03:14:11

Getting over to Pittsburgh from Australia involves a long flight and many dollarydoos, so we planned to attend as many Pittsburgh games as possible while there - giving us the best chance to experience a hattrick for the good guys and to watch Fleury playing in his final year with the Pens. So after returning from Philadelphia we had tickets to catch two further Penguins games, one against the New Jersey Devils and one hosting Jaromir Jagr's Florida Panthers.

For the Devils game I took a peek at the ticket exchange website and a pair of seats jumped out at me. There were two tickets available on the glass, directly behind the Penguins bench. Of course, the price was exorbitant but it wasn't too much trouble to convince myself that such an extravagance was justified for the chance to watch legends of the game at ice level. When we sat at our seats, it was very clear that the cost was worth it - we had an incredible view of the entire Penguins bench.

Literal Front Row
Two Penguin heroes, Chris Kunitz and Rick Tocchet, unfortunately no longer with the Penguins this year

To be honest, the seats did not give the best view of the on-ice play unless the puck was on our side and directly in front of us. I had to look upwards at the scoreboard for most of the time to actually see what was happening in the game. We did get an awesome view of a Kessel goal from the wing (my favourite type) but it wasn't the offensive plays that I loved the most, it was the players behavior on the bench that intrigued me.

Sid And A Kid
Hmmm, this reminds me of another fantastic hockey-playing pair

Watching Kessel hunched over gasping for air directly before getting back out there and scoring that goal, seeing Crosby laughing along with Sheary after he missed an easy opportunity and hearing Hornqvist fuming mad after being pulled off the Power Play had me mesmerised for the entire time. We also got a great feeling for how huge the players were, especially when Ian Cole delivered a giant hit right in front of us. The mass and power speeding around along with cannon-like shots makes me wonder why injuries aren't even more prevalent. In the end the Penguins won by two goals and I was a very happy fan (even though Fleury wasn't in net for the game).

Glove Bump
Glove bumps following one of Crosby's two goals for the game

Talking To
Coach Sullivan during one of his numerous calm chats with the referee

With a day of between hockey games, we decided to keep things relaxed and had a pretty lazy time with a nice sleep in the next morning. We somehow found enough willpower to get ourselves out of the hotel and checkout a few of the lower-priority activities on our "things to do" list. I'm glad we did, as we both had an enjoyable day. We started by heading out to Canton Avenue, the "steepest street in the United States" and steepest in the world according to some (even though I'm pretty sure the New Zealand one has it beat). My first thought when arriving was "wow, that's a steep street" followed quickly by "but I kind of expected steeper". Pao and I took turns running up and down the incline as I'm sure those that live nearby bemoaned yet another stupid tourist. Canton Avenue probably only made the list because it was very close to a unique restaurant - Beto's Pizza - known for serving pizza with cold toppings. I was a little surprised by how quickly I got used to the crazy meal in front of me - a warm base, warm sauce and sausage with cold cheese, onions, peppers - and when the cheese started to warm and melt slightly it was pretty incredible. Probably not my preferred style of pizza going forward, but certainly a worthwhile experience and something that I still occasionally crave.

Steep, but not overly long

Pizza, but not as you know it

For the afternoon we headed to South Side to walk around and decided to catch a movie at the cinemas (another one of those non-unique, mundane experiences). Part of the local culture that we witnessed was incredibly rude people in the movies - much worse than things I would complain about in Melbourne. The best example was when a phone rang for the person sitting a few rows in front of me. Well, the example wasn't when the guy's phone rang, it was actually when he answered his phone and shamelessly carried on a conversation at a normal volume. Those around him didn't seem to surprised by this behavior, surely this can't be a frequent occurrence?

On our way home we decided on Five Guys Burgers and Fries for dinner - pretty much exclusively for a YouTuber's review and subsequent viral autotuned song. The burger wasn't quite as delicious as my all-time number one favourite burger in Japan, but it was pretty dayum close! The service was fantastic and I think this shows a similar amount of care put towards cooking the burgers, fries and hotdogs - as they were all perfectly-made and tasted amazing. I also had the best shake of the trip in Five Guys, I think they had real banana and strawberries instead of relying on simple flavouring. On top of it all they also had the peak example of man's technological innovations, a Coke fountain dispenser where you could create your own a beveridge with unparalleled customisations. I had a tasty lime Coke, but it took me a while to finally decide on my creation.

