The Penguins will play their final regular season game at Mellon Arena tonight.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Maybe it is just the NHL brand of humor, but the dead mouse story trumped the warm and fuzzy tales Wednesday as the Penguins spent time after practice reminiscing about Mellon Arena. But only by a whisker.
Unless it comes to Game 6 or 7 in the Stanley Cup final in June, there will be no way of knowing beforehand when the team's last game at the NHL's oldest venue will be. It is certain, though, that the matchup tonight with the New York Islanders will be the final regular-season game, and there will be dozens of former players and executives on hand for a pregame ceremony at the 48-year-old domed "Igloo."
• Game: Penguins vs. New York Islanders, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Islanders.
• Penguins: Are 3-2 on six-game homestand. ... Are 3-1 vs. Islanders. ... Sidney Crosby has 11 points in past five games 5.
• Islanders: : Are 8-3-1 in past 11 games. ... Sean Bergenheim has five-game point streak (4 goals, 4 assists). ... Blake Comeau has five goals in past four games.
• Hidden stat: : The Islanders among worst in NHL in power play (15.6 percent) and penalty killing (76.7 percent).
Players asked to recount memories of Mellon Arena -- at least those who have been around for a couple of years or more -- quickly recalled the mouse incident.
Interpolating from several versions, the story seems to go that someone killed a mouse in the alcove where players work on their sticks. As a prank, the dead rodent was placed in the shoe of then-Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney.
The last laugh went to the unfortunate mouse.
"We were waiting for him to get a big reaction," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "He just put his shoe on and walked right out with it in his shoe."
There have been countless other pranks and lots of tomfoolery -- and that's just with this group of players -- but the Penguins will take many other kinds of memories with them when they move across the street into Consol Energy Center next season.
A common theme is the mood of playing under the formerly retractable dome, which helps intensify things when the crowd gets revved.
"The stands make it feel like people are on top of you. It's fun to play in that atmosphere," winger Ruslan Fedotenko said.
Star center and captain Sidney Crosby deferred to team co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux as far as whose house Mellon Arena has become. Lemieux captained the team to two Stanley Cups in the early 1990s and saved it from bankruptcy.
"I always think of it as Mario's place," said Crosby, who led the team to the Cup last season. "You look at what he's done in the city and so many nights here, I think it's safe to say that this is his place."
Crosby, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, knew about Lemieux when he arrived in Pittsburgh, but not about Mellon Arena.
"When I got here, I found out pretty quickly that it's got an amazing feel," he said. "It's an atmosphere you have to be in to really be able to describe it. The crowd seems like it's right on top of everybody, and they're so involved in the game.
"We're looking forward to the new one, but I think many people have a lot of memories here."
Dan Bylsma has coached at Mellon Arena just 14 months, but he has a strong sense of the place. For him, it's all about the feel and the echoes.
"I am convinced that we're going to a great place," he said, "but I am going to miss the old Mellon Arena, coming here, this room. I think it's a great dressing room. I feel a lot of history here and memories and good games and bad games."
Bylsma came along too late as a player to experience old Chicago Stadium, the Forum in Montreal or the old Boston Garden, but Mellon Arena has sufficed.
"As soon as you come in here, you have a feeling of an older, historical building," he said.
The playoffs last year provided him with moments he will treasure.
"Walking out of the tunnel with two minutes to go before the start of a playoff game with the whiteout and the fans going, 'Let's go Pens!' is a memory I won't ever forget and will miss that about this building," Bylsma said.
A few players cited the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony at the home opener in October as one of their favorite moments at Mellon Arena.
Others have been struck by the way their emotions about the place changed when they joined the Penguins from another club.
"Initially, playing here on a road team, I hated coming here," winger Matt Cooke said. "The [tiny, Spartan] visiting room is nothing to talk about.
"Having an opportunity to come and play here and be on the home side, to be a part of the nostalgia and the history that's in this locker room, first of all, and being able to experience the intensity of the fans and the atmosphere, especially during the playoffs and being able to win a Cup here, is awesome."
Many other memories will be shared tonight.
"At the end of the day, this is a special place for everybody -- fans, players, everyone involved," Crosby said. "It's going to be an emotional night."