In Their Own Words


Sunday, June 9th, Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5

San Jose Sharks @ Pittsburgh Penguins

PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh Penguins Superfan


story by: Chance

Chance With Brett

The first time I laid my eyes on those black and gold sweaters, a smile stretched across my face wider than the Allegheny. Of course, I only know of my reaction because of a photo displayed proudly in my apartment. I was seven weeks old.

Since that first taste over twenty years ago, my fandom and experiences with the Penguins have had a profound impact on my life. For some people, sports are just energy suckers that steal time from those with too much of it. For others, they’re a casual hobby, something to occupy an evening from time to time. But for certain people, the passion and associations that they have with a team transcend the typical conventions that define fandom. Times spent at the Igloo as a young kid are some of the most vivid memories that I have with family who has since passed. Passion for hockey and the Penguins have been instrumental in mending close relationships that had once been severed. Mutual love for the team has kept me in contact with people who would have otherwise grown further apart. For these people, it’s difficult to convey that meaning to others who don’t feel the same way.

I came across one of the Gift of the Cup posts on Reddit, and was immediately floored by the story behind it. I spent some time reading through the comments and posts, and simply hearing the way that hockey, and specifically the Penguins, has affected so many others certainly evoked a lot of emotion. I’ve spent the last couple of years studying at a university where sports culture is typically shunned, and it was so pleasant being reminded of how much sports mean to people.

Since moving out of Pennsylvania, I haven’t been able to catch my Pens very often. Even regular season games have gotten to be a significant amount of cash as the team has gotten more corporate, and as I moved further and further away from Pittsburgh, the frequency continued to diminish. Just the thought of being able to attend a Stanley Cup Final game would have never crossed my mind, let alone the cup clincher.

I decided to write my story to Brett not only for the miniscule chance that it would be chosen, but because it felt great to write. Aggregating all of my emotional connections and reliving the memories that the Penguins have been a part of was therapeutic. If there was any possible way to get more stoked for game five of the Stanley Cup Final, a potential closeout game for the black and gold, this was it. Off the email went into the cyber void, with no expectation of ever being read.

Having just gotten back home after finishing up final exams, my mother and I had decided that we were going to drive to Pittsburgh to watch the game outside of Consol on the big screen. You can’t replicate that atmosphere. Finding yourself in a sea of thousands of raucous fans chanting “Let’s Go Pens” is the closest you can come to being inside of the arena. I couldn’t wait to be there and celebrate with wonderful people in the city that I love. We were going to make the drive in from Cleveland hours before game time so that we could secure a nice view of the screen. The Penguins were going to win the Stanley Cup the following day. Who would have thought that we’d be able to share this experience after firing our coach thirty games into the season? What a run.

Game day had finally arrived. I stayed in bed until noon, just to squeeze out all of the possible sleep from my body to inch me closer to puck drop. I checked my messages, and sent a few hype texts to friends and family. Next, I casually opened my email and refreshed.

“Chance- Did you make the drive out from Chicago? It’s a beautiful day here in Pittsburgh!”

I must have read the email six or seven times before my body was able to register exactly what was happening. When people tell you that they were in such a state of shock that they “didn’t know what to do with themselves”, they are usually lying. Then again, maybe they’re not, because I sure as hell had no clue what to do with myself. I launched out of bed, and began sprinting through the house in nothing but my boxers. You know that terrible habit that rambunctious middle school boys have where they feel the urge to jump and slap any hanging sign or doorway? Well I’ll be damned if I didn’t slap just about every wall, ceiling, and doorway throughout the entire house. That simple email had regressed my maturity quicker than an unlimited play card at Dave and Buster’s.

I was able to stifle my convulsions just long enough to squeak out “I’m going to the game” in lieu of an appropriate explanation to my exceedingly worried mother. Obviously confused, she responded, “yeah…. I know we are.” After clarifying how in the hell something like this could be reality, she was so excited for me. She knows exactly what this team means to me, and she couldn’t have been happier for me. While she was slightly disappointed that she was going to stay back home for the game, she couldn’t wait to cheer on the boys knowing that I was in the stands.

The next couple of hours are truly a blur. I was on the road to Pittsburgh, illegally checking my phone every five minutes for a response from Brett. I wasn’t convinced that I was actually chosen because he hadn’t explicitly said so, and I really didn’t want to jinx it. I couldn’t wait to round the bend on 279 and see the first glimpse of that beautiful city.

When I finally got to the 6th avenue exit, the cars were backed up and the energy was anything but. Black and gold sweaters littered the streets as people set up their tailgates and cracked more than a few IC Lights. I needed to get over one lane, and I rolled down my window to speak to the car next to me. It was a couple, mid-thirties, both rocking Pens gear. After talking for a minute or two about how glorious this night was going to be, they asked if I was headed to the watch party. “I…I think I’m going to the game.” I couldn’t believe I was actually saying that.

I parked without any trouble, and began my leisurely stroll to Consol. Taking in that atmosphere was something that I will never forget. The memories that I had approaching the Igloo were so vivid in that moment, but this was a new era. It was a new era, a new generation, but this was still the Pittsburgh hockey that I love so intensely.

