Why do the penguins play so many games on Thanksgiving Eve?

Thanksgiving is synonymous with many traditions.

Football, family and feasting.

The night before Thanksgiving also has some traditions.

Mostly going out to restaurants and drinking in a way you wouldn’t normally do on a weeknight.

Or go to a Pittsburgh Penguins game.

In their first 55 years of existence, the Penguins have played a Thanksgiving Eve game 48 times, 43 of them in the friendly rooms of Civic Arena or PPG Paints Arena.

This “tradition” will continue with Wednesday’s home game against the Calgary Flames.

Captain Sidney Crosby has appeared in several of these games since joining the franchise in 2005. The atmosphere is something that sets it apart.

“I remember some of those games were fun games and people got interested in them,” Crosby said. “Usually the games always seem to be a little bit more exciting over the holidays, definitely.”

What’s not certain is how the Penguins managed to get so many Thanksgiving home games in their more than half-century existence.

It may not be correct to call it a “tradition” per se. It’s more of a clash of circumstances that has led to the penguins hosting so many times the night before the holiday.

American teams typically have more trouble selling tickets for early-season games when they are forced to compete with the NFL. So apparently from the start, the Penguins asked the league to give them home games the day before Thanksgiving. And given that Pittsburgh is relatively close to other Eastern Conference locations, especially for Western Conference opponents on long trips to the eastern part of the continent, the visitor on a multi-city road trip can find it convenient to see a road game in Pittsburgh to plan.

In their inaugural season, 1967-68, the Penguins achieved one of their first wins against one of the so-called “Original Six” franchises when they defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 on November 22, 1967 at Civic Arena.

From that point on, the penguins were almost always home on Thanksgiving, at least the night before.

In all, the Penguins have not played seven times on Thanksgiving Eve, and four of those have involved some sort of schedule disruption (three due to lockdown and in 2020 the pandemic had much of the world on hold).

In the 1970s, the pre-Thanksgiving game became something of an event because it was one of the relatively few times the Penguins had a sellout (or close to it) in their pre-Mario Lemieux days.

“Back in the 1970s — maybe part of the early 1980s — when there weren’t very many sell-offs, it always seemed like the automatic sell-off,” said Tom McMillian, Penguins’ former vice president of communications. “You always talked about college kids being home and people being home for the holidays. It was always such a festive atmosphere before Penguins hockey got big in Pittsburgh.

“It has continued. In this period of many, many sell-offs, this was probably less noticeable. It wasn’t that noticeable. But it’s quite unique.”

Even in the Lemieux years, as well as the eras that saw superstars like Jaromir Jagr, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the penguins always seem to be home for the (night before) the holiday.

Their last away game before Thanksgiving was a 6-1 away win over the New York Rangers on November 23, 2016. Since then they have played four straight home games (with the 2020 pandemic gap).

The Penguins request specific dates from the scheduler, and they’re certainly not the only ones asking to play home games the night before Thanksgiving. They are simply more successful with their inquiries than other franchise companies.

“They give available dates well before the start of the season when they’re making the schedule,” McMillian said. “The penguins have always been lucky enough to get this date. Of course, everyone loves the 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 draws). But the impact the home crowd is having that night is not hidden from those on the ice.

“During the warm-up, we said, ‘You’re cheered tonight. Let’s go boys!’” said Penguins radio announcer Phil Bourque, a forward for the team in the 1980s and 1990s. “You just knew that it was a bit different in the building. That’s all you need as an individual and as a group of alpha males. When you see a bunch of people getting pretty hot during the warm up, you know it’s not just one of 82 (games).

Follow the penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a contributor to the Tribune Review. You can contact Seth via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


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