Why do penguins play so many games on Thanksgiving Eve?
Thanksgiving is synonymous with many traditions.
Football, family and party.
The night before Thanksgiving also has some traditions.
Mostly going to establishments and drinking in a way that you normally wouldn’t on a weeknight.
Or go to a Pittsburgh Penguins game.
In the first 55 years of the Penguins’ existence, they have played a Thanksgiving vigil game on 48 occasions, and 43 have been held within the friendly confines of Civic Arena or PPG Paints Arena.
That “tradition” will continue with Wednesday’s home game against the Calgary Flames.
Captain Sidney Crosby has been to several of these games since joining the franchise in 2005. The atmosphere is something that stands out to him.
“I remember some of those games being fun games and people being into them,” Crosby said. “Generally, games during the holidays always seem a little more exciting, for sure.”
What’s not certain is how the Penguins have been able to land so many Thanksgiving night home games in their half-century of existence.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be accurate to label it a “tradition” per se. It is rather a collision of circumstances that have made the penguins so often host on the night before the holidays.
American teams usually have more trouble selling tickets for games in the early part of the season when they are forced to compete with the NFL. So the Penguins, seemingly from their earliest days, have asked the league to give them home games the day before Thanksgiving. And given that Pittsburgh is relatively close to other Eastern Conference sites, especially for Western Conference foes on long trips to the eastern half of the continent, scheduling a road game in Pittsburgh can be convenient for the visitor on a multi-city road trip.
In their first season, 1967-68, the Penguins earned one of their first wins against one of the so-called “Original Six” franchises when they defeated the Boston Bruins, 4-1, at the Civic Arena on November 22, 1967 . . .
From that point on, the penguins were almost always home for Thanksgiving, at least the night before.
In all, the Penguins have not played on Thanksgiving night seven times, and four of those times have involved a schedule disruption of some kind (three due to a lockout, and in 2020, the pandemic played a large part of the world in suspense).
During the 1970s, the pre-Thanksgiving game became something of an event because it was one of the relatively few times the Penguins sold out (or close) in their pre-Mario days Lemieux.
“Back in the (1970s), maybe early parts (1980s), when there weren’t a lot of sales, that always seemed like an automatic sellout,” former Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillian said. “You’d always talk about college kids being home and people being home for the holidays. There was always that kind of holiday atmosphere before Penguins hockey was really big in Pittsburgh.
“It has continued. It has probably been less noticeable in this era where there have been lots and lots of sales. It didn’t stick out that much. But it’s rather unique.”
Even during the Lemieux years and eras synonymous with superstars like Jaromir Jagr, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins always seem to be home for (the night before) the holidays.
Their last previous game before Thanksgiving was a 6-1 win against the New York Rangers on November 23, 2016. Since then, they have played four consecutive home games (with the gap 2020 pandemic).
The Penguins are asking the schedule maker for certain dates, and they certainly aren’t the only ones asking to play at home the night before Thanksgiving. They are simply more successful with their applications than other franchises.
“You give the dates available well in advance of the start of the season when they’re making the calendar,” McMillian said. “Penguins have always been lucky to get this date. Obviously, everyone loves holiday games for obvious reasons. This is just one that worked.”
The Penguins aren’t perfect in home games before Thanksgiving. They have a record of 23-18-7 (including four ties). But the effect that the local people have on that night is not alien to those on the ice.
“During warmups, we’d say, ‘They’re fired tonight.’ Let’s go guys!” said Penguins radio broadcaster Phil Bourque, a forward for the team in the ’80s and ’90s. “You just knew it was a little different in the building. That’s all you need as a individual and as a group of alpha males. When you see a bunch of people who are pretty fired up in warmups, you know it’s not just one of the 82 (games).
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