A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Consol Energy Center for the first time since it opened for the 2010-11 hockey season.
As we drove into the parking garage, it was hard not to notice the partially-demolished shell of the old Civic Arena, just a block or so away. The image of the falling-down Igloo made the shiny new building look even more impressive by comparison, and that was just the garage.
Inside, the arena is candy for the senses. From the shiny glass main entrance, to the display cases filled with Penguins memorabilia, everywhere you look there is something interesting to see. High-tech extras are endless, from the crystal clear center-ice scoreboard, to the fancy LED rings circling the arena; there are even hundreds of HD-TVs throughout the building; you can't miss a minute of the action.
We had the great fortune of seeing lots of action in a Pens rout; they defeated Tampa Bay, 8-1, highlighted by an Evgeni Malkin hat trick. But seeing the hats rain down on the brightly-lit ice was just icing on the cake of a great hockey experience. It's easy to see why the arena is routinely sold out.
This week, it opens its doors for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, where No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 Ohio State headline first- and second-round action. Concerts and events ranging from WWE to Rod Stewart are planned in the coming months.
But the arena remains, first and foremost, the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a dream of Mario Lemieux. Arguably the greatest player of all time, Lemieux's vision and passion are reflected in the spectacular home of his hockey team.
Last week, the team unveiled a bronze statue just outside the arena depicting "Le Magnifique" splitting two defenders on the way to a goal.
The statue shows Lemieux in action, which is appropriate, not only for his accomplishments on the ice, but also for the leadership he has shown off of it. Pulling the Penguins out of bankruptcy, fighting for the new arena, and leading the team back to a Stanley Cup trophy, he's the only person in history to win the Cup as both a player and owner.
More than that, he's beloved for being a loyal citizen of Pittsburgh, a good family man, and an inspiration from conquering cancer to returning the Penguins to glory.
Lemieux's Pens have won nine straight and should soon have Sidney Crosby back. With 14 games left in the regular season, Pittsburgh stands in second place in the Eastern Conference, poised for another postseason run toward the Stanley Cup.
And as they set their sights on another title, thousands of fans will continue to flood the arena, adding to the Lemieux legacy in a home worthy of champions.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie-@BedfordCountyChamber.org.