Courtesy of Point Park University

Remembering the one, the only Civic Arena, Part 2 ☕


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Civic Arena, 2010. - GETTY

Second of two parts:

It probably is human nature to remember positive things more often than negative ones, which would explain why sports venues that no longer exist tend to be thought of fondly by the people who attended events there.

Hey, why recall the Steelers' agonizing playoff losses to Miami and San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium when the Immaculate Reception and those stirring postseason victories against Houston happened there, too?

And so it was with the Civic (later, Mellon) Arena, where the Penguins absorbed some of their most devastating defeats, but also earned some rousing victories before moving across the street in 2010 to the facility then known as Consol Energy Center.

What follows is Part 2 of our look back at some of the most memorable games and people associated with the Penguins' original home.

As noted in Part 1, it is very much a personal list, and far from a comprehensive one. Games that appear on it are those that the writer attended and, in many cases, covered. (With one exception, which is mentioned at the end of this installment) Non-playing people mentioned include some who were met while attending games as a fan, others whose paths were crossed in a professional capacity. Most are identified only by their first name in order to preserve their privacy, or that of their families.

The recollections below appear in no particular order:

• A then-record crowd of 13,324 was on hand on Jan. 23, 1974 as Bob (Battleship) Kelly and Steve (Demolition Derby) Durbano emerged from the locker-room runway after a 4-1 victory against the Blues, from whom they had been acquired a few days earlier. Durbano used his right arm to lift Kelly's left as they skated onto the ice after being named the co-No. 1 stars of the game, as the crowd celebrated the arrival of two tough guys who had large and loyal followings during their time here. (Kelly was a pretty fair hockey player, too, while Durbano's promising career was cut short by an injury.)

Mario Lemieux set up a Doug Shedden goal 18 seconds into his first regular-season home game on Oct. 17, 1984 and pummeled Vancouver's Gary Lupul in a fight later in the same game. It's hard to say which endeared him to the crowd more.

• The distinctive voice and delivery of public-address announcer John Barbero, who passed away just a few months after the Penguins played their final game at the arena.

• The Penguins pulled off one of their most impressive, and important, comebacks during Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup final against Chicago, as they rallied from a 4-1 deficit to claim a 5-4 victory when Lemieux punched a Larry Murphy rebound past Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour with 12.6 seconds remaining in regulation. In testament to the structural soundness of the place, the roof did not come off the building when Lemieux's shot eluded Belfour.

• The polarizing presence that was Ron Stackhouse, whose offensive talents were adored by some and whose lack of physicality was abhorred by others.

• Of all the Penguins' losses at the Civic Arena, their 1-0 defeat by the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the second round in the 1975 Stanley Cup playoffs might have stung the most, because it sealed the Penguins' place in history as just the second NHL club to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games. Islanders center Eddie Westfall scored the goal that ended the Penguins' season, but it was New York goalie Chico Resch, who replaced Billy Smith after Game 3, who spearheaded his team's comeback.

• Standing at the top of section C-16 in the pre-balcony days, because it offered the best views in the house for those who wanted to watch plays as they developed.

• The ultra-intense rivalry between the Penguins and St. Louis during the early years after the 1967 expansion might have peaked on April 4, 1971, when Penguins goalie Al Smith and Blues defenseman Bob Plager -- who was nearly as reviled here as his teammate and brother, Barclay -- vigorously traded punches. The best part: Much of their skirmish took place after Smith made a trip to the bench to shed his pads and some other equipment.

• The Penguins were in a pretty precarious spot during Game 4 of their second-round playoff series against the Rangers in 1992 -- Lemieux and Joe Mullen were out indefinitely because of injuries and the Rangers had a 2-1 edge in the series, as well as a 4-2 lead midway through the third period in the game -- but they evened the series with a late-game surge. Ron Francis started it by scoring from long distance, and Troy Loney tied it 75 seconds later to set the stage for Francis' game-winner at 2:47 of overtime. The Penguins did not lose another game that spring.

• The Lemieux Debut in 1984 was a resounding success, but his first game back after coming out of retirement was a worthy sequel. Lemieux scored one goal and assisted on two others -- the first just 33 seconds into his first shift -- in a 5-0 victory against Toronto on Dec. 27, 2000, after being a (fairly) healthy scratch for the previous 3 1/2 seasons.

Freddy, the trumpet-playing fan who set up shop at the top of the seating area (section D-22 or D-23, if memory serves) and would blast out a few notes when he sensed the crowd needed to be energized.

• The game-in, game-out excellence of the Century Line, which had Syl Apps between Lowell MacDonald and Jean Pronovost, and was the franchise's most productive forward unit for its first two-plus decades.

• The Penguins' playoff history against the Islanders is, to be charitable, bleak, as they have won just one of five series against New York. That includes a defeat in 1993, when the Penguins were two-time defending Cup champions and coming off a franchise-best 119 points in the regular season. David Volek earned a place on the Penguins' all-time villains team when he beat Tom Barrasso on an odd-man break at 5:16 of overtime in Game 7 to give New York a 5-4 victory. Volek's goal overshadowed an inspired comeback by the Penguins, who had forced overtime by scoring twice in the final four minutes of the third period.

• The now-lost art of the hip check, as practiced so enthusiastically by Jean-Guy Lagace.

Kevin Stevens secured his place in franchise lore when he guaranteed the Penguins would win the Wales Conference final against Boston in 1991 -- and did so minutes after a Game 2 loss at Boston Garden gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead in the series. The Penguins validated Stevens' prediction by reeling off four consecutive victories, punctuated by a 5-3 decision in Game 6 that prompted a crowd reaction so intense that you could almost see the noise.

Honorable mention: The 6-2 victory against St. Louis in the regular-season finale April 2, 1972. It didn't make the list because, sadly, I wasn't at the game -- it was Easter, and my parents inexplicably figured I should spend the day with my family instead of the Civic Arena crowd -- but it can't be forgotten. Not because the Penguin smoked the Blues, who were still bitter rivals, but because a few hundred miles away, Buffalo's Gerry Meehan beat Philadelphia goalie Doug Favell from long distance with four seconds left in regulation to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory. And, in the process, gave the Penguins an utterly improbable berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Meehan's goal coincided with a tile being punched out of the ceiling in my parents' gameroom by an exultant son who had sneaked away from the herd to listen to the Penguins-Blues broadcast on one radio and the Flyers-Sabres broadcast on another. Consider this a vote for Meehan being the subject of the next statue erected outside PPG Paints Arena. (Fun detail: The Penguins' season-ticket brochure for 1972-73 featured a photo from that game showing the crowd reaction to a goal that it said had been scored by "Ron Shock." Which had to be news to Ron Schock.)

Part 1 of the series

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