The last time Pens players saw their future practice and training facility at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex was long before they left for the summer, and Rob Scuderi
admitted he couldn’t visualize the finished product at that time.
“It was still very much a structure at that point, a construction project,” said Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan. “The ones who are going to see it this next week are going to be blown away.”
McMillan has been absolutely right.
Scuderi was one of many current and former Pens players and staff members who were invited to a VIP grand opening ceremony on Friday, which kicked off a weekend of events leading up to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex opening its doors to the public on Monday – and he was left almost speechless after touring the building.
“Being in this new place, the Penguins certainly spared no expense,” Scuderi said. “It’s a beautiful place. There’s really not much more I can say about it. It’s really an unbelievable facility.”
He and Marc-Andre Fleury – the longest-tenured Penguin on the roster – started their careers playing games at Mellon Arena and practicing at the Iceoplex at Southpointe. Now they’ll be based out of two gorgeous arenas at CONSOL Energy Center and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and their facilities there are “identical.”
“We’ve been used to a little bit different of a practice facility,” Fleury said with a laugh. “It just feels like we’re at CONSOL and the locker room, the change room, where we have breakfast, everything. And that’s just our room, right? We have two sheets of ice and the gym up there, and our gym back here is awesome too. We’re very fortunate to have this place.”
While those two may have more perspective than most guys on the current roster, they’ve got a long way to go before they accumulate the decades worth of experience that someone like Eddie Johnston has.
Johnston has done so much for the Pens organization over the last 30-something years in a variety of roles, including head coach, assistant coach, general manager, assistant GM and senior advisor.
Before that, he played in 591 NHL career games as a goaltender, including 11 straight seasons with the Boston Bruins – where he was teammates with the legendary Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk and won a pair of Stanley Cup championships during the franchise’s heyday.
You would think Johnston has seen it all during his long career on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office. But that’s not true.
“I’ve really never seen anything like this,” Johnston said. “It’s terrific. You look at the dressing rooms and they’ve got a couple of dressing rooms for the kids in the Pens Elite program that’s better than any dressing room I’ve ever played in in my life (laughs).”
The year before Johnston drafted Mario Lemieux – the living legend the facility is named after – first overall in 1984, Paul Steigerwald was working for the Pens as their director of marketing. He went out to the team’s training camp in Johnstown, where the building was dealing with a big issue.
“The ice-making equipment broke, so there was no ice for training camp,” Steigerwald reflected with a smile. “So we’ve gone from no ice in ’83 when Mario got here to Mario coming in ’84 and the culmination being this ridiculous facility.”
While the Pens’ setup is incredible, Steigerwald was impressed with the entire complex as a whole.
“You walk through it and you are amazed at the attention to detail,” Steigerwald said. “That’s what blew me away. They didn’t forget anything. I think the fact that several of the members of management have kids who play, I think that helped. Because they knew what things to look for and want for kids.
“But then you look at what the Penguins have, the team itself, and it’s beyond what any other NHL team has. To me, it’s beyond state-of-the-art. It’s like a statement of the art. Nobody else what we have now in Pittsburgh and there are only certain things that teams can do to lure free agents. I think word’s going to get around the league really fast about how the Penguins just have the gold standard in terms of taking care of their players and creating the right environment for hockey. Not just for their own players, but for their families and community at large.”