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The Consol Energy Center (CEC for short) opened its doors in August 2010. The building kicked off the hockey season with a bang when the Penguins' interstate rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, came to town.
Since then, fans who have come through the doors of the Consol Energy Center have seen many great games and have helped the Penguins continue their streak of sell-out 201 consecutive home games.
I was fortunate enough to visit the arena for Sunday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. Although it was my third time in Pittsburgh, it was my first visit to the CEC. Our bus dropped us off at 12:30, roughly two and a half hours before game time, leaving us plenty of time to take in the location.
The first thing we noticed is that the area around the arena still needs some work. The surrounding neighborhood had a few bars, but was mostly run-down, and many of the businesses, such as small cafes, were not open on weekends.
When we were walking towards the entrance to the arena, I noticed that there were banners hanging on the streetlights that had every player’s name and number on them. Each player had his own banner, which I thought was a nice touch.
Since the doors had not yet opened for fans to find their seats, we first went to the Pens Gear store, which we could access through the Trib Total Media gate. (Yes, every gate is sponsored.)
The store was very spacious and was brightly lit, certainly a huge difference from Pens Station at the old Mellon Arena. The store featured merchandise typical of other shops in NHL arenas, including player name and number t-shirts, a wide range of jerseys, hooded sweatshirts and hats. They also had novelties such as pucks, pennants, jewelry and framed photos.
Once I was finished in the store, I went to the Penguins All-Time team display. This is one of the CEC’s many interactive areas. The All-Time Team had been selected through a fan vote prior to the season, and the touch screen allowed you to read a player’s biography, scroll through pictures and watch archived videos. You could also see statistics from their Penguins career.
Another display in the area, called Champion's Moments, played highlights from the Penguins Stanley Cup years and other playoff runs. Some of the available videos from recent history included Marc-Andre Fleury's save on Alexander Ovechkin in Game Seven of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals and Sidney Crosby lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time.
At 1:30, an hour and a half before game time, the doors opened for fans to get to their seats. Once our tickets were scanned, we headed up the escalator to the main concourse. Just off the elevator was a display of a giant hockey stick. This was another unique touch. The concourse also had the world’s largest goalie mask, and kids were having fun getting their picture taken while standing inside the mask.
Our seats were in section 115. The ushers were very friendly and helped us find our seats quickly. One usher even started to walk us down and had another usher meet us to even show us where to turn into our row.
The seats were black and padded. They were very comfortable, and even though we ended up having a full row, there was still ample space to move around and put your stuff under your chair. I found this to be a refreshing change from the Igloo, where it felt like you were sitting on your neighbor’s lap and the arm handles were wooden. Those seats were also mostly bright orange and faded.
The only thing I didn’t like was that because the seats were on bleachers, there were no cup holders. These seats are retracted for other arena events as needed, and it is difficult to take the seats back when you have cup holders attached. However, this was a very small negative, because as I said, I still had plenty of space to put my drink without worrying about myself or someone else spilling it.
The concourses were very wide and easy to walk on, even at intermission when the majority of fans were walking around. The variety of concessions included several brand names such as Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen and Pittsburgh’s famous Primanti’s.
Although I had been to Pittsburgh before, I had yet to try a Primanti’s sandwich. This was a perfect time to try one. I opted for the roast beef sandwich. The staff was very efficient, and I had my sandwich in a very quick period of time after ordering. The girl who answered my questions about the sandwich was well spoken and knew a lot about the food.
The concession prices ran pretty typical of most arenas. A souvenir soda was $5.50, while my Primanti's sandwich was $7.75.
I can’t compare a Primanti’s sandwich served at the arena to one served at a restaurant, but I really did enjoy it. It was a little messy, but my friend told me that Primanti’s is always messy.
Another nice touch on the concourse was the Highmark Wall of Champions. This featured jerseys from area high school and junior hockey teams. If you are interested in hockey jersey history, it was very easy to tell which jerseys were based off which NHL teams’ templates.
The in-game experience was pretty good. Although the Penguins have a somewhat unnecessary ice crew, they weren’t over the top and didn’t ruin or add to the experience. Iceburgh, the Penguins’ mascot, fits the team identity well, but he was mostly invisible during the game and did not do much to get the crowd pumped up.
The Jumbotron is state of the art. The screens are in high definition, so you could see everything going on just as you were if you were at home watching the game on TV.
If I were grading the Consol Energy Center on a scale of one to 10, I would give it an 8.5. Everything inside is shiny and brand new, but I missed some of the little conveniences like cup holders.
The CEC also loses points for having limited restaurants and shops around the building, so I would like to see some improvements in that area. However, I understand Pittsburgh would like to do something like this, but there are problems getting the projects started.
I am already looking forward to visiting the CEC in 2012!