And Then There Was the Time I Met Mario Lemieux…

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So last Friday was shaping up to be the usual fare; light dinner at home, followed up with catching up on TV shows or a movie, then sleep. During the hockey off-season, it’s what my wife and I do to decompress from the week.

About half an hour before I was due to leave work, I got a call from a friend. Seems her boss was in need of some hockey fans to attend a function out at the Maryland Live! casino. Specifically, Pittsburgh Penguin fans. “Why is that?” I asked.

“Because Mario Lemieux is the guest and they want to have Pens fans there to hobnob.”

Normally I tend to discuss plans with my wife before committing but in this case? “We’ll go. What are the details?”

After gathering the details, I phoned my wife – whose first words were “You need to call…” and I interrupted with the news that we were already on the list. We had just enough time to get home, change, gather some items to be autographed, and out the door to make it to the casino in time.

It was a great evening. There were only about 20 people in attendance, so Mario went table to table, signing memorabilia and chatting with the guests. When he arrived at our table, we took some quick photos with the cameraphone (the lighting was horrible) and he signed the two pucks and the jersey I’d brought. He also spent about 5 minutes talking Pittsburgh hockey with me, which was – to me – absolutely incredible. I thanked him for his career, how he’d saved the team, and the Penguins class organization before he moved on. He was incredibly gracious, kind, and humble; it’s easy to see how the organization takes its lead from their owner.

He did chuckle when he saw the puck I wanted signed. “Ah, there’s an oldie for you.” (It has the 90’s team logo on it.) I explained I’d gotten the puck during the Vancouver game where he’d notched his 600th goal. He smiled. “Cool.”

The casino did take photos of each guest with Mario afterwards, and then printed them out for us. They also gave us a framed and signed photograph of Mario as a keepsake.

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So why am I so geeked about this?

Mario is, in my honest opinion, the best hockey player of my generation. Beyond Gretzky, even. He is the reason I began following hockey, as I remember being entranced by the hoopla around his drafting. I’ve followed the Penguins ever since then, through the horrible Howard (Sudden Death) Baldwin era to nearly losing the team and beyond. The Penguins were responsible for my moving to Pittsburgh after college (another long story), the source of many date nights with my wife, and an anchor of stability during our relocation to DC. The Penguins are a happy tie to our Pittsburgh, one that we’ll most likely never let go.

To that end, I’ve always told my wife if I was to ever meet a professional hockey player, I wanted to meet Mario. Not just handshake and get something signed, but to have the chance to converse. I’m not much for meeting celebrities and people in the spotlight, but there are a scant few I’d like to meet and tell them how much I admire them, appreciate their work. Mario Lemieux is one of those few.

And this past Friday, I got to see that dream realized.

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NHL Lockout Over! A Tale of Two Cities

The NHL locket is OVER! As I contemplate what exactly this means for me and my hockey viewing/consumption habits, I thought I’d share two emails I got this morning. Obviously, the NHL and its teams have a massive PR mountain to climb in repairing the damage done to their fanbases, so these letters were expected. However…one is a marketing fail, the other a success. I think it’ll be quickly apparent which is which.

I’ll have more to say on this on a blog entry over at WeLoveDC tomorrow. For now, marinate in these very different marketing approaches to repair fan relations:

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We are extremely excited that the National Hockey League has reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Players’ Association, pending final approval on both sides. This is certainly welcome news for all of us – fans, players, corporate partners, local businesses, broadcast rights holders, media, staff and owners – and especially our plan holders who have created such a fantastic Verizon Center atmosphere.

Thanks to all of you for your patience, support and understanding during this process. We will continue to be in touch as more information becomes available, and all of us at the Capitals look forward to seeing you at Verizon Center in the coming weeks.

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We offer our apology. There is nothing we can say to explain or excuse what has happened over the past four months.

However, now that the NHL is back, we want to assure you that the Pittsburgh Penguins will do everything we can to regain your trust and show how much we value your amazing support.

The sounds of skates churning across the ice and pucks banging against the glass are returning to CONSOL Energy Center. That means a healthy Sidney Crosby is about to rejoin NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, first-team All-Star James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and others as we begin our quest to bring the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh.

