The Penguins' intrasquad game tonight at the Consol Energy Center is going to be unusual. I mean, how often do you get free hockey?
Yet today's morning skate looked very business-as-usual.
And that was the point.
"[Coach] Dan Bylsma wanted to create a game-type atmosphere and that meant the entire day," said Tom McMillan, the team's spokesman. "The morning skate is the same. And they're all going to wear suits tonight and have their regular meetings. Then the warm-up skate, the national anthem. This is going to look like a game. Dan wanted the players to experience all of that."
The best part is that the fans -- who have been deprived of hockey because of the sport's lockout -- get to experience it as well.
The "Black & Gold" Game at 7 p.m. is free to the public, with seats available on a first-come, first-served basis once the doors open at 6 p.m. (Parking in center lots also is free after 5 p.m.)
Once in your seat -- or in front of your television at home -- it's going to look an awful lot like NHL hockey, with the exception being that you might not know who to root for because both teams will be made up of Penguins (with some players from the minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, just to keep the lines moving).
The puck will be dropped by a ref and the players will be going full-tilt.
"They're going to play a full regular hockey game with intermissions and TV timeouts," said Paul Steigerwald, the team's play-by-play announcer with Root Sports. "They want to simulate a regular-season NHL game, so everyone can get back into the feel of it, because there's no preseason, no opportunities to do a dress rehearsal, if you will, before the big show coming up on Saturday.
"There's going to be some bumping out there. It won't be like an All-Star Game, where there's absolutely no contact. You know, these guys are really skilled at knowing how to throw a body-check without crushing somebody. So it'll be a controlled scrimmage where there's checking, but not any vicious-type hits or anything like that like we're going to see on Saturday between the Penguins and Flyers.
"I think every single aspect of the game that you would want will be there -- with the exception of the animosity."
Mr. McMillan said the recent agreement between the sport's owners and players -- and the start of the abbreviated 48-game season this weekend -- forced teams to improvise what usually would have been a six-game preseason. All the NHL teams are doing something similar to the Pens' scrimmage.
"The only tricked-up thing will be coming out of a TV timeout," he said of tonight's game. "Dan may create a power play, a five-on-three or a four-on-three situation, just to work on it."
Other quirks will involve a five-minute overtime and a shootout, regardless of the score at the end of the three 20-minute periods.
And the coaches -- Mr. Bylsma and assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald on one hand and assistant coaches Todd Rierdon and Tony Granato on the other -- will switch squads during the game.
The event also gives the vendors, the scoreboard operators and the other people who work at the center a preseason game, too.
"Tonight is like a family reunion," Mr. Steigerwald said. "What makes this game special, I think, is that a lot of people are craving hockey. They miss it. They love the Penguins and the Penguins love the fans. There's a real relationship between the Penguins and their fans in Pittsburgh.
"Hockey people are sort of one big family, and I think that's what you're going to see tonight. An opportunity to see each other again and share the excitement and passion."
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we￢ﾀﾙll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/