‘Round about Pittsburgh: Born in an Igloo


Mike Funyak

Consol Energy Center, Home of the Pittsburgh Penguins

In a city that used to be dominated by football, Pittsburgh has finally become a hockey town.  The city has been home to a National Hockey League (NHL) team since 1967.

The Pittsburgh Penguins joined the NHL with the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues in 1967 as an expansion team. The 1967 expansion of the NHL ended the ‘Original Six’ era (when the league had only six teams) and marked the beginning of a new era.  Although the city was awarded a new NHL franchise, the Penguins would soon discover it difficult to replace the once famous American Hockey League (AHL) Pittsburgh Hornets.

The Civic Arena opened in 1961 and was previously the home rink for the Pittsburgh Hornets.  The dome shaped structure would eventually become known as “The Igloo”.  Due to the Civic Arenas nickname, the new franchise would be called The Penguins.

Just like the Civic Arena, the new Pittsburgh Penguins franchise was supported and brought to Pittsburgh with the help of influential Pittsburghers and companies.

The first team logo was never on a jersey until a new alternate jersey was introduced for the 2011 Winter Classic.  Over the first few years, the skating penguins changed looks.  But since the beginning, a skating penguin has been placed over a yellow triangle symbolizing downtown Pittsburghs, “The Golden Triangle”.

In the first few years, the Penguins struggled to find their identity but reached success with the help of players such as Jean Pronovost, Les Binkley, Ab McDonald, Keith McCreary, Val Fonteyne and Ken Schinkel.  The NHL draft of 1969 brought Michel Briere to Pittsburgh.  One of the most talented and most sought after players in the draft came to Pittsburgh and made a huge impact on the team.  Briere would finish third on the team in scoring and would be considered one of the top young players in the league.  Michal Briere’s impact was so big that he helped the Penguins reach the postseason for the first time.

However, Briere would eventually pass away due to severe injuries sustained in a car accident not long after his rookie season had ended.  The bright future of what was hoping was a boost to the Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh was over.  Since 1970, the number 21 has been out of circulation and was officially retired by the Penguins on January 5, 2001. Next time when you visit Consol Energy Center, look up at the rafters and you will see Briere’s retired number.

After Briere’s death, the Penguins would struggle on and off the ice.  In 1975, the franchise would file for bankruptcy just as the former Pittsburgh Pirates hockey did years before. Just as the organization entered financial problems, a glimmer of hope had appeared in the radio booth.