The meat just absorbs all the space, and all the air possible in your throat

I can now see how unoriginal I was, with Coke Lime the front and center suggestion

We slept off our fantastic burger meal and did almost nothing before the final hockey game on the schedule - an afternoon game against the Panthers. This was going to be a special game for me, as it gave me a chance to watch one of my favourite Penguins from our first two cups - Jaromir Jagr. Almost more myth than man, Jagr was a Penguins hero right through the lean years post-Mario Lemieux retirement, until he started "dying alive" and even Mario's surprise comeback wasn't enough as he requested a trade - heading off to the division rival Washington Capitals. The Penguins fans were quick to boo him whenever he returned to play in Pittsburgh, especially after he later double-down on the apparent disrespect by teasing fans (and Mario himself) with the idea of coming back to play in Pittsburgh after leaving the KHL before changing his mind and going to the bigger division rival Philadelphia Flyers (for more money of course). Even after his questionable loyalty I've always enjoyed watching Jagr play, and it seemed he and Mario buried the hatchet during the NHL's 100-year celebrations.

Lock No More
You can see Jagr skating by the Penguins bench here. Unfortunately his hair is no longer what it once was, otherwise I wouldn't need to point out his location

We chose seats on the side that the visitors attack twice so that we would have the best chance to see Jagr's offensive play. When we found out Fleury was the starting goaltender for the game I was ecstatic, as we were down his end of the ice for two periods - able to watch him up-close and be part of the Fleury cheer squad. One of the first things I noticed was that no-one was booing Jagr for this game, it seems after 16 years it just took a few comments in the press from Mario regarding his contributions to the history of the Penguins for the fans to give him a pass. The video tribute he received was pretty classy by the team, and I was proud to be a part of the standing ovation he truly deserved.

It didn't take long for the Penguins to take control of the game, or more specifically Crosby as he scored two great goals right in front of us. I told Pao this was it - bringing our hats to every game would finally pay off - and I was almost in disbelief when he did finally score that third goal. My hat was off my head and I took a second to concentrate as our seats were near the ice, but certainly not as close as the Devils game. I grabbed the brim and spun the hat towards the ice with all my strength as I watched it barely clear the glass before resting on the playing field. The opportunity to be part of the age-old tradition was amazing, and the fact it was my favourite player was scoring the three goals (natural and all even strength for that matter) made it that much sweeter. I took a second to savour the moment before thinking about the next unlikely achievement that the Penguins could provide to me - a shutout.

Hat No More
Off goes my hat...

I've never attended a game in which the Penguins shutout their opponent, with the score 4-0 and Fleury locked in I started to consider the possibility. Save after save as each minute ticked down - I was getting more and more confident that Fleury would deliver the goods. I couldn't believe it when the final horn sounded, but I was quick to join the chants of "Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!" as I appreciated not only his outstanding performance that night, nor the perfect hockey game I was able to witness, but the extraordinary gift that Marc-Andre Fleury gave the Pittsburgh Penguins over a career of excellence.

Standing Room Only
... and PoP goes my heart!

This is the 11th in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)Game 4 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 3 (Outdoor Game, Injury, Dinner and Drinks)Game 5 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 4 and 5 (Final Games)Game 6 - Chicago - Blackhawks, Bulls and a bean, 2017Game 7 - Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017Game 8 - New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017Game 9 - Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017Game 10 - Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017Game 11 - Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017

Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 20/12/2017 07:31:17

Our final day in Florida was interspersed with my worrying about the weather and Pao getting annoyed because I was vocalising my worry about the weather too frequently. While for the majority of our time in Florida we enjoyed lovely weather, I was getting increasingly concerned by reports of an impending stormageddon in the North East. We had tickets to a Penguins game in Philly on the same night we were going to arrive, and all flights into Philadelphia were cancelled on the day before we were scheduled to fly. Our plans to that point had been satisfyingly successful (you know, other than the treatment Taylor received in LAX) but I couldn't help but stress at the situation I had absolutely no control over. We woke extra early on our final day in Florida and drove straight to the airport to drop off the car and make sure we could get onto a plan towards Pennsylvania. Sure enough, all flights were running as planned, and the airport didn't seem to be packed full with people that couldn't make it home the day before. The silver lining in the stormageddon sky was that we had breakfast at the airport and chose to try Chick-fil-A for the first time. Apart from the quizzical look we received from our order taker when we pronounced their brand as it was spelt (chick-fill-a) instead of the way that now clearly makes more sense (chick-filet, like the steak), the experience was fantastic. The chicken was incredibly delicious and we were only working with the limited airport store menu.

