Thursday, June 2, 2016

San Jose Sharks 2 at Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (Stanley Cup Final, Game 1) - May 30, 2016


When tickets went on sale for the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh, I decided to log on to see if I could get one. Surprisingly, I did, landing an upper deck ducat for $200 plus TicketMaster fees. I really didn't have any plans to go, so I immediately put it up for resale hoping to make a small profit. But then I started looking at flights and found that I could get to Pittsburgh and back on a minimum number of miles, while downtown hotels were quite cheap for Memorial Day. So I removed the ticket from the secondary market, booked the flights, and made my way to Pittsburgh for the first Stanley Cup Final game in San Jose Sharks history.



On the way in, we flew right over downtown and had some clear shots of the confluence, Point State Park, and PNC Park and Heinz Field on the north side.



As well, I got a great view of Consol Energy Center, you can even see the Stanley Cup logo there.



I visited here in 2010, the year the arena opened, but it wasn't a happy time as the Leafs lost. This time, I would be rooting for the home team. Walking from my hotel on the south side, I passed through downtown Pittsburgh which is almost entirely under construction and in some places resembles a war zone with empty sidewalks and rocks piled up in the middle of streets. There was no sign the Stanley Cup Final was taking place until I arrived out front of the arena about three hours before puck drop, where a small crowd was gathering.



My friend Andrew (a Bay Area native and Sharks fan) was driving in from Philly so I waited for him at Buford's Kitchen across the street, where a radio guy was talking about Phil Kessel's time with the Leafs. His point was that Kessel did not underachieve there as many suggest, instead he performed as he did because he was surrounded by a bunch of stiffs. I had to laugh at that analysis, sadly accurate despite being somewhat oversimplified.



Andrew brought along his friend Matt, another Sharks fan, and they joined me at Buford's. The Penguins faithful were friendly to Matt despite his teal jersey, and we chatted with a few of them. As game time approached, Andrew and Matt had to get a ticket from a scalper, so I went in ahead of them and did a quick walk around. All fans received a yellow t-shirt and towel, making the seating bowl look like a beehive. The view above is from my seat, behind the net that the Penguins attack twice. The Penguins scored two goals a minute apart in the first period after which I headed down to meet with Andrew, who had secured a lower level seat for $240. He said the seat next to him was empty, so I sat there for the start of the second period (view below) during which the Sharks scored to get within a goal.



Midway through the period, a woman came down to claim the seat, so I headed back, but as I passed her, she said that she would just take a few pictures and I could have the seat after that. I watched from the concourse and Andrew joined me shortly thereafter to explain that the woman and her husband had agreed that I could sit there for the third period if they were allowed to stay for the rest of the second. Seemed fair to me, so Andrew and I stayed on the concourse as the Sharks tied it up late in the period on a wraparound goal from Patrick Marleau.

We spend the second intermission talking to the couple, Roger and Sandy, who were newlyweds and had motorcycled down from Brantford, Ontario (hometown of Wayne Gretzky) that day on a lark. They had acquired the other ticket from the same scalper that Andrew had found for a much better price, and somehow were both able to get in on that one ticket. They were good fun and very kind to allow me to stay in their seat for the third period, which was scoreless through the first 17 minutes. At that point, I mentioned to Andrew that I was looking forward to overtime, but seconds after I uttered that statement, Nick Bonino scored for Pittsburgh who held on for the 3-2 win (celebration below). Sorry Sharks fans!



This was a pretty good game to start the finals, but Pittsburgh was clearly superior, outshooting the Sharks 41-26. They won game 2 in overtime (ironically) and at this time, it looks like my prediction of a Penguins Stanley Cup is in line to be correct. Unless I jinx this too.

Notes

In 1991, I saw the San Jose Sharks first ever game when they opened their inaugural season in Vancouver. I remember standing by the bench as they came out to warm up and being stunned at the ugliness of those teal jerseys. Shows what I know, as they still sport those colours, which have been quite popular in the intervening 25 years. I also saw their first home playoff game in 1994, so I have quite the history with this franchise.

My hotel was at Station Square on the south side of the river. Next to that is Highmark Stadium, home of the USL's Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who were having a scrimmage as I walked by. The stadium faces downtown and is considered one of the most beautiful in the country.



The Fort Pitt Bridge also presents some nice photographic opportunities.



Next Up

I'm heading to the Deep South next weekend to add a few Southern League ballparks to my venue count. Check back for recaps starting June 12!

Best,

Sean

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