Skating outdoors is a thrill in itself. Add the Fort Pitt Bridge along with the Pittsburgh skyline to the backdrop, and the setting becomes unforgettable.
The ribbon was cut on Friday afternoon to open the Penguins Pond, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ unique outdoor ice rink, at the brand-new Highmark Stadium at Station Square, the new home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer club. The facility kicks off the holiday season by providing a perfect venue for outdoor skating, youth and amateur hockey games and special events. The rink, presented by 84 Lumber, will host daily public skating sessions through January 13.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma and Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse were on hand to help break the ice along with Riverhounds CEO, director of youth development and player Jason Kutney. It’s quite a sight in person, and the mayor couldn’t be happier with this year’s facility.
“This is a great day and the site is awesome,” Ravenstahl said. “To have the wonderful view of the city of Pittsburgh right across the river is tremendous. It’s just another way that the Penguins have given back to the city of Pittsburgh. This is a great opportunity for people to come out over the holidays and skate.”
“It’s great to see that we can get that we can get so many user groups into this facility year round to make it a true asset for Pittsburgh,” Kutney said. “Through the winter months, there’s few things that people in Pittsburgh want to see more than hockey and ice. The backdrop that we have of the city is perfect.”
This is the third straight holiday season that the Penguins have constructed an outdoor facility in the city, stemming from playing host to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field. The rink that year was located adjacent to the stadium at Stage AE. Last year’s ice sheet made its home in the Southside.
“The Winter Classic was such a successful event for Pittsburgh and for the Penguins that we wanted to make sure that we extended it,” Morehouse said. “This is a good way to do it and it’s also something that’s needed in the city. There’s only one skating rink in the city in Schenley Park, so this was a way for us to give back to the community. Highmark was very generous in funding it with us, and the Riverhounds were very generous in allowing us to put it here. It’s just a great opportunity for everyone to come out and skate.”
There are some historic touches to the rink that patrons are sure to enjoy. The same ice system from the inaugural NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo back in 2008, which the Penguins won in a shootout, is utilized in this year’s Penguins Pond. In addition, the legacy of the Igloo is alive and