By Sidney Mahan (@PuckSniper_3) as well as other Penguins fans
That’s my honest response when people ask me how I’m doing after the Pittsburgh Penguins went from a rough regular season start to an incredible playoff run that resulted in the fourth Stanley Cup in team history.
Watching the players, coaches, and members of the organization pouring out onto the ice, screaming and throwing their hands in the air, as a Penguins fan you feel like you’re right there too. Whether you were actually in the stands at the game, or watching the game on TV, or listening to the radio broadcast, or following the game on your device – you’re out there with the rest of the Penguins family. You stayed loyal and committed to the quest for the Cup the entire time, stuck with it just like the players did, and you got the job done. You were the extra man out there for the Penguins, on home ice and away, and you were the final sprint that pushed us to victory.
As a fan, my focus was always on the next playoff game. I might even venture to say that I wanted the Cup for the Penguins players just as badly as they wanted it for themselves. Whether I was at home for game day or away, whether I had access to watching the game or not, I was there.
I was in the handshake line with the Rangers, Capitals, Lightning, and Sharks. I was standing next to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz when Pittsburgh accepted the Prince of Wales trophy. I was standing on the blue line with my head bowed while the national anthem played, every single game. I was part of the group hug that occurred after each series win. And I lifted the Cup in victory among the players when the long battle ended in triumph. My heart absolutely swelled with pride and joy when those Penguins who had been forced to miss all of or part of the playoffs with injuries came out dressed to celebrate with their teammates, and when Sidney Crosby handed the Stanley Cup to Trevor Daley, and to also see the Cup lifted by Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Fleury, and those guys who hadn’t been able to play during the playoffs but had still chipped in at some point and who had continued to cheer their teammates. And Phil Kessel finally becoming a Cup champion and probably wearing a bigger grin than anybody else in the building – yeah, I was there with his teammates, enjoying the sight of a guy who was finally proving all his critics wrong.
And guess what, Pens fans? You were there as well. Enjoying every moment of the playoffs, and every step closer to the holy grail of hockey. We won together, and we lost together. We shed tears of joy when we won and tears of grief when we lost or when the road seemed to take a wrong turn.
The funny thing is, with each season since 2009 our third Stanley Cup has been fainter and fainter in my memory. It doesn’t seem like too long, but in reality I’d almost entirely forgotten what it was like to see my Penguins hoist the Cup. There’s been a lot of disappointing finishes for this team over the last couple of years. We would establish ourselves as Cup contenders during the regular season, but would fail to live up to expectations when we needed to. Each time we were sent home, it was a stomp on my heart, just like it was a stomp on the heart to the players. But almost as quickly as my hopes were dashed, my confidence recovered and I looked to the next season. And so the cycle repeated.
And then this season began. It wasn’t a promising start, but I refused to rule out my team before the season was even half over. Let’s face it, guys, champions emerge from hard times. It’s not like a team that wins the Stanley Cup has to necessarily have the best regular season, especially if you’re talking about the first half rather than “push for the playoffs” time.It was certainly and interesting, emotionally confusing start. Just like the rest of you, the offseason addition of Phil Kessel electrified me, and even if he didn’t have the best start, I was waiting confidently to see him step up when it mattered. Like the rest of you, my heart skipped more than a few beats when I heard that Pascal Dupuis would have to put a permanent stop to playing hockey. And like the rest of you, I was extremely excited to hear that Mike Sullivan would be taking over as head coach (I personally believed that the midseason coaching change was a sign that our season would end similarly to in 2009). And along with you guys, I was energized to see Sidney Crosby turn his season around and go on a tear that made the haters and nay-sayers’ jaws drop and then shut up, at least for a little while. And when the March of the Penguins occurred and we entered the playoffs the hottest team in the League and suddenly a dangerous contender, like you guys I felt confidence heading into the playoffs. The confidence wasn’t new. What was unique was that this confidence was special. You guys know what I’m talking about when I say that I could feel it in every inch of my body that this year was our year.
