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Penguins unveil UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex

by Wes Crosby

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- With the opening of the 185,000-square-foot UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Pittsburgh Penguins hope to be considered to host the NHL Draft Combine in the future.

The Penguins' new practice facility, which will also serve as a public skating rink, sports medicine clinic and physical therapy center, was unveiled Friday and will open to the public Monday. Unlike in seasons past, when they primarily practiced at Consol Energy Center when not on the road, Pittsburgh is expected to skate at the complex for each practice this season.

With the perceived advantages the facility provides, the Penguins have expectations for it to become more than a practice rink.

"I think it gives us the opportunity to potentially host the NHL Draft Combine, because we'd be the only facility where you wouldn't have to bring in the medical testing; we already have it here," Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. "We've already talked to the NHL about that. We're certainly going to be in the bidding for the World Cup of Hockey training camps. We think those kind of events that we wouldn't have been able to access before, this gives us an opportunity to do those things.

"Those are snippets. But it's just nice to know you have that kind of facility."

Within the complex's half-mile perimeter are two full-size hockey rinks, one specifically for the Penguins and one for public use; a sports medicine clinic with 24 private patient rooms; a physical therapy gym that overlooks Pittsburgh's practice rink; on-site MRI and X-ray imaging; 1,500 square feet of hockey-skills training space; and 14 locker rooms.

Of those 14 locker rooms, one is an exact replica of the Penguins' at Consol Energy Center. Certain aspects, including the distance from the ceiling beams to the ice matching the distance between Consol Energy Center's scoreboard and its ice, were adjusted to the finest detail to make the Penguins feel as familiar with the facility as possible.

"To be a part of creating this, I think is exciting for the organization," McMillan said. "I think that as much as we told people the past two years that it was going to be more than a practice rink, I don't think you can really get that sense until you walk in and see. … We joked that if you took one of our players, blindfolded them and spun them around, they wouldn't know if they were at Consol Energy Center or UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

"They're going to feel very much at home."

The last time any of the Penguins saw the facility, it was a construction site, McMillan said. Some players could see the completed complex for the first time within the next few days.

"I think they're going to be wowed. I think they're going to enjoy it," McMillan said. "They've seen some of the photos. … We knew this was a place where you could talk about it and show drawings and show pictures, but until you really get in here and see the totality of it, you don't really understand what's in here.

"Commissioner [Gary] Bettman said it's going to be a revolutionary place, and I think that's going to be the case."

The main advantage the Penguins and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center think the complex provides is the ability to house an NHL team and its sports medicine partner under the same roof. The goal is to make injury treatment and rehabilitation as streamlined as possible, by providing specialties, including concussion specialists, within the confines of Pittsburgh's practice facility.

"Imagine this for the Penguins: Imagine someone gets hurt or someone tweaks something, they have their doctors provide excellent care, but we're going to walk them over from this sheet of ice to our MRI facility and we're going to diagnose them right away," said Dr. Vonda Wright, the complex's medical director. "And then once we know the diagnosis, we're going to walk them right up to their therapist or decide on a treatment plan immediately.

"There is complete and total continuity of care. … It takes multiple kinds of doctors. So in this building, I've chosen doctors that actually already work with the Penguins -- the hand surgeons, the foot surgeons, the spine surgeons, the concussion doctors; they're all here. We've built a team that takes care of the team."

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