Photo: Sports & Exhibition Authority
After visiting Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and United Center in Chicago for Washington Capitals games last year, I had so much fun that I knew I wanted to do a road trip with my dad this year. So we trekked up to the Steel City for a Pittsburgh Penguins game, and wearing a Capitals jersey in Pittsburgh was just too good an opportunity to pass up, although I decided to be a little discrete and not wear the Tom Wilson alternate jersey I had gotten for Christmas.
There are two hotels right next to the stadium: the Cambria, which is a nice, clean, roomy hotel with an indoor pool; and the Marriott, which has the advantage of being in the same building as a Starbucks.
PPG Paints Arena is relatively new, having been built in 2010. The first thing you notice is the branding in the arena — there are two main clubs for fans in center ice seats (the KeyBank Club and the Captain Morgan’s Club); the Lexus Club, which offers an exclusive bar area and white table cloth dining with high-end food; and other sponsorships scattered throughout the complex. Even the mirrors in the bathroom are sponsored (SuperCuts … the official hairstylists of the Penguins).
In the concourses, there are dozens of hockey jerseys from clubs around the Pittsburgh area framed on the wall.
There were also screens documenting each of the Penguins’ five Stanley Cup runs. The arena has screens that flip photos every few seconds. Seeing the picture of center Nick Bonino celebrate with the puck in the net and Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby just laying there in Game 6 of the second-round series in 2016 was by far the most painful image I saw during the slideshows.
The arena had pictures of Penguins legends such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Sidney Crosby. It also contained a wall dedicated to the Lemieux Foundation. After retiring, Lemieux — a Hall of Famer, went on to buy the Penguins in 1999.
The arena also had a mural of some of the greatest goals in team history.
The lower concourse was wide and airy, open to the arena at both ends.
There’s also a giant goalie helmet in the concourse.
The team store was huge (and by that I mean 4,000 square feet) and the arena had five other team stores.
The rafters are full of banners representing their five Stanley Cup Championships in 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, and 2017. On the other side, they had banners for each NHL Award with a list of players in franchise history who have won each award. (The Caps would need multiple banners just for captain Alex Ovechkin‘s accomplishments.)
We were lucky enough to have dinner at the Lexus Club, which featured great food, including steak with porcini sauce from the Capital Grille. The Club takes reservations, but seats sell out quickly.
The food on the concourse had a variety of standard stadium food along with sushi, milkshakes, and Pittsburgh’s famous Primanti Bros. Sandwiches. The Lexus Club had a lot more selection than some of the clubs at Capital One Arena, including steak, fish, chicken, vegetables, and salads, as well as a large selection of desserts.
Warmups in the Capitals end were crowded with both Capitals fans and some Penguins fans who wanted to heckle the Washington players. Wilson got some special attention from the Pittsburgh fans.
The seats at the stadium were comfortable and roomy. PPG Paints Arnea features a large lower bowl, a level of suites, and an upper bowl. Capacity at the arena is 18,387, roughly comparable to Capital One Arena.
While the crowd was raucus as the game began, it was quickly as quiet as a church as the Caps scored first and then added a tally early in the second. When the Pens scored their first marker, the place erupted, and the noise level only built as the Penguins scored three goals in less than two minutes.
Penguins fans were polite, mostly ignoring those in red jerseys. Most of their ire was saved for Wilson, who continued to draw heckles and shouts whenever he was on the ice. He was clearly a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.
Despite the fact the Capitals lost, history was made not once, but twice. Ovechkin scored his 1200th career NHL point, while Penguins center Evgeni Malkin got his 1000th NHL point. Ovechkin and Malkin were the first and second overall draft picks, respectively, in the 2004 NHL entry draft. A special shout out to the Penguins, who recognized Ovechkin’s achievement on the video board at the conclusion of the game.
When and if you ever visit PPG Paints Arena, expect it to be crazy loud… especially when the Penguins score. While everyone has there differences, especially in sports, expect fans to be very welcoming.
By Harrison Brown