Prior to his arrival in Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma had never heard of dek hockey. The Penguins head coach and Michigan native played ball hockey on basketball courts as a kid, but never the variety that he experienced while helping to build a rink in the city of Pittsburgh’s Banksville Park.
“I think it looks fantastic,” Bylsma said of the new dek rink. “I’ve seen adults, I’ve seen men, I’ve seen women and I’ve seen kids out playing dek hockey. I think it’s awesome.”
Bylsma and other Penguins staff, armed with mallet hammers, gathered in late September to lay the dek in Banksville. A few weeks later the project was completed with the addition of glass and a scoreboard.
There will be plenty of additional locations to play popping up around the city over the next few years, thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, Highmark, the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The new facility in Banksville is the first of 12 rinks that will be built in a three-year span throughout Allegheny County as part of Project Power Play.
“Project Power Play is an idea that emerged right at the very beginning when the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation was formed,” said Penguins director of amateur hockey, Mark Shuttleworth. “The goal was to create a series of dek hockey rinks throughout the city of Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County where the youth of the city and the youth of the county can come play dek hockey for free.”
Penguins CEO/president David Morehouse, Highmark executive vice president, chief external affairs and communications officer Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl officially cut the ribbon at the Banksville Park dek rink Tuesday afternoon.
"We're thrilled to be cutting the ribbon on another recreational amenity that will be enjoyed by our young people for years to come," Ravenstahl said. "I want to thank the Penguins and Highmark for their dedication to the Pittsburgh region and I commit that we will do our part to make this one of a kind partnership a great success."
The aspiration of the project is to introduce kids to the game at the grassroots level and to keep them active while having fun. Highmark and the Penguins Foundation possess similar visions in this aspect, making the partnership a perfect fit.
“(Highmark) shares the same values that we have when we talk about kids,” said Penguins Foundation president Dave Soltesz. “The healthiness of kids and keeping them fit is our goal.”
The Penguins organization is also on board with the project. Approximately 30 Penguins staff members volunteered their time to help build the Banksville Park rink Sept. 24, along with help from Mylec, who supervised the assembling.
“Senior management talked about how to develop and get a stronger hold in the community for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Soltesz said. “From (Penguins CEO David) Morehouse on down, everyone is committed to the project.”
Shuttleworth felt right at home with the build. He got his professional start in hockey by managing a dek rink. He believes that an event such as this is not only excellent for the community, but provides a boost in the workplace as well.
“It’s fun to work with your fellow employees,” Shuttleworth said. “You talk about things that you wouldn’t normally talk about with your co-workers and you get to know them a little better. Every time you do a work project it builds camaraderie, and I think it’s great for all of us to be out here and giving something back to the community.”
Bylsma agreed with the sentiment of being more than happy to get out and help make a difference with the construction of another platform for hockey.
“Not only from a Penguins standpoint and a Penguins Foundation standpoint, but from our team, our players and myself, giving back and getting involved is always good,” Bylsma said. “Providing opportunities for a kid not only to come out and play hockey, but come out and have something to do and have fun is great.”
The Project Power Play program is a $2.1 million project. Highmark is leading the effort with $1.5 million in funding. The Penguins Foundation is contributing $600,000. The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are providing the land as well as maintenance services, lighting and other support.
Providing an initiation to the game for a number of kids is just the start of the project. With 11 more rinks planned, hockey will undoubtedly continue to grow in the city of Pittsburgh with the help of the project. A second rink is currently under construction at Lewis Park in Hazelwood.
“It’s really an exciting day to see the results of this and see it going up,” Shuttleworth said. “It’s a great sport, a great introduction to hockey for kids and a nice, safe environment. We’re thrilled to have this.”