Penguins fans rally in support of team's first playoff game

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Darrell Sapp, Post-GazetteJim Tevis, of Munhall, waves his towel during the playoff hockey rally yesterday for the Penguins, held in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse. The Penguins played and lost to the Ottawa Senators last night in the opening match of the seven-game first round series.
By Chico Harlan
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Several hundred people crowded into the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard yesterday for a Pittsburgh Penguins pep rally -- notable, if only because the team they cheered couldn't hear a decibel of it.

Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Linda Trautman, of Crafton Heights, holds a "Stanley Cup," which she made in 1992, at the Rally for the Penguins Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard.
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Just before noon, fans turned the Grant Street green space into a black-and-gold carnival. They snacked on hotdogs and popcorn. They sipped sodas and flapped homemade signs. They listened to politicians' speeches. Around the same time, the team that united them wrapped up its game-day skate in Ottawa, 500 miles to the north, hours away from its first playoff game in six years.

Without the Penguins' presence, the crowd found other ways to rationalize the celebration.

Some relied on the 20-minute rally to stoke excitement for the evening's game.

"It gets you ready," said Jeff Thomas, who planned to watch the action at McGrogran's Taproom, a Canonsburg bar.

Some figured they deserved a chance to cherish their hockey team's recent good fortune, especially after a season in which the franchise's future hung in doubt.

Some used the moment to display history-soaked Pens garb: a No. 5 Ulf Samuelsson jersey; a tattered black-and-gold cheer towel; a homemade Stanley Cup replica, created with tin cans by Linda Trautman, of Crafton, during the team's glory years.

"When I heard about this [rally]," Ms. Trautman said, "I went downstairs and said, 'I have to find this.' "

And some, of course, wanted the opportunity to celebrate alongside the rally co-hosts, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, both of whom shucked their suits in exchange for black Penguins jerseys, such that only their team-colored striped ties showed above the sweaters' V-necks.

Mr. Onorato, first to address the crowd, called recently resolved negotiations for a new hockey arena "one of the toughest issues the mayor and I have dealt with in the last 12 months." Then he and everybody listening toasted the team's secure -- and promising -- future.

"We're on our way to being the City of Champions again," Mr. Onorato said. "This young talent is really hitting its stride. I really believe -- what is it? -- over the next three months, we're going to be having a lot of parties in this courtyard."

Indeed, the courtyard filled with supporters in large part because of the team's many embraceable qualities: its ability to exceed expectations this season, its presumed path toward down-the-road excellence, its cadre of soft-spoken, teenage stars.

Mr. Thomas, in the Samuelsson jersey, called this year's team his favorite since the early '90s Stanley Cup years.

Nikki Schneider wanted to make the drive up to Ottawa for Saturday's Game 2 -- even though she'd have to drive home by Sunday. (She has tickets for that day's Game 3, after all.)

The mayor himself unveiled his tribute to the team, which prompted the high point of enthusiasm during the afternoon.

"If you look real closely, you might be wondering if I lost my razor," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "The answer is No."

He was growing a playoff beard, he explained, not to be shaved while the Penguins' season remained alive.

"I hope a month from now, two months from now," Mr. Ravenstahl said, "I look like Grizzly Adams."


Chico Harlan can be reached at aharlan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1227.


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