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The House that Mario Built

Published: Sunday, September 5, 2010

Updated: Thursday, September 9, 2010 13:09

The Pittsburgh Penguins 2009-2010 season didn't end quite as planned. With their defeat in Game 7 to the 8th seed Montreal Canadians, not only marked the end of another long playoff run but also the end of the 49 year reign of the Igloo.

The Mellon Arena (formerly known as the Civic Arena and nicknamed the Igloo) was constructed in 1961, for use by the Pittsburgh Opera, but later hosted multiple concerts, as well as hockey, basketball, tennis, boxing, WWE/WWF, and soccer matches. Its primary purpose was to serve the Pittsburgh Penguins, the city's National Hockey League (NHL) franchise. A little known fact about the Igloo is that it was the world's first major sports stadium with a retractable roof.

When the Igloo was first built its cost was approximately 22 million US dollars. The arena incorporated 2,950 tons of steel, which mostly came from the city of Pittsburgh.

The Penguins didn't join the NHL until 1967, so the first event host in The Mellon Arena happened September 19, 1961 when the Ice Capades came to town. The arena hosted concerts by many famous artists, including The Beatle, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, KISS and many other equally as famous artists.

There were also many other sporting events, excluding Penguins games, with boxing matches featuring Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.

From 1961 through 1967 the Pittsburgh Hornets, an American Hockey League franchise, where the only hockey team who were able to call the Igloo home.

Then came the 1967 NHL expansion and our Pittsburgh Penguins were born. The city of Pittsburgh was selected to host one of six new NHL franchises. With the hockey seating capacity at 12,508, the Civic Arena (at the point) was eight seats over the NHL's minimum seating benchmark. Due to the outward appearance of the arena, it received the nickname of "The Igloo", which led to the naming of the Penguins.

The Penguins debuted at the Igloo on October 11, 1967 with a 2-1 defeat at the hand of the far superior Montreal Canadians; Andy Bathgate scored the first goal in the new arena. They won their first game at the arena on October 21, 4-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks becoming the first expansion team to beat one of the NHL's Original 6 franchise.

The arena hosted many NHL events, including the 1990 NHL All-Star Game, the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, as well as 1991, 1992, 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Final Games. The 2008 Finals marked the only time the Stanley Cup was presented on Penguin ice, when the Penguins were beat in 6 games by the Detroit Red Wings.

Penguins Owner/Superstar Mario Lemieux bought the team and the arena out of bankruptcy in 1999.

The final game played at the Igloo was a 5-2 defeat at the hand of the Montreal Canadians to eliminate the Penguins from the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs in only the 2nd round. And yes, this means the Canadians both opened and closed the Penguins run at the Igloo; hand out defeats at both events.

The Civic Arena was renamed the Mellon Arena in 1999 when Mellon Financial bought the naming rights, but those rights expired on August 1, 2010, so the Igloo will die with the same name it came in with, but it will forever be known as the Igloo.

Out with the old and in with the new. The chapter on the Igloo has ended and now it's time for the new Consol Energy Center to become the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  

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