As if the May calendar weren’t already packed with graduations, weddings, final exams, vacations and Mother’s Day, along come the Penguins, elbowing their way into the schedule with up to seven Eastern Conference playoff games against Philadelphia.
Not that anyone’s complaining about the prospect of another national championship for Pittsburgh and the excitement that goes with it. But all these late entries into the best-laid plans are creating some serious dilemmas for hockey fans with their eyes on the Stanley Cup.
Pity poor Rose Reinhart, for example. She’s associate provost at California University of Pennsylvania, which is having its graduate school commencement tonight — the first playoff game against the Flyers.
“If I could get out of it I would in a heartbeat, but it’s my job to read the names of the graduates aloud, so I’m stuck,” said Dr. Reinhart.
“There are about 125 students,” she added. “I’m planning on reading the names really fast so we can get out of there quickly and catch the rest of the game. And I’ll be wearing my lucky Penguins shirt under my cap and gown.”
John Unice of Mt. Lebanon has what he calls “the mother of all scheduling conflicts” — he and his wife are expecting twins any day now. A season ticket holder, he’s been able to make the games so far and is hoping the babies delay their appearance for an away game.
“If not, I’m in trouble,” he said, “because I understand the TVs at Magee Womens Hospital don’t get Versus,” the cable channel that will carry most of the Penguins games.
Nic Pakler, a Pittsburgh native working on Wall Street, is in a bit of a fix himself. He promised his girlfriend nine months ago that they’d travel to France and Belgium May 9 to 17 — a time period covering the first four games and possibly the entire series, depending on the outcome.
“I should have known better,” he said with a bitter laugh. But Mr. Pakler has a tool that wasn’t available the last time the Pens won the Stanley Cup in 1992.
“How will I deal? I have my BlackBerry, or shall I say my hand-held Pens portal,” he said. “Each time my girlfriend turns her back to get a closer look at a Monet or Rodin, I will take a closer look at a Malkin or Roberts. I will shed a small tear, overwhelmed with sadness that I am not watching the game in high-definition with surround sound.
“My girlfriend will turn around, see my watery eyes, love me for an instant as she thinks I am moved by the artwork, and then hate my guts as she watches my tear land on the screen of my BlackBerry.”
John Beighel of Kennedy thought it was safe to book a Mediterranean cruise for May 17 to June 2. It never occurred to him that the young team he was watching early in the season would catch fire.
“There’s no canceling the cruise,” he said, “but I will need to make sure the ship has ESPN or a news station to catch the scores or highlights. Better yet, maybe it has Internet access.”
His missing the games might actually be a good thing for the Pens, he said. “I was in Italy when they beat the Blackhawks in 1992, so maybe this is a good omen.”
As for his tickets, “I’ll let my sons fight over them.”
Mark Hanna, organizer of the New York City Pittsburgh Penguins meetup group, postponed a trip to Ireland by a week so he could see the Pens/Rangers series. Now he’s in a pinch because he’s going to miss part of the Flyers series.
“My girlfriend is on the verge of breaking up with me because I’m going to the bars with my group for every game,” he said. “I come home late and a little tipsy. I haven’t sent in a reply for a wedding invite yet because I don’t want to be stuck in a suit listening to bad ’80s music while the Pens are skating to victory.”
Ric Peralta of Los Angeles has a dilemma of his own. His daughter is being baptized on Sunday, which will also be his wife’s first Mother’s Day.
“At least they’re both Penguins fans,” he said, “but I’ll be going a little nuts waiting for the family gathering to end so we can go watch the game.”
Even the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had to bow to the Penguins schedule. The medical giant had planned to put its new sign atop the U.S. Steel Building on April 20, but it needed the Mellon Arena lot as a helicopter staging ground and the Pens games interfered. The date was postponed a week, but the uncertainty of the schedule intervened again. UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz said they may try again this weekend.
Several people said they’ve moved, rescheduled or canceled major events that conflict with the playoffs. Some have rearranged their work hours or called in sick. A handful of law students say they’re blowing off studying for their final exams. A golfer is giving up a pre-paid trip to Pebble Beach in California. And fans living in Europe report that the time difference is wreaking havoc with their sleep.
“The 1 a.m. face-off time means I go to bed around 4 a.m., barring overtime,” said Steve Binder of Vienna, Austria. “Which is nice, when the alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m.”
Michael Firda of West View is getting married this weekend in — of all places — Philadelphia, hometown of his future wife. The rehearsal dinner is Friday night, so his mother moved the location to a restaurant with a TV.
Chris Slezak had a big Mother’s Day weekend planned for his mom’s visit to Dallas. Now he’s canceled Friday dinner reservations at a five-star restaurant in favor of a friendlier sports venue, and Sunday’s spa day has morphed into a Penguins tailgate party. He swears his mom is a true-blue Pittsburgher who doesn’t mind the changes.
Two fathers said they’ll be angling to work the playoff games into family trips to mouse country. Lee Middleton, a Pens fan living deep in Flyers country, will be at Disney World with his wife and two children, ages 4 and 2.
“I’ve asked my wife’s permission to slip out the nights the games are on,” he said. “She sort of gave me a laugh. I’m taking that as a yes. What she doesn’t know is that the Pens are on three times while we’re down there.”
Pat Bramble, a native of Wheeling, W.Va. who lives in Las Vegas, will be in Disneyland for his daughter’s seventh birthday this weekend. He’s plotting an early arrival on Friday so he can catch the game at ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney, and an early departure on Sunday so they can be home by game time.
Michael Janicki of Woodbridge, Va., has already suffered for his Pens loyalty. While attending a Shakespeare play when he really wanted to be watching the Rangers game, he had his cell phone confiscated by an usher who saw him checking his text messages — even though the ringer was off.
“At intermission I got it back and took it into the men’s room,” he said.
Judy Majeski of Washington, Pa., a season ticket holder for more than 10 years who met her husband at a Penguins game, summed up the feelings of many fans.
“The problem isn’t the Pens games conflicting with my schedule,” she said. “It’s my schedule that conflicts with my Pens games. There’s nothing like playoff hockey. It’s our life.”