Monday, June 19, 2017
Penguin Nation is on Cloud Nine
The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions, and the state of Pennsylvania absolutely loves it. Getting your team’s name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup is something special. Doing it in back to back years is something no hockey team has done in almost two decades. That signature achievement led to what some are calling the biggest celebratory parade in team history. And, for a team with five Cups in a city that loves its sports teams, that’s really saying something.
According to initial estimates, more than 650,000 people lined the parade route hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes. And, you can bet the people of Pittsburgh … and Pennsylvania sports fans in general … really needed that hero.
For some years now, the Steelers and Sixers have been relative disappointments. While they have many Super Bowl appearances, the Steelers last trip to the biggest stage was back in 2011, in a loss to the Packers. The Phillies and Pirates have looked good, time to time, but failed to put it all together in a single season to make a run all the way to the Series in quite some time. For the Phillies, that was back in 2008. It’s been even longer for the Pirates.
For a city as supportive of sports teams to go so long without a strong team on the field or the court is a tough circumstance for these towel-waving fans to swallow. Hockey has been their salvation.
Both the Flyers and the Penguins have been playing well, but the Penguins have especially given their home state crowds something to cheer about. Less than 700,000 in a major US city? Well, when you consider that the Steel City only has 305,000 residents, that’s pretty impressive.
And every one of those 650,000 screaming fans loved it when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan summed up their success in a simple statement: “These guys are fierce competitors who know how to win!”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh team if they hadn’t come through some adversity to get to the big dance. In the series against the Washington Capitals, team captain and hockey’s golden boy, Sidney Crosby, suffered a concussion that rendered him unconscious … and kept him out of two games. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, was also out, due to neck surgery before the playoffs. Ian Cole played with broken ribs. Brian Bonino broke his leg blocking a shot … and he still finished Game 2 of the finals.
This is exactly the sort of team the people of Pittsburgh love: gritty, tough, strong and resilient. They win, no matter what … and they do it back to back.