Monday, July 15, 2013

Remembering the X Generation

By Jeff

One of the worst times in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins was at the turn of the millennium. The team had no money and were selling off their best players piece by piece for no-named prospects who never amounted to much. The hockey was not very good and the team's record (they didn't record more than 28 wins in a season between 2001-2006) was embarrassing. It even looked like Pittsburgh would lose the team to Kansas City.

So why was this era (also referred to as the Dark Ages by The Pensblog) one of my fondest memories as a Pens and sports fan?

The X Generation was the result of the Pens having no money to keep paying stars like Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka, etc... Instead of these 30 to 50-goal scorers we had guys like Rico Fata, Konstantin Kolstov (The real-life Mendoza of "D2: The Mighty Ducks"), Milan Kraft, Kris Beech, Josef Melichar and Dick Tarnstrom to name a few. Not a single one of them is still in the NHL, and most of them didn't last more more than a season after the lockout.

So again, how did the Pens organization sell me on this group of AHL players. Seriously, there may have been a few diamonds on these teams like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, but for the most part the Pens were fielding a bad AHL team and asking people to buy tickets.

What made this era so much fun was a combination of just that stage of my life and the team making some brilliant marketing moves.

The X Generation coincided with my high school years. Basically, for the first time in my life, I could go downtown with friends without needing a ride from parents or any kind of supervision. This was also the time in my life where I actually started following the hometown teams, and sports in general, much more closely. Yeah, I would root for the Pittsburgh teams if they were on TV before this time, but I was much more interested in going to movies or playing video games all night. I didn't really care that much about sports results.

But once high school hit, my friends and I began talking sports pretty much non-stop. I had to know my stuff! But why did I begin loving the Pens more than any other team? First, the student rush program they began. You see, the Pens knew their on-ice product was terrible and would have trouble selling tickets. How did they respond? With $20 tickets for anyone could show a student ID. Not only were the seats just $20, but they were the best available seat. As you can imagine, the best available seats to see a terrible team were pretty damn good. My friends and I would get incredible seats rows from the ice that are hundreds of dollars now.

The great, cheap seats were certainly a major factor, but I also started loving the team, even if they sucked. Say what you will about the talent of the X Generation, but every time I went to a game they played their asses off. We didn't see a lot of wins, but we did see guys giving it their all no matter who the opponent was and how few people were in the seats.

If it were not for the X Generation and the clever marketing of the Pens organization, I doubt I would be as big of a fan as I am today. When your team is so terrible for a extended period of time, you really learn to appreciate them when they turn it around and become a constant championship contender. I feel like I grew up with this generation of Pens players and coaches, which is a feeling I've never had toward a sports team before.

And it's all because of the X Generation.

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