Looking up at the Stanley Cup Final banner looming over the crowd outside of the arena, I shot a text to Brett letting him know I made it to the city safely. Shortly thereafter, I received a text.

“Welcome to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.” That was it. The dream was becoming a reality right before my eyes. There aren’t words that I can use to adequately convey the feeling that those words on the screen evoked inside of me, or the giddy reaction that I must have displayed, so I’ll just move along with the story.

One of my favorite places to go before Pens games for some drinks and a pregame snack was the Souper Bowl. Pittsburgh classic, right across from Consol, you just can’t beat it. I suggested that we meet there for some pregame festivities, and secured us a table in the back corner. I waited for a while as he finished up some work at the hotel, and each minute I was becoming more anxious. This anxiety certainly wasn’t a byproduct of impatience, but rather the fact that I couldn’t believe that this was all happening. I was about to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins hoist Lord Stanley with my own eyes. A lifelong dream of mine that I never thought possible was about to come true.

When he walked up the steps with his Whalers jersey in hand, I was so thrilled. This was the guy that was making one of my dreams come true. But soon, it wasn’t like that at all. He wasn’t that guy that was making one my dreams come true. He was a guy who had the same intense, impassioned relationship with hockey that I’ve had throughout my life. It was beautiful and almost therapeutic to be able to share this profound impact that the game has had on my life with someone who has been affected just as deeply. Though coming from far different backgrounds, we had so much in common in specific ways, and all of our conversation was so meaningful. Within such a short time, he felt like a close friend of mine. The time that we spent across from each other in that crowded pub was special. We could have sat there and talked the entire night with ease, but soon puck drop was creeping closer than we had intended. It was gametime.

As we left the Souper Bowl and began walking toward People’s Gate, it got quite a bit more real. The crowd outside was raucous and ready for a championship, and gold towels ripped through the air. Brett pulled two sheets of paper out from his wallet and handed me my ticket. I was holding a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. Absolutely surreal.

We headed up the escalator to our floor, and at this point, I was on a new level of wired. I felt like I was in a 5ive Gum commercial. This is what it feels like to chew Penguins hockey. As we turned the corner, we took a look out the westward facing window to see the watch party. Below us was a literal ocean of black and gold. It looked as though the crowd had extended miles down Washington Place, just to be a part of that historic night. People perched on the ledges of the adjacent parking garages, children grinning ear to ear on their father’s shoulders. Truly an unforgettable scene.

On one wall of the concourse, there was a large installation with jerseys from local teams all around the western Pennsylvania region. Many familiar jerseys caught my eye, but soon a certain sweater appeared that meant a great deal to me. Behind the glass was a Crawford County Flames jersey, the first program that I ever laced up the skates for. As a young kid, my mom couldn’t afford the equipment or the skater’s fee that was required for me to play. Every year, the organization would do an essay contest where each child would write a piece detailing what hockey meant to them, and why it was important to step on the ice that year. If you were chosen, they would waive the registration fees. They were also responsible for putting on an equipment drive with all kinds of used pads and helmets at an extremely low cost. That organization made it possible for me to develop my love for the game of hockey, and seeing that jersey at that time was truly a full-circle moment.

The introduction began playing over the speakers, and we quickly realized we needed to move. We started running, weaving in and out of the fans that stood in the path to our seats. Opening the curtain to the section and seeing the sea of towels, the Stanley Cup graphics rotating between the blue lines, and the banners strewn across the ceiling; that is when it hits you.

The game was unbelievable. I could go through every minute detail of every period, but I’ll save you the read. Celebrating each goal with Brett, jumping and dancing around like elementary school girls at recess, was a level of elation that I will forever struggle to match. Those goals were getting us closer to something that we desperately wanted to share together.

The end result wasn’t the right one. It wasn’t the one that I felt was destined to occur on that lovely night. I would be blatantly lying if I told you that I wasn’t crushed. The rarity of your team reaching the Stanley Cup Final is impressively intimidating in itself. Winning once you get there is an entirely different story. Those factors, matched with the impossibility of being able to attend the game, makes it like hitting the lottery. To have one of my life dreams so close, one single goal away, and to have it fall short was really tough to swallow. We went out for drinks after, and it was still great time. I got emotional, things got heavy, and I couldn’t help but feel like the Penguins had let him down. I felt, in a way, that I had let him down.

As devastated as I was, and as disappointed as I still am, I left that night with something special that I hope to maintain throughout the rest of my life: a friendship with an unbelievable person who doesn’t do this for the recognition or the notoriety. He does this because he loves the game, he loves seeing that moment of pure ecstasy that these men have been chasing all their lives, and he loves experiencing that with someone who holds that team close to their heart. The generosity and the friendship that he shared with me on that day is something that I will always try to emulate through my own actions. I can never convey my true gratitude for the gift that he gave me that night.

In the end, the Penguins were able to clinch the cup two nights later, and Matt was able to experience the joy that we were chasing that night. We can all be glad that it wasn’t a Sharks fan. The goal of seeing the boys raise the cup above their heads remains high on my list, and hopefully Sid and Geno can provide a few more chances to cross it off. Whenever that may be, I’ll be rocking my old stained ’91 jersey. Never a doubt.

At the end of the day, there’s only one thing left to be said.

Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup Champion.