PITTSBURGH -- Touring a football stadium turned into a hockey rink for the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series was enough fun for a group of Pittsburgh students Friday.
After seeing the sights at Heinz Field, however, the children received a surprise. Derek King, NHL senior manager of facilities operations, asked how many of the students from grades 6-12 at University Preparatory School in Pittsburgh planned to attend the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 25 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).
After none responded, King held up a pack of tickets. The students reacted appropriately, jumping and shouting, with one particularly enthusiastic child dropping to his knees.
"Oh gosh, I couldn't wait," said Alyssa Mahramus, a school manager for EverFi, an educational technology company that helps create digital online programming. "I knew about it the whole time, so to hear the reaction and just to see their faces, to know that we're invested in them, is a good feeling."
Each of the students has participated in the NHL/NHLPA Future Goals Hockey Scholar Program. EverFi worked with University Prep to implement the online educational course, which uses hockey to explain real-life applications of science, technology, engineering and math.
The students were given details on how the Stadium Series crew used the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Ice Plant, a 53-foot trailer that holds ice-making and ice-monitoring equipment, to show how science and math are applied outside of a classroom.
"It's a really nice connection for [the students] between a community member [the Penguins] that we're so excited about and how that science and math really comes to life," Mahramus said. "Those abstract concepts are fun and it's a different way to learn. … To say, 'OK, this is what I've learned online and this is how to connect it with the real world,' really opened their eyes."
Before the tickets surprise, the students were already having quite a trip. After viewing the field from the press box, they were taken into the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room, which has been separated into three sections. One is being used as the Penguins locker room and the other two turned into training and equipment rooms.
Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot, took a picture with the students before they were led through the visiting NFL locker room, which has been configured similarly for use by the Flyers, and then back to a staff room.
Blueprints that disclosed details regarding the final field design covered the room's far wall. A large mock Fort Pitt Bridge, an arched, golden bridge, will encompass the field with the rink in the middle.
The construction crew was building the upper arch to the bridge above the rink's far wall when the tour came through.
"We've been here for a few days now," King said. "The guys worked until about [2 a.m. Friday], so it was a little bit of a longer day than we expected. … We'll start putting in longer hours in the evenings just to get ahead of schedule."
The kids walked to a back parking lot, where they looked inside the Ice Plant.
"I think this is more of an educational tour to see what actually goes into making the sheet of ice," King said. "It's a little bit of science with the refrigeration and the glycol, and the pumps and compressors that we're using to build the sheet of ice."
The students also were taken to the field, where they got an up-close look at the ice, which was covered by a reflective blanket. King then presented the tickets before the University Prep group took one last photo with Iceburgh in front of the rink, with the open end of Heinz Field as the backdrop.
"It was pretty cool," King said. "Every build we do is amazing. So to have an interaction with the kids and see how excited they were is amazing. It was a really fun experience to be here."