The majority of our domestic flights were booked with SouthWest and in general I love their offering (not too expensive, free checking of 2 bags and their flights seemed to always be on schedule) but there was one aspect that I was not on-board with at all. No assigned seating and limited cabin space for carry-on bags leads to an unenjoyable experience during boarding. I'm sure some advanced mathematical models support this seemingly bizarre policy, but in practice all it seems to solve is how to put me in a terrible mood. As Pao and I always seemed to be one of the last "groups" that were allowed to stand in the line for the plan, most of the seats were taken and we would need to settle for being only a few rows apart from each other. This time all of the aisle and window seats were snapped up, so I picked a random row and sat between two elderly passengers. Once they started chatting with each other while we were waiting for takeoff, I realised they were a couple and I offered to switch with one of them so they could sit together (I assume they left that empty seat in-between them in the hopes others would walk past their row and give them three seats together). Inexplicably they preferred to stick with me sitting between them, so instead they just carried on conversation across my lap for the flight. I was getting sick of the arrangement until the lady decided to talk to me about her strong political opinions - and I started wishing that they would speak to each other again instead.

Fancy A Swim
Pro: within walking distance to Philadelphia's sporting stadiums. Con: swimming pool probably closed to guests

There was snow everywhere, with more still falling from the sky, as our Uber driver took us to our hotel. With such bleak weather a lazy afternoon in our hotel would have been a perfectly reasonable plan - but my passion had been ignited in a way that is only possible when a regional sandwich is on offer. I had heard stories of how delicious a Philly cheesesteak would be, but it was a random room service meal when Pao and I were in Cairo that indoctrinated me into the cult of the enlightened. I was very excited to have the chance to try the original, so we put on most of our clothes and started walking towards the "cheesesteak district". Even though the weather had not improved Pao and I had a great time bounding between large mounds of snow as we inched our way towards our destination, something that would surely get old if we actually lived somewhere that snowed with any frequency.

Go North
I've only noticed this now, but apparently Pat's Steaks is not part of the "cheesesteak corner"?? I'm going to have to return to investigate

We finally arrived at the first of the two purveyors of cheesed meat that the internet told me I had to evaluate - Pat's King of Steaks, apparently founded by Pat and Harry Olivieri in the 1930, the original inventors of cheesesteak. Although cheesesteaks were originally made with provolone cheese, the last 50 years has seen the processed cheese spread Cheese Whiz become the typical cheese of choice. For our first evaluation we tried to order a stock standard, and went with Cheese Whiz with onions and a side of regular fries. Unsurprisingly, it was incredible and we devoured our halves of this treat in very short order. My loving partner has a circulation issue that prevents her from getting too cold without severe consequences (mainly affecting her mood...) and although we were sitting out in the freezing snow to eat our cheesesteak, Paola still looks back in fondness of this amazing sandwich.

Crowning Glory
The crown may seem unjustified...

Belly Pat
... until you try one of Pat's steaks

Directly across the road from Pat's was Geno's Steaks which, judging by the numerous 8 x 10s, was a favourite of all manner of celebrities (that I didn't recognise). This time we tried the original provolone cheese on the steak, and went for cheese fries for our side. The steak was great, and the cheese fries thoroughly impressed me, but Pat is truly the King of Steaks. This also lined up with the internet's general opinion that the steak is better at Pat's and Geno's has the better sides. Luckily they are so close together, as I know what I'd be doing at least once a week if only I lived in Philadelphia!

Different Geno
Geno's seems like a slick operation...

Too Flashy
... but I don't think cheesesteaks is a time to be slick

After our late lunch we walked towards a highly-recommended gelato store to get some dessert. I can assure you that it is never too cold for gelato (or any iced cream for that matter), but even I will admit it was hard bit of a hard slog walking through the active snowfall. Pao had clearly reached the limit of her patience with the weather, so we stopped in to an Italian restaurant to get a coffee. The older Italian lady was actually quite nice and we had a lovely chat for an hour or so while warming up our extremities. I'm not sure why residents of Philadelphia get such a bad reputation, as the few we interacted with seemed like fine people.

Until we arrived at the hockey game. Our hotel was a very short walk away from the Flyers home arena and we had tickets to see the Penguins play an all-important cross-state rivalry game. We had already watched the mighty Pens defeat the Flyers in the outdoor game a few weeks prior, so this was a perfect chance to watch a similarly enjoyable triumph in Philadelphia. It was certainly a different atmosphere from the drop of the puck, even before the fans shouted any kind of adulation towards their team they started a hearty "Crosby Sucks" chant. I found this quite odd - firstly, it is quite objectively clear that Crosby doesn't suck. He has made this point clear again and again. Secondly, what does it say about a fan-base who's emotions gravitate towards hatred before appreciation for their own team? It wasn't hard to see why Crosby doesn't like them.

