Champions Again

I rarely write about sports on this blog anymore unless it involves women’s soccer. I mostly cover music. It’s what I’m most passionate about. Last night though, something that doesn’t happen very often occurred in the sports world giving me an opportunity to write about another sport for a change. My favorite NHL team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, won the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s Championship trophy.

Whether you know or not, I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins fan by default. I grew up watching their AHL (minor league hockey) affiliate play in my hometown. I had season tickets to watch the team for many years and attended games regularly throughout middle school, high school, college, and even a few years after. I watched players develop and make it to the NHL. Then, I cheered them on as they played in the Burgh. In the fall of 2008, I made it out to Pittsburgh to see my first NHL game and returned yearly for games each fall through 2012 (I was even out there twice within a few months one year for two different hockey events). I explored Pittsburgh more and more each visit, falling in love with the Steel City. Since 2012, I returned to Pittsburgh three more times, once for a mini summer vacation trip and twice to see the Penguins play. The most recent visit was a mere three weeks ago to watch the Penguins play Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was the first Stanley Cup Playoff game I had ever seen. I was pumped to attend, but probably not as excited as I would have been a few years ago when I was much more emotionally invested in the Penguins and hockey in general. I’m still so glad it occurred during this Championship run. Enough about me though. Let’s focus on the Penguins for a second. They’re the real champs right now.

Last evening at the SAP Center (aka The Shark Tank) in San Jose, CA, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to win the best of seven series 4-2 and hoist the Stanley Cup for the 4th time in franchise history (1991, 1992, 2009 were the other three championship years). Pittsburgh’s goals were scored by Brian Dumolin (power play goal, assists by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz, 1st period at 8:16), Kris Letang (game-winner, assists by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, 2nd period at 7:46), and Patric Hornqvist (empty net goal, assist by Sidney Crosby, 3rd period at 18:58). Logan Couture had the lone tally for San Jose when he tied the game at 1 apiece in the second period. Couture’s goal came 79 seconds before the eventual game-winner by Letang.

To win the Stanley Cup the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the New York Rangers in the first round in 5 games, the President’s Trophy (given to the NHL team with the best record in the regular season) winning Washington Capitals in the second round in 6 games, and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in 7 games before winning the series against the Sharks last night. The last time the Penguins won the Stanley Cup was exactly 7 years earlier on June 12, 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. Only 7 members of the current Penguins roster were part of the 2009 squad who hoisted the cup after Game 7 in Detroit. Several members of the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, including playoff regulars, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Murray, began the season with team’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The rookies played an integral part in Pittsburgh’s championship run making it an organizational victory from top to bottom. Of the 20 players who suited up for Pittsburgh during last night’s cup clinching game, 17 spent significant time in the AHL (significant being defined as 10 or more games). 8 of the 17 spent significant time with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate.

I watched all 8 of those 17 players develop at some point making it pretty amazing to watch them lift the cup last night, especially the rookies who are only in their early 20’s (Murray just turned 22, unreal!). When the Pen’s won the cup in 2009, I had a much different feeling watching them win. I watched many of them grow in the AHL as well, but at the time I was younger and they were older. I looked up to those guys. Plus I never saw my favorite hockey team win a championship before (the AHL team never wins championships). This time felt more like a proud mom moment. All the guys I watched develop last year and the year before are a few years younger than me. I don’t see them in the same way as I did with the guys in 2009 and I already knew what it felt like to win a championship. My celebration wasn’t as wild. I didn’t run around the house screaming. I wasn’t out of breath. Part of the reason is also because I don’t watch hockey the same way. For years, hockey took up so much of my time. Within the last few years, I wanted to move on from hockey and focus on my life and achieve my goals. Hockey was just a form of entertainment for me. I became a more casual fan and stopped attending games regularly. It’s more fun that way now. I just enjoy watching the sport. It’s a pretty exciting sport too and great to watch when working out. Overall, I’m just free to focus on me, which is my priority anyway.

No matter what though, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be my favorite hockey team. I grew up as Penguins fan and I have no doubt my allegiance will stick with me no matter where I go or what I do. When the Pens go on a playoff run, I’ll always support them just as I did this spring and last night. Since they actually won the cup during this run, it’s time to celebrate the championship. Way to go Pittsburgh! Let’s Go Pens! Party hard!

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