[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
By: Ashley Chase
1. Penguin Pete
The Penguins introduced the NHL’s first and only live animal mascot, “Penguin Pete,” in February of 1968, their inaugural season. CCM reportedly made custom ice skates for Pete, an Ecuadorian-born Penguin on loan from the Pittsburgh Zoo, so he could learn to skate out ahead of the team.
Pete made two appearances in the first season and was supposed to be around for a lot more during the second. Pete appeared at seven games that second year before, incredibly, it was reported that Pete was gravely ill with pneumonia at the zoo.
Pete died on November 23, 1968. He was so beloved that the Penguins sent him to a taxidermist and had Pete stuffed displayed in a trophy case at the arena – until someone stole him.
Pete’s whereabouts are still unknown. Maybe for the team’s 50th anniversary season, someone will #BringPeteHome
Another live Penguin was loaned to the team and lasted until the 1971-72 season.
WAIT FOR IT…
2. Civic Arena
One of the strangest things about the Penguins for years was their venue. The Igloo, home of the Penguins from 1967 to 2010 and beloved by fans, had a retractable roof. The building was designed to house the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in 1961, and the retractable roof was meant to protect patrons from the elements while allowing them to enjoy performances under the stars when the weather allowed.
When the NHL expanded and awarded Pittsburgh a franchise, the giant igloo-like structure made “Penguins” a natural choice for the new hockey club’s name. The Civic Arena was also home to a dozen pro sports franchises ranging from roller derby to roller hockey, lacrosse and tennis, and a number of tennis legends had the opportunity to play under Pittsburgh’s night sky.
Alas, no hockey legends ever did.
Outdoor games have become all the rage, and now there are so many you can’t actually remember what the game is called or when it’s happening, but the Blackhawks are definitely playing in it. So, the question forever remains – why didn’t the Penguins ever play a game at The Igloo with the roof open? To have a retractable roof all that time and never go for it seems inconceivable, considering how heavily a novelty like that could have been marketed at the time.
The last time the roof was fully retracted was 1995 – except for a glimpse of an opening in 2010 as the building was demolished.
3. The Night the Lights Went Out
Speaking of the old Igloo, remember the time the power went out in the old barn, underscoring the club’s need for a new home?
In March of 2006, there were two power outages during a game against the Maple Leafs, causing a 45-minute delay. Some sort of issue caused the first outage and the Penguins tried to use an alternate source of power to get the game going again. When they did that, the power company flipped a switch and blew out the alternate power.
“My first thought was we need a new arena,” former Penguins President and CEO Ken Sawyer said to the Pittsburgh Tribune.
Everyone in attendance had pretty much the same idea, chanting “new arena” during the delay. The Pens actually came up with some source of power to fire up the Jumbotron with a video that showed their plans for a new arena.
When the power was restored, the scoreless game resumed and Toronto won 1-0 on a penalty shot.
4. Sudden Death
I don’t know if the fact that the movie “Sudden Death” exists is weird so much as it is awesome. I realize Anaheim is actually a Disney movie but, as great as “Mighty Ducks” is, it’s missing one vital element: Jean Claude Van Damme.
“Sudden Death” is basically what would happen if you set “Die Hard” against the backdrop of a hockey game. Van Damme plays an ex-firefighter serving as fire marshal for the Civic Arena, who has to save Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Penguins and Blackhawks from a group of terrorists planning to blow up the building.
Karen and Howard Baldwin, then-owners of the Penguins, wrote and produced the movie, respectively.
At one point, Van Damme takes on the woman terrorist dressed as Iceburgh, the Penguin’s current, not-a-live-Penguin mascot, in a kitchen fight scene sure to traumatize the youths.
The NHL actually agreed to let a Penguins home game against the Blackhawks be filmed for the movie, but the 1994 lockout put the kibosh on that. Instead, the Penguins had their minor-league team at the time, the Cleveland Lumberjacks, come play an exhibition game wearing Blackhawks uniforms so the game parts of the movie could be filmed. But the teams didn’t look like they hated each other enough, so they staged a second scrimmage between the ECHL’s Wheeling Thunderbirds and Johnstown Chiefs in January of 1995 to get the footage they needed.
The whole movie is over the top and ridiculous, but that’s what makes it awesome. Plus, you actually get to see the Igloo’s roof open a bit, when they send a helicopter crashing through it and onto the ice.
5. Pittsburgh Chainsaw Massacre (sort of)
We don’t often hear much about him, but Penguins defenseman Bryan “Bugsy” Watson is among the most hated Penguins of all time. Watson had 871 penalty minutes in just 303 games, so his coaches likely hated him as much as the opposing players. But he was also a classic agitator, making a reputation for provoking opponents into going off to the penalty box with him.
It was well-known in the 1970s that Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe absolutely despised Watson, but they also considered him as tough a guy as they came. Here’s a weird incident that backs them up.
Watson nearly lost his arm in a chainsaw accident shortly after retiring. When Howe learned of this news, legend says his reaction was, “Oh yeah? How’s the chainsaw doing?”
(In some retellings of this story, it’s Hull with the great one-liner. That would make sense, being that Watson was a thorn in Hull’s side as his assigned shadow in the 1966 playoffs between his Detroit Red Wings and Hull’s Chicago Blackhawks.)
Watson and his wife Lindy went on to open a pizzeria and sports bar called Bugsy’s in Alexandria, Virginia. Hopefully they kept Watson away from the sharp cutlery.
Previous Weird NHL Posts: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton | Florida | Los Angeles | Minnesota | Montreal | Nashville | New Jersey | New York Islanders | New York Rangers | Ottawa | Philadelphia
– – – – – – –
About the author: Ashley Chase works in media relations for Robert Morris University men’s hockey in Pittsburgh and is a freelance journalist covering the Penguins for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. You can find her on twitter @AshleyChaseTV.