If you say so

Sure enough - the Flyer beat us 4-0, and the score doesn't even tell the story of how poorly we played. It was a wholly unenjoyable experience, at least when the blackhawks were dominating us their fans were nice about it. We walked back home, watched an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia in Philadelphia to cheer up and then went to bed.

Two Men And Bird
It wasn't this episode, but I feel everyone should watch and enjoy this clip

The next day our fatigue was threatening to catch up with us, but we powered on and took a bus to the center of town for a walk around the sights. Getting there was half the battle, but we decided to surrender the second half, as we didn't really do much more than walk around. We didn't even enter the building that housed the Liberty Bell, instead being satisfied by the view that a small grotty window afforded us. We did make it to (and ran up) the Rocky Steps, but the angrily-aggressive homeless people nearby put a dampener on it a bit. The highlight of the day for me was seeing the "Market Place" sign from the always awesome intro sequence for Always Sunny, followed closely by the third Philly Cheesesteak we had for lunch (certainly not as good as Pat's or Geno's - but still delicious).

Up Close
Those kids in there - they were looking at the Liberty Bell, and Bernie Sanders in the reflection - he was probably wondering why we were taking a photo of a window

Me running up the Rocky Steps...

... is surprisingly no more interesting than me walking up regular steps

Market Street
At least this Market Street sign is super interesting!

Even though there wasn't too much that captured our attention in Philadelphia - I'd certainly go back in a heartbeat if only to have some of those terrific sandwiches!

This is the 10th in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)Game 4 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 3 (Outdoor Game, Injury, Dinner and Drinks)Game 5 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 4 and 5 (Final Games)Game 6 - Chicago - Blackhawks, Bulls and a bean, 2017Game 7 - Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017Game 8 - New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017Game 9 - Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017Game 10 - Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017Game 11 - Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 14/12/2017 09:02:27
Updated by Joel Dixon at 20/09/2018 05:01:42

Continuing our jet-setting lifestyle, we flew back to Pittsburgh from Chicago just in time to see another hockey game - this time against the Tampa Bay Lightning and my first game at the Penguin's new-ish home - PPG Paints Arena (seems like a strange mouthful for a name, but I'm actually used to it now). I was wearing my awesome Magnitogorsk Malkin top (a gift from my equally awesome girlfriend) and it attracted a fair few double-takes. I also ensured we were all wearing a hat that we wouldn't miss, as I was sure one of the Penguins would score three goals allowing us to engage in the age-old tradition of throwing our hats on the ice to celebrate a hat-trick.

A much better view, sitting with a much classier bunch of fans (Penguins fans, of course)

Our seats were pretty cool, we had an awesome view of the Penguins attack in the first and third periods - but when the puck was up the other end of the ice the view was limited. Seeing Malkin take control of the game was awesome, and he scored two goals in the second period leaving me assured that he would get the hat-trick and I would be able to toss my headwear skyward. It was pretty lucky as the seats we had for this game was easily close enough to clear the distance to the ice. Malkin did have a few chances in the third period to score the final of his trick - but he could not do enough to have my hat leave my head. The Penguins won, so that was more than enough for me as we walked back to the hotel in high spirits.

We had a day off between hockey games, so I wanted to cover off some more of the local flavour of Pittsburgh. This started with a trip to Gaucho Parilla Argentina, a highly recommended Argentinian restaurant in a trendy part of town. The food was amazing (as Argentinian food so often is) and we all agreed this was the best meal of the trip to that point. We were in walking distance to a few local tourist spots, the first of which was the Warhol museum.

Line Up
We thought we'd get there early (as booking are not accepted) but still had a bit of a queue

Gauchito Gut
A picture cannot do this meal justice - although you can see some empanada remains on my plate that were quick to disappear

Somehow I didn't already know that Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, although further research has suggested that he was pretty happy to get out of the 'burgh and wasn't too interested in highlighting his Steel Town upbringing. It was an interesting museum and pretty cool seeing some of his more famous works, but on the whole the celebration of an avant-garde artist is not exactly up my alley.

Soup For You
The Warhol money shot

Three Jeans
There wasn't many pieces I recognised - but this was one of them

Surprisingly more up my alley was the nearby Randyland and Mattress Factory, a colourful local landmark and public art space respectively. More than anything, Randyland was an excellent idea of Randy Gilson - to clean up and bring colour to the Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh by decorating his home and collecting and painting pieces of junk found or donated to the cause. I frequently pick on my partner Pao for her junk-collection compulsion (Pao never throws anything out - reusing it as part of her job educating children) - but she's got nothing on Randy.

