Clemente’s Corner: Hockey Collectors Should Make a ‘Pitt’ Stop to Learn Penguins History

Take a stroll through downtown Pittsburgh and there’s a lot of American history to take in. The second-most populous city in Pennsylvania after Philadelphia – known both as “Steel City” for its role in that industry and the “City of Bridges” for its 446 spans – has also plenty of sports history.

Aside from the Steelers and Pirates (sorry football and baseball fans), the Penguins could very well be the team that has left the deepest impression on the city. In fact, the Penguins have also played a vital role in the history of the NHL, especially since Mario Lemieux was drafted by the team in 1984.

Over the next 40 years, the team has made the playoffs 28 times and lifted the Stanley Cup in 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016 and 2017. In the process, fans got to delight in the scoring heroics of Lemieux, then Jaromir Jagr and later Sidney Crosby.

Those five championships – proudly displayed on the façade of PPG Paints Arena – are part of the city’s iconic downtown. But the streets around the arena – usually bustling with fans – are empty these days. The Penguins, for the second straight season, failed to make the postseason.

My travels took me to Pittsburgh last month just as the playoffs got underway. Instead of taking in a game, I went on a search for – what else? – Penguins memorabilia. These collectables are tangible symbols of the impact Lemieux, Jagr and Crosby have had on both the team and city. 

Crosby, as the only active Penguins player in that triumvirate, should hold a special place for all collectors. In the post-Eric Lindros boom years, a decade marked by what’s known as the Junk Wax era, it was Sid the Kid’s NHL debut in 2005 that re-energized the hockey card market.

Crosby’s rookie cardboard – and his Young Guns card in particular – saw many people buying up wax much in the same way we now see with Connor Bedard. While that initial mania over Crosby has somewhat subsided, those rookie cards continue to draw collectors and high values.

2005-06 Sidney Crosby Parkhurst RC #657

The Penguins’ failure to make the postseason probably won’t affect those values all that much – Crosby’s an established star at this point – but a softening could take place in the spring and summer months since he isn’t playing. Some Crosby’s rookie cards that remain within an affordable price range, however, is his McDonald’s Upper Deck, Victory, Parkhurst and MVP releases.   

Crosby aside, Pittsburgh also loves Lemieux and Jagr in a way few cities idolize their hockey heroes. That was part of the fun of walking around the city and taking in this love. In fact, it wasn’t my intention initially to go on a memorabilia quest. It found me.

I didn’t have to go far to run into something. Outside the arena, pennants hanging on lampposts proudly displayed the name of the Penguins’ notable players. I looked up and there was Crosby’s name flapping in the wind. 

[Photo by Clemente Lisi]
The 7-Eleven, located exactly two blocks from the arena, had the usual large fountain drinks, gum and suspicious-looking hot dogs. And yes, an autographed Lemieux jersey hanging on the wall above the aspirin section. I’ve never seen a piece of memorabilia just hanging in a convenient store, even one near a sports venue.  

[Photo by Clemente Lisi]
During a free afternoon, I took the short car ride to Steel City Collectables, one of the biggest sellers of cards and memorabilia in the country. The online seller’s retail store had plenty of hockey cards.

Cards aside, the store had a large collection of signed photos in a variety of sizes. The one that caught my eye was one of Jagr. When I asked the store clerk about it, he said, “We recently had him in here signing for us.” 

In February, the team retired Jagr’s No. 68 in a touching tribute that remains the highlight from an otherwise bad season. While Jagr played for other teams, Pittsburgh remains closest to his heart.

“That was the city that drafted me,” he told “That’s the city where they treated me like I was their kid.”

Jagr’s became just the third number to be raised to the PPG Paints Arena rafters, alongside Lemieux’s No. 66 and the No. 21 of Michel Briere, a third-round pick in the 1969 draft who led the Penguins in scoring as a rookie in their first-ever playoff appearance in 1970. Two weeks after the Penguins were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues, Briere was injured in a car accident outside his hometown of Malartic, Quebec. He died on April 13, 1971.

It’s a tragic chapter in Penguins history that fans still recall, part of the enduring love affair between a city and a team regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not.

Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on X/Twitter @ClementeLisi.

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Author: Clemente Lisi

Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.

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