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Heinz History Center exhibit celebrates Penguins, Pittsburgh hockey, local Olympians

Jonathan Bombulie

When U.S. Paralympic gold medalist Dan McCoy stopped by the Heinz History Center on Thursday morning, it was like he was visiting an old friend.

McCoy, a Cheswick native, was in attendance for a preview of the museum’s new exhibit, “A Great Day for Hockey,” which will open to the public Saturday. In addition to a multitude of artifacts from the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins and pro hockey in the city, the exhibit will also include an area dedicated to Olympians with local ties.

That’s where McCoy was reunited with the first sled he ever played hockey in.

“We called it the coffin because it’s just a wooden bucket,” McCoy joked.

For years, it had been in the possession of Sue Birkmire from Shriner’s Hospital in Erie, who started the program that became the Mighty Penguins sled hockey team more than two decades ago.

Now it’s on display for all hockey fans to see at the museum, juxtaposed with the modern, high-tech sled he used at the 2014 Paralympics in South Korea.

“I felt 5 years old seeing it again, reliving the memories of that,” McCoy said.

Reliving childhood memories is a big part of the appeal of the exhibit, which expands and showcases in a new light the hockey-related collection the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum has displayed since its opening in 2004.

From the warm-up jacket coach “Badger” Bob Johnson wore during the 1991 season to sticks, helmets and jerseys from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the meat of the exhibit is memorabilia related to the five Stanley Cup championships the Penguins have won.

A vast collection of goalie masks on loan from Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze spans every era of the team’s existence.

The exhibit also includes a life-size statue of Mario Lemieux lifting the Stanley Cup over his head.

“The who’s who in the hockey world has been through Pittsburgh. We’ve been very fortunate,” said Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse. “When you see it all together, you realize we’ve been able to witness history here.”

For Morehouse, a Beechview native, artifacts related to Lemieux stirred up memories of attending games at the Civic Arena as a man in his 20s.

“Looking at the clip of Mario scoring, I remember it was like a Pavlov’s dog thing. If Mario got the puck over center ice, you counted the goal,” Morehouse said. “I don’t know what his percentage was – I bet he could tell you – but on a breakaway, he scored.”

The exhibit includes artifacts from the pre-Penguins era of the city’s hockey history, including bricks from Duquesne Gardens, which first hosted pro hockey in 1915, and a jersey won by Willie Marshall of the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets in the 1950s. It also spotlights the Pittsburgh Pennies, a traveling women’s hockey team from the 1970s.

As the team’s vice president of communications, few people are more well-versed in the history of the Penguins than Tom McMillan. The exhibit reminded him, however, of the breadth and depth of the sport’s history in the area.

“It’s been here for a long time. There were forebearers of the Penguins and women’s hockey and now it’s expanding all other sorts of hockey,” McMillan said. “I think one day we’ll have a display in here of all the Pittsburgh players in the NHL, whether they played for the Penguins or not.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.


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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A wax figure of Mario Lemieux is seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Hockey jerseys are seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A turnstile from Civic Arena is seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A replica of the Stanley Cup is seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Hockey sticks are seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Hockey goalie masks are seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Hockey jerseys are seen on display as part of a new exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Jan. 24, 2019.