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By now I’m sure you all know that I am a Penguins fan. It may be the one team, in the one sport, where I am a true “homer.”

But alas this will be the last article for many months where you have to endure my Penguin focused trumpeting. Because finally, like Casey in the children’s baseball story, the Mighty Penguins have struck out.

It came, appropriately, as the ends of dynasties generally do, at the hands of their biggest and most vengeful rivals. After playing the Apollo Creed to Pittsburgh’s Rocky Balboa two years in a row, and three times since 2009, The Washington Capitals finally usurped their Penguin nemeses.

But this is not a post-mortem. This is not a history lesson. This is a thank you letter. So let me take a moment to say why this group of men will live on forever, though the dream is now dead.

Pittsburgh Penguins players celebrate after defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 (above) and the Nashville Predators 2-0 (below) in back to back years of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final (2016 and 2017)

It began in December 2015. It ended on May 7th, 2018. In between was a run unlike any we’ve seen in hockey since 1998. 697 days as Stanley Cup Champions. A nucleus of players that seemed to comprise the perfect locker room. A style of play that combined unparalleled skill with underdog size and a heart to match. A mantra, Just Play, that embodied the best parts of sports. A coach who seemed to understand his players as if they were his children. And a captain who was not only the best player in the world, but a man who had grown into the ultimate leader. 531 consecutive sellouts. Two Stanley Cup parades to the river. And a city that will remember and revel in this group forever.

And maybe that is this team’s greatest legacy. The bond that the team has forged with its fans and its city.

In a town with a reputation for being sports-spoiled rotten, these Penguins finally got it through our thick skulls. This is special. Don’t blink. Not even for a second. And if one thing is evident in the aftermath of the dream finally ending, it’s that the fans have taken it to heart.

Mere minutes after the Penguins left it all on the ice, coming up just short to the Capitols in OT, the crowd erupted. Not in boos. Not in groans. Not in screams of despair or tears of loss. The crowd erupted in cheers. That crowd roared louder than I may have ever heard in that building. It was louder even than the cheers I heard at the second of those Cup winning parade. “Let’s Go Pens” echoed loud enough to shake the rafters. Though the dream had ended and there was nothing left to root for, that crowd wanted its boys of winter to know how much they were loved, and how they would never be forgotten.

I count myself just a humble one of those fans that owe a lot to Crosby, Malkin, Murray, Hornqvist, Sullivan, and the rest of this band of brothers. And I cannot speak to what this team meant to the other individuals who cheer for the black and gold. But I know why they were special to me.

Over the past two years and five months, they have been the constant in my life. I graduated from college and began a new chapter in my life. I moved to a new city, one where I felt very much alone. I watched as my father needed, received, and recovered from a double lung transplant. I dealt with my own crippling fears of inadequacy. And through it all, when I was at my lowest, I knew, however nonsensical it was, that I had these Penguins to turn to. They were my escape, they were my drug, they were my connection to my family and my home. And they will hold that place in my heart for a long time.

The reign of the Mighty Pittsburgh Penguin is over. But for those of us that watched with baited breath, who savored every moment of what this organization and this group of Penguins accomplished, it will never be forgotten.

So Thank you. Thank you for everything.

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