Let's Learn From the Past: Pittsburgh's Hockey History

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With the National Hockey League lockout finally over, the Pittsburgh Penguins can officially return to the ice at the Consol Energy Center. While the Penguins began as an expansion team 45 years ago in 1967-68, it wasn't Pittsburgh's first foray into pro hockey.

Pittsburgh's hockey roots can be traced back to 1899, when the Duquesne Gardens opened in the city's Oakland neighborhood. The 26,000-square-foot facility featured the world's largest indoor ice rink and became home to the first semi-pro indoor hockey league.

One of Pittsburgh's first hockey franchises, the Yellow Jackets, played at The Gardens and won back-to-back United States Amateur Hockey Association championships in 1924 and 1925.

Later in 1925, the Yellow Jackets were sold to attorney James Callahan and became just the third U.S. franchise to join the National Hockey League, joining the Boston Bruins and New York Americans. Callahan renamed his team the Pirates after receiving permission from baseball owner Barney Dreyfuss to use the nickname.

More than 8,000 fans enjoyed the first NHL game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 2, 1925, at the Duquesne Gardens. The Pirates, which were the first Pittsburgh sports team to use a black and gold color scheme, reached the Stanley Cup playoffs twice in five years. Following the 1929 season, however, the Great Depression forced the franchise's owners to relocate the team to Philadelphia, where they played just one season as the Quakers.

For the next 37 years, Pittsburgh was home to minor league hockey franchises such as the Hornets (1936-67), a rebooted version of the Yellow Jackets (1930s), and the Shamrocks -- who played just one season in the International Hockey League in 1935-36.

In the mid-1960s, the NHL announced plans to double the number of franchises from six to 12. Determined to secure a team for Pittsburgh, attorney Peter Block and State Sen. Jack McGregor put together an investment group of 21 businessmen that included H.J. Heinz III and Richard M. Scaife.

The group, with an assist from Steelers owner Art Rooney, lobbied the NHL, and Pittsburgh was awarded an expansion team for the 1967-68 season. McGregor's wife, Carol, thought Penguins would make a great team name, and after a naming contest, the team was officially christened. The moniker was fitting because the Penguins' home venue, the Civic Arena, was known as the Igloo, with its unique domed roof.

On Oct. 11, 1967, the Penguins played their first home game in franchise history against the Montreal Canadians and went on to post a 27-34-13 record in their inaugural season.

Forty-five years later, the Penguins have won three Stanley Cup Championships and are among the most popular NHL franchises.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can learn more about hockey history at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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