And let’s be real – the playoffs are both the best and worst times of the year. On the one hand, you get pumped up to see your boys contending for the ultimate prize, and you draw more and more energy as your team progresses to the next round. On the other hand, a loss hurts even more and creates a deeper wound than it did in the regular season. And it’s the WORST feeling when you realize that your team is on the brink of elimination. I didn’t lose hope when we went down 3-2 to the Lightning, knowing the resiliency of this Penguins team is unmatched, but you guys know that we were all suddenly fearful that our awesome march into the playoffs and a so far memorable run might suddenly come to a close. Of course, when we won Game 7, we allowed ourselves a celebration and a quick breather. Sure, one more round left, but we took a little bit more time to cheer than after Rounds 1 and 2. We grinned when the captain and his alternates posed with the Prince of Wales, especially when Sid took no hesitation in breaking general superstition and holding the Prince of Wales trophy rather than posing around it. And we took great joy in pointing out (especially when some people lost their minds at the sight of the trophy being touched) that in 2008, when Crosby stuck to the general superstition, the Pens lost in the Cup final, and when the next year he boldly took hold of the trophy, the Pens won, which is the same way things went in ’91 and ’92. Yeah, we’re real heroes and daredevils. Most teams are scared to touch the Conference Champions trophies, believing it gives them bad luck. Us Penguins are 4-0 in the Cup final when we take hold of the trophy.
But to be honest, guys, to see my team lift the Cup – it’s an experience that will never get old for me. Sure, it’s not actually me being hailed as a hero. Sure, I won’t get a day to do whatever I want to do with the cup. But it’s no less special for me. So maybe people find it hard to understand why I get so damn psyched when a team I’m not playing for (or so they say) wins the Cup, teasing me that I look just as happy as the actual players and coaches. Well, it goes to show that they’re not able to understand who we are and what we do. Us Penguins faithful, we’re a part of the family too. That’s why throughout the playoffs, we obsessively followed our team’s campaign and were always looking for analysis, news, expert picks (just to talk about how wrong the “experts” were, though), staying connected to the team in any way possible. That’s why our emotions followed the same roller coaster as the players giving their all on the ice. And it’s why the team’s confidence helped us, and it’s why our confidence in them motivated the players. There’s a reason why home ice is an advantage, and a reason why the players appreciated CONSOL Energy Center getting progressively louder with each game. It’s because our support really does matter. We are a part of the team. To have that many people behind you, wanting to share in your victory, it’s one of the best confidence boosters in the world.
Guys, we’re the champs in the stands. For our commitment to our team. For sticking with them through good times and bad times. For staying with our boys along every inch of the road. And for getting so freaking happy when the Cup came back to the Burgh that some people shook their heads at us. You know what? Maybe I am obsessed with my team. Go ahead and say it to me, because I’m okay with that. Yeah, I consider myself a lifetime Penguin. You guys are too. No matter how things are going, we don our Penguins jerseys and we yell and cheer until we’re hoarse. So maybe sometimes (at least according to some people) my priorities were messed up. I admit it. I guess that I’m strongly tied to my team, for better or for worse. And I know for a fact a lot of you can relate to being told (or maybe realizing yourself) that you’re devoting a ridiculous amount of time to the Pens. A lot of you have proudly confessed to that. You’ve probably been told something along the same line by someone, but don’t worry because it’s worth it to share in the boys’ glory. Being a fan isn’t a thankless job, guys, and we were all reminded of that on June 12, 2016, when once again our beloved Pittsburgh Penguins lifted the Cup in the air. It was a sight for sore eyes. A sight that didn’t just make our day, or week, or month, but our whole summer. And, of course, while our boys celebrate and train for the upcoming season at the same time, so will we. We’ll throw a huge party, but we’ll also gear up and get ready for the next season, when the Penguins go back to work. And when I say the Penguins will go back to work, I mean the players, coaches, equipment managers, management, owners, reporters, etc., etc. But I also mean us fans will go back to work. We’ll always be with our guys in the stands, in the locker room, and on the ice. We’ll always wear our colors proudly. We’ll always be glad to help our boys on the journey to another Cup, whether that journey will last only a few years or many years. Who cares how long it takes? You and I both know that we’re going to stay loyally patient, because, well – it’s worth the wait. Truly, truly worth the wait.