Randy Baby
It certainly catches the eye

Take A Seat
Randyland was more for Pao's benefit - but I actually thought it was pretty neat

If Randyland was a pretty good spectacle, the Mattress Factory was a great spooktacle (I may have been listening to too many podcasts that over-value the use of horrible puns recently). The Mattress Factory is a public art space that is available to rent for short-term projects - and when we walked through it was a super creepy installation, but in a good way. The building itself was curious to start with, with tight corners, narrow staircases and winding hallways. The artist had decked out every available surface with cool minute hobby trains, doll houses and anything else that shouldn't be creepy, but somehow is (especially with the eerie music being pumped out of the speakers).

Weird Gets Creepy
Shadows, stairs, string and creepy music - still enjoyable

Feeling culturally full, we headed towards a local burger joint that was recommended to us - Burgatory. A build-your-own-burger establishment, we were blown away by the options available to us, and may have gone a little overboard in our selections. People joke about US portion sizes compared to the rest of the world, but this seemed especially true in Pittsburgh. I wanted to try all of the delicious options as I would not have a the same chance back home, but this meant I was consistently ordering more than I needed and feel terrible when I left anything on the plate. I'm guessing the meal at Burgatory was the exact point when I put back on any weight I would have lost during the gruelling exercise of the hockey camp.

Yes, thanks for bringing us the left over milkshake in the mixing cup. I will certainly be needing that...

After our meal we had a chance to head to the local casino and try our luck at the table games. Instead we chose to go straight home and sleep. After all of the recent eating, I'm very content with the choice we made.

For our final full day in Pittsburgh with my little brother, we packed into another Uber and headed out to the top-rated of Pittsburgh's escape rooms (we'd caught the bug in Chicago). It was another great fun experience, and we even escaped this time, but there was certainly a dip in quality noticed compared to our last outing. After our success we took yet another Uber, this time to the Duquesne Incline (which I still have no idea how to pronounce). The incline goes up Mount Washington, and was on all of the "things to do in Pittsburgh" lists. It certainly was a thing to do, but I suspect it would have been much cooler at night time (as the Pittsburgh skyline is actually pretty cool at night). At the top of the mountain we had lunch at the nearby Grandview Saloon (which, I must admin, did have a grand view). The lunch was pleasant, but a few minutes after sitting down I noticed that most of the paintings on each wall contained children smoking cigars. Further research suggests the Grandview is also a cigar bar, but I'm not sure this is enough to explain the artwork of kids partaking in the habit. After declining Mount Washington and heading back to the hotel, we took a quick detour to the Milkshake Factory with a predictable result (delicious but impossible to fit in) before getting to the arena in time for an afternoon Penguins game.

The view from the incline and the corner of my very photogenic thumb

More Shake
Absolutely no need to buy this milkshake, still delicious though

We had some average tickets for the Buffalo game, but one of the guys I met at the hockey camp very generously offered to let Pao and I join him and his partner in their seats - a far better part of the arena. We were situated basically at center ice in the top of the lower bowl - an absolutely perfect view. One day, when I make my millions selling advertising on this blog site (*cough*) I would love to have season tickets in that area of the ice.

View Please
Watching a hockey game from any of the seats is an unbeatable experience - but these seats certainly added a little something!

Pao and I are both huge Fleury fans - mainly because his impeccable on-ice performance is only surpassed by how much of an awesome guy, father and teammate he has proven to be (as if you needed more proof). I was lucky enough to see him play in his first season with the Penguins, way back in 2005, and I was hoping we'd be able to watch him play in a few more games during our trip - in what would surely be his final season with Pittsburgh (due to the early resurgence of Matt Murray). Unfortunately Murray (being Sullivan's guy) had been starting many games for us, and he also did so this afternoon against the Sabres. However, after the Pens let in three goals in the first period, Fleury took the ice in the second and he seemed determined to right the ship.

The Pens were still a little off their game, but Marc-Andre was certainly ready to go. He played incredibly, making multiple amazing saves while waiting for the Penguins offensive machine to get started. Eventually they did, with goals from Schultz, Malkin, Guentzel and Sheary propelling the Pens over the Sabres - but the crowd certainly knew the star of the show. I couldn't have been happier to join the chorus of "Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!" shouts that led to Fleury later commenting to a reporter that the Penguins fans are good to him. No matter how good the fans are to Fleury, he was certainly better to us!

This is the 7th in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)Game 4 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 3 (Outdoor Game, Injury, Dinner and Drinks)Game 5 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 4 and 5 (Final Games)Game 6 - Chicago - Blackhawks, Bulls and a bean, 2017Game 7 - Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017Game 8 - New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017Game 9 - Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017Game 10 - Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017Game 11 - Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Marc-Andre Fleury still giving high fives to his injured buddy

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 19/04/2017 04:08:48
Updated by Joel Dixon at 20/09/2018 05:02:38

There's so much to love about the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, not least of which is our goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury - by all reports an awesome dude.