We want to thank you for your patience and your loyalty to the Penguins. We hope to repay it many times over. Our commitment to winning the Stanley Cup and our commitment to you has not changed.

We look forward to seeing you at CONSOL Energy Center.

 

‘Nuff said.

Classy Action from a Classy Organization

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It’s no secret around here I’m a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan.

When the NHL announced last year that the 2012 NHL Entry Draft would be held in Pittsburgh at the team’s beautiful new CONSOL Energy Center building, I told my wife we should really try to go. Since getting to a game up there (I live in the metro DC area, for those who don’t know) is well nigh difficult – and expensive – it was  a great shot for us to go see the new digs. Tickets, when released to the public, are free for both Round 1 (Friday evening) and Rounds 2-7 (Saturday morning/afternoon). The trick is being on hand to squeeze into the lottery for the tickets.

Because of my current work situation and schedule, I was going to be home on Tuesday, June 5 when the tickets would be released. Only 3,000 were going to be open for the public to snag, and I squared the 15 minutes or so I’d need ahead of time; no phone, no freelancing, no nothing. Just me, the laptop, and the Penguins ticket site on refresh.

What happened then was a complete disaster-turned-awesome – all thanks to Ticketmaster (disaster) and the Penguins organization (awesome). Rather than explain, I’ll simply share the emails that occurred since then. Continue reading

To the 2010-11 Pittsburgh Penguins: THANK YOU

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Well, the end of the 2010-11 season for the Pittsburgh Penguins is officially over. After a very tight game last night, they lost the series to Tampa. It was one of the best games in the series; the Pens just couldn’t find the net behind Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson.

As I wound out last night after watching the handshake and the stick-raising to the fans at Consol Energy Center, I realized this was a season of “what if…” I’m actually proud of my favored team for putting together an exhilarating run after January’s misfortunes. They could’ve just packed it in and settled for “next year-itis.” Instead, I watched a group of guys pull together and make one fantastic second-half of the season.

I’m sure everyone plays the ‘what-if’ game after their team of choice bows out. So indulge me while I do the same. Continue reading

Memories of the Civic (Mellon) Arena

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[This was originally a guest post at pittsburghpenguinsblog.net in October 2009 before the season began, but had disappeared a while back and I’d never grabbed it. I happened to find it today during my lunch break and am reposting it here before it disappears again. I’d wanted to post it originally back at the end of the 2009-2010 season, so I suppose better late than never. Enjoy. -BHR]

The first time I ever stepped foot into the hallowed Igloo, it was 1995 and I was attending my first-ever Penguins game. Granted, it was a preseason game against the Rangers – not to mention the first real date with my then-girlfriend-now-wife – but it was still a moment I remember keenly in my mind of hockey memories.

“Do they open the dome at all?” I’d asked. Because that? Would’ve been the ultimate cool. A Pittsburgh winter night, with outdoor hockey? Awesome.

Alas, my thoughts disappeared less than a moment later when my then-girlfriend laughed at me. A lot.

Back then, it was the Civic Arena. (Still is, depending on my mood when I’m watching a Pens game.) And back then, it was already one of the oldest venues still showcasing the coolest game on ice, with one of the hottest franchises. I’d mourned the loss of the old Chicago Stadium only months before, having been a frequent visitor there to watch the Blackhawks play. Now, I was walking in another historic hockey building. Continue reading

2011 Winter Classic (Cross It Off the Bucket List!)

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The end of 2010 has been hectic (to say the least); fortunately, the tail of the holiday season left me and my beautiful wife on the cusp of attending the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field in our previous hometown of Pittsburgh. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a diehard Penguins fan – beginning way back in 1984 when a certain Mario Lemieux was drafted.

I won’t rehash my experience here. Why? Because I covered it pretty extensively for WeLoveDC, so you’re welcome to go there and read all about it:

Road to the Winter Classic, Part I
Caps Overcome Rain, Penguins in Winter Classic
Road to the Winter Classic, Part II

Photos here.

Suffice to say, it was everything I’d hoped and more, save a Penguins victory. But even that loss cannot dampen how much fun and awesome the whole thing was, from lead-up to denouement.

And now, back to writing. I’ve got two books to finish by the end of February…