During it’s tenure in the Steel City, the retractable roof the old Civic Arena came equipped with was rarely used. In fact, generations have gone by since the last time the roof was open. And we’re not counting that time Jean Claude Van Damme saved the Stanley Cup Finals (that’s a different topic and movie for a different time).
On August 25, 1994 the Civic Arena roof opened to the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey (minus the ‘wooo!’ chants)…while the Pittsburgh Phantoms played the Minnesota Arctic Blast. It was the first time the stainless steel dome was opened for a professional hockey game. Our fabled Pittsburgh Phantoms. I feel I may need to explain.
The Pittsburgh Phantoms were a professional roller hockey team that played in the now defunct Roller Hockey International. Roller Hockey International was a professional inline hockey league that operated in North America from 1993 to 1999. It was the first major professional league for inline hockey. RHI hoped to capitalize on the inline skating boom of the early 1990s, but lost steam as the fad died down. The team got its name from the legendary “Steel Phantom” roller coaster located at Kennywood Park. At the time of the team’s inception, the Steel Phantom was the tallest and fastest steel roller coaster in the world. Even the logo was heavily inspired by the roller coaster’s logo seen at the entrance to the ride.
The Phantoms only lasted 22 games, but had a couple bits of history the team could attach itself to. Along with being the first professional hockey game to play with the Civic Arena opened up, the Phantoms were a part of the first game to feature two female goaltenders going head-to-head. On July 13th, 1994, Erin Whitten, formerly with the Detroit Red Wings organization, became first woman to play professional hockey in the city of Pittsburgh. Her starting role matched her up against former Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Manon Rheaume, who was playing for the New Jersey Rockin Rollers’. Rheaume made 24 saves to beat the Phantoms 10-7 in their first franchise loss.
The Phantoms have been long gone, and even the Civic Arena is nothing more than a memory these days. However, the franchise’s short 22-game existence left quite the mark on Pittsburgh sports history books, breaking barriers and blazing trails like the Steel City always does.
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