I noticed he is still doing his high five routine - even with Letang out injured.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 03/04/2017 09:45:29
Updated by Joel Dixon at 12/09/2018 01:47:29

Three years ago, while listening to a Pens game on the radio, I heard a tantalising ad - come and watch Mario Lemieux play hockey at the CONSOL Energy Center - scheduled for my birthday no less! I was lucky enough to see a few of Mario's final games way back in 2005, but that was a long time ago. Having another chance to watch 66 flying around the ice had me momentarily consider taking a week off work and take a quick trip to Pittsburgh.

It didn't take too long to realise that a week-long trip to Pittsburgh to watch a few exhibition games wasn't the most financially prudent decision I could make, even if it offers a chance to watch my all-time hockey hero playing again. As my disappointment gradually dissipated I looked into the event that brought Lemieux out from seclusion and back on the ice, perhaps it would happen again next year so I could plan a proper hockey holiday. When I discovered it was part of a yearly Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp I was struck with an unbelievable possibility. As I'm sure is the case for most Australians, the sum of my fantasy camp knowledge comes from a particularly memorable Seinfeld episode, but as I understood it, this camp could allow me to play hockey with Mario Lemieux (but, you know, not punch him). I looked into it further, the Mario Lemieux Foundation was actually offering regular people the chance to experience the life of an NHL player while meeting a bunch of ex-NHL stars. While I had only started playing ice hockey a few months prior, I put my name down on the waiting list and dreamt about the camp a few nights each week. The invite took longer than I had expected, but once I finally received that magical acceptance email - Pao and I immediately started planning our trip!

Day 1 of camp started with registration and gear distribution. I knew that I was going to receive a playing uniform with my name and number on it (based on the vintage 1986 All-Star game designs) including a helmet and gloves - but that was just the start! I was given a large hockey bag (with my name and number on it - I'll never get sick of that) and we were whisked through 4 rooms as the bag was filled with Lemieux Camp-themed sports attire. Tracksuit, puffy jacket, hats, skate guards and jumpers were all piled into my bag - and as a camp guest Pao also received all of the non-uniform items as well. At the end of the experience we headed up to the hotel room to catch our breath and evaluate all the awesome swag that I will now wear until the last thread fades.

On The Gear
It's hard to pick a favourite, but I absolutely love the "Lemieux Camp Hockey" authentic-style logo on the sweatshirt

We didn't have much time to appreciate our goodies, as Pao and I had signed up to participate in a tour of Pittsburgh's UPMC Children's Hospital - to understand exactly what our donations go towards. I'm glad that we decided to squeeze in the hospital visit, it gave us a great feeling knowing that we were contributing towards such an amazing program. Going through serious health issues during his NHL career (chronic back pain, bone infection and Hodgkin's lymphoma) Mario Lemieux created his foundation to help in the fight against cancer. In 1996 Mario's son Austin was born profoundly premature requiring months of intensive care. Mario and his wife Nathalie wanted to spend as much time as possible in hospital with their newborn - but there was nothing to keep their other two toddlers occupied. In 2000 Nathalie started a program to build Austin's Playrooms - providing families a chance to get away from everything medical while still being able to visit their sick loved ones. Pao and I were able to tour the playrooms and are happy to be part of such an important project.

Staff Announcement
I'm going to have to check out our own Children's Hospital at some point and see how it measures up

We came back to the hotel after the tour and sat around waiting for the welcome dinner to start. It was at this time that Paul Coffey, one of the NHL's 100 greatest players and a personal favourite, arrived and sat down at the table I was sitting at. I was more than a little starstruck but like all the pros at the camp, as I would later find out, he was more than happy to chat and was even interested in why an Australian would learn to love hockey. Being the first camp participant from outside of North America was a great way to meet people (not just the Hockey Hall of Fame members) as most people seemed interested in why an Aussie would follow hockey. I also used that opportunity to explain to everyone why I would be so much worse on skates than they are!

As luck would have it, the year I was selected to join the camp coincided with the Penguins being selected to host the NHL Stadium Series, playing a game against our bitter rivals the Philadelphia Flyers outdoors at Heinz Field. So on the first night of camp we all went to watch the game as a group, with Mario Lemieux joining us on the bus. As further luck would have it - I sat across from Mario on the bus and had a quick discussion with him (again, about hockey in Australia) to which he seemed interested (and I probably seemed like a huge fanboy). Someone ended up sitting between us which gave me a chance to realise that there was a police car with sirens blazing and our bus wasn't getting out of the way. A few minutes after that I realised that we were actually enjoying a police escort - which certainly cut down on travel time to the stadium.