“Lots of emotion. We did a great job. Especially tonight. We worked so hard, we deserved to win… It’s a great and tough year. I’m glad the season is over and over like this. Newborn son, married, Stanley Cup – great summer.” – Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin after the Penguins emerged as the 2016 Stanley Cup Champions
In this article, I not only wanted to include my reaction to this year’s Stanley Cup win, but I also wanted to include reactions from other Penguins fans. After all, we are one big family. I asked both my fellow writers at Lets Talk Pens and the Penguins family on Twitter for their takeaways as Stanley Cup Champion faithful, and this is they had to say. Of course, it’s impossible to convey all of your honest emotions in words, but they tried and we can all relate. Thanks to everyone who contributed – I have to say it again, you guys are champs too!
Staff Writers at Lets Talk Pens
Cody Flavell – “I’m beyond excitement for the Pens. They completely deserve this for the resiliency they have showed all year long. Sullivan and GMJR deserve a majority of the credit for the job they did. They exceeded expectations. The players simply did their job and brought a Cup back to the 412.“
Josh Boulton – “While there were ups and downs, the ultimate plan remained the same and everyone believed the message enough to stick with it. That belief in each other, the commitment to detail and the commitment to use all four lines are what ultimately pushed them over the edge to success. It’s why at no point this season did I ever stop believing as a fan.”
Caitlin Boyer – “I’m so happy. This season has been a roller-coaster ride. I’m so proud of the guys.”
Brad Matus – “F*** the Sharks.”
From the Pens family on Twitter
Brendqn (@goodkdmaattacty) – [after the Penguins found themselves on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup] Back around November/December, I’d wanted the Pens to miss the playoffs, because at that rate keeping the conditional pick from the Kessel trade would have been much more worthwhile than a first round exit. Now they’re one win from the Stanley Cup. Unreal.
#Pens (@LanceLindquist) – My personal reaction is just…whoa. The whole playoff run, I just felt going in to every single series. The Penguins can win this. They were so much faster than every other team. It was unreal. It was just a feeling of being confident, that if the Penguins could execute their game plan, and play like they know that they can, we were absolutely unbeatable.
Monster Tracker (@sidgenophil) – I first became a Pens fan in 2009 when I started watching the playoffs with my dad. He’s from Pittsburgh, and he always loved the Pens. We used to go to college hockey games when I was a kid, but I didn’t pay attention. However in ’09, I had a genuine interest and that was just the beginning of my crazy love for hockey. We all know that everything kind of went downhill after they won the Cup, and the past 3 years have probably been the toughest to watch them in the playoffs. They have great regular seasons, but they can’t make it far in the postseason. This season, however, I had a feeling. I just knew that it would be a good year, and I knew that the Pens would win the Cup. Then when October-December was really tough, and when everyone doubted the Pens’ potential this year, I just stayed positive. Since January they grew better and better, and I knew ever more so that this would be their year. When the boys won Round 1, I cried. Tears of joy, of course. When they won Round 2, I cried again. When they won the ECF, I was at work – but I would’ve cried if I had been watching it. Even through all the trials and tribulations of the regular and postseasons, I knew the Pens would be hoisting the Cup at the end of it all. We all wanted them to win it in Pittsburgh, but it just wasn’t in the cards for them. After that I knew it was meant to be for them to win it away, and on the exact seven year anniversary of their ’09 championship. In the third period when it was almost time for the horn to sound, I started to tear up. Then when Hornqvist scored the empty netter, the tears came full on. When the final horn buzzed, I cried and cried, because I was so happy for them.I was crying for the guys on that team, who put in so much hard work, even when they struggled. For their change of mindset that Sully helped them achieve. For the fact that they were the underdogs all season, and no one believed they could do it (not even some fans). I was just so overcome with emotion because I was watching my favorite people achieve their dreams. I am so proud of this team and everything they have accomplished. I am so happy for them, because they earned it. They worked harder than any other team and they ended up taking Stanley home to Pittsburgh. I don’t know how the next season will go, or the season after that. But I do know that I am and will always be a fan of this team. After seeing what they’ve done this season, I know they can do anything, and I am excited to see what the future holds for them. I am proud to call myself a Penguins fan.