While the view of a hockey game from a football stadium wasn't the best - the outdoor game was pretty awesome with all was considered. There were real-life penguins on a side rink playing around with Iceburgh (the first real penguins at a game for quite some time now), the 67,000-strong crowd was thunderous and in the second period snow started to fall. The picturesque environment, and the fact that this was my first live hockey game in over 10 years, meant I was glued to my seat even though there was a warm bar area available to us.

It was pretty cool to see the players have a chance to play in an outdoor game - cooler still that I would be doing the same in a few days!

Penguins In Water
One of the penguins kicked a puck, I nearly died!

Le Tits Now
Let down by my lack of photography skill as usual, but I hope this photo can almost convey the awesome spectacle

Crosby scored (always happy to see that), Malkin was dominating and the good guys won - I was never in danger of complaining! We took the bus home (no escort this time) and went to bed. Day one at camp was amazing - but I was pretty sure that day two was going to be even better!

This is the 2nd in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)Game 4 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 3 (Outdoor Game, Injury, Dinner and Drinks)Game 5 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 4 and 5 (Final Games)Game 6 - Chicago - Blackhawks, Bulls and a bean, 2017Game 7 - Pittsburgh Return - Fleury, Fleury, Fleury!, 2017Game 8 - New York - Third time's a charmed lamp, 2017Game 9 - Miami, Naples and Tampa - Beaches, Babe and a Baby Sloth, 2017Game 10 - Philadelphia - Not that sunny, 2017Game 11 - Pittsburgh - For some hockey (why not?), 2017

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pittsburgh Penguins - 2016 Stanley Cup Champions!

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 24/07/2016 04:32:38
Updated by Joel Dixon at 25/07/2016 01:14:16

It has taken me far too long to write the blog post, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the cup again!

Pens Cup 16
Is anyone happier in this photo than super Duper?

Just like last time we had a pretty ordinary first-half to the season, followed by a coaching change and return to form.

While in the early part of the season it seemed to Phil Kessel never met an easy tap-in goal he couldn't stuff up, there wasn't a better, more consistent player in the playoffs (especially amazing when you consider the iron man was playing hurt). Watching The Phil streaking down the wing and firing a wicked wrister at net was as amazing as advertised, but it was his incredible passing abilities (especially on the PP) that really impressed me. Along with Hags and Bonino Bonino Bonino!, the HBK like provided us a third line that no team could cover.

Clutch Crosby performed as he always does, scoring goals and setting up the play at the opportune moments. Matt Murray also played like a veteran of the game, his focus and maturity on display all through his first NHL playoff series. I feel bad for Fleury, he kept us in playoff contention when we sucked in the first half of the season, only to get two concussions and having to turn the reins over to Murray. Geno Malkin also dominated some early games when Crosby was MIA, but a shoulder injury towards the end of the regular season seemed to affect his playoff performance significantly.

I remember thinking back in '09 that the Penguins could win the Cup year after year, but a 7 year gap just shows how hard the NHL is. Still, I wouldn't be betting against the Pens in 2017! Speaking of betting, I could see the team responding well to Coach Sullivan's no-nonsense approach early in the year, so I put $100 on them making the Stanley Cup Final. The $700 I won helped me afford all the usual goodies - championship hat, shirt and puck, locker room towel and bobble-head. I also had to pick a player jersey to remember this playoff series (I bought a Talbot last time after his game 7 heroics). Early on I thought it might be Sheary or Rust getting the nod, with Bonino and Letang having an outside chance. By the end - it was hard to argue against Kessel, so I picked up this beauty:

I am yet to eat cookies while wearing this jersey, maybe I shall when I watch the first game of next season

This also marks the first season that I watched every single game of the regular and playoff seasons, thanks to NHL.TV. After every single playoff game that we watched, Pao and I listed to the following song. I'm pretty sure this helped the Pens as much as anything else this season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

NHL '91 - Game 6

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 16/08/2009 08:40:57

This is awesome! Somebody took the audio commentary from the Pittsburgh Penguin's first Stanley Cup win in 1991 and mixed it with a modified version of NHL '94 to recreate game 6. It's hard to describe - so watch the video:

The synchronization is very well done - this must have taken ages. I love the part where they talk about Mario's then-girlfriend Nathalie waving in the stands.

Just watch it!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pittsburgh Penguins - 2009 Stanley Cup Champions!

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 13/06/2009 14:18:39

Pens Win Cup
2009 Stanley Cup Champions!

The Detroit Red Wings were 11-1 at home this playoff year. In 3 games at The Joe the Penguins were beaten by a combined score of 11 goals to 2, including Detroit's 5-0 win in game 5. No team in NHL history had been able to rally from 2-0 series deficients twice in the same playoff year. Of the 45 teams that have been up 2 games to 0 in the Stanley Cup final, 41 were able to go on to win the Cup.

But none of that mattered. Game 7 is a whole different story to the first 6, and the Penguins overcame adversity to win their 3rd Stanley Cup in franchise history. And boy do I feel good!

Currently (I hope) being shipped from the US to me is the following:

Cup Bundle

The Stanley Cup Championship Locker Room Bundle: This was the first Pittsburgh Stanley Cup I was able to watch live - and watching the Pens putting on their Cup Championship hats made me want one! Also the DVD will be a keeper.

Crosby Bobble

Sidney Crosby Cup Holding Bobble-Head: Even though he was injured early in the second period, Sidney Crosby is the team captain, and the first player to hoist the cup on our team. This bobble-head is going to stay at work for the offseason!


Road Talbot Jersey with Stanley Cup Final Patch: Last playoffs the Penguins were down against Detroit 1 game to 3. Game 5 was played in Detroit, with the Red Wings having the chance to finish off the Pens in 5 games. Detroit were up 3 goals to 2 with a minute left in regulation. The officials had the Stanley Cup removed from it's box, and started polishing it up ready for the presentation.

With 35 seconds left in the game Maxime Talbot scored on a wrist shot to send the game into overtime (which the Pens won in the 3rd overtime period). Right after Talbot scored that goal, I immediately said "I'm buying a Talbot jersey". When we eventually lost the series in game 6, I sulked for a month and never ended up buying the jersey - even though Talbot's been one of my favourite players for a long time.

In game 3 of this year's series against Detroit, Talbot scored the first goal of the game to set the tempo, and ensure we didn't go down an unassailable 3-0 games against the Wings. After he scored that goal I also said to myself "I'm going to buy a Talbot jersey".

To take any doubt out of my mind, Talbot scored the only two Penguins goals in this year's game 7, and ensured the Cup comes back to Pittsburgh. I have finally bought the jersey I promised I'd do so many times. I don't currently own a road jersey - so as we won the Cup on the road I figured now's a good time to get one.

Malkin Smythe
Pittsburgh Assistant Captain, Gino "The Scoring Machino" Malkin, after winning the Conn Smythe trophy

Evgeni Malkin was an absolute force in the Penguins' Playoff run scoring 36 points, the first player to score more than 30 points since Joe Sakic in 1996 (Crosby also broke 30 points with 31). In some of the games, especially against Carolina, you can just tell when Malkin decided to step up and own the game (resulting in some damn pretty goals). With Malkin and Crosby on this team for many years to come, I'm thinking the Penguins collection of 13 Art Ross Trophys will be added to more than a few times.

Hossa Lost

Crosby Cup

About two years ago (before Pittsburgh lost to Detroit the first time) I told my little brother that the Penguins were going to win 2 of the next 5 Stanley Cups. This is the first - I'll be cheering next year for the second!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stanley Cup Final, Game 7

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 11/06/2009 21:32:40

Pittsburgh has done a good job at pushing the Detroit Red Wings to a winner-takes-all game 7 in this year's Stanley Cup final.

Last year Detroit beat the Penguins in 6 games, but I think we've got a better chance this year. Last season, we had Scary Gary Roberts providing us with the crazy eyes:

Gary Roberts - what would he do?

When Roberts left via free agency to Tampa Bay, the Penguins needed to look towards Brooks Orpik for their crazy eye needs, and he certainly has stepped up. Here he is getting pretty serious about hydration:

When making big hits, a common expression is that Brooks Orpik is handing out free candy.

I'm hoping Orpik's crazy eyes are enough to help the Pens over the line, to win their first cup since 1992.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Amazing Malkin Goal

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 23/05/2009 14:51:13

Pittsburgh has gone up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final against Carolina. Sidney Crosby has been a force in the playoffs - scoring the first goal of the game on 6 occasions equaling a record by Chicago / Winnipeg legend Bobby Hull and Edmonton's Fernando Pisani. But in Game 2 of the Carolina series - Malkin was a force in a game. Scoring his first playoff hat trick, Malkin's third goal - an insurance marker that relieved some of the threat of a Hurricane comeback - was truly something to behold:

Malkin Hat Trick
Respect to AlexPKeaton from Lets Go Pens for creating the animated gif

What a goal! He called the shot to teammate Talbot beforehand and just went out there and got it done. Amazing no-look, backhand roofer to put the game away.

It's fun to have two of the best three players in the NHL in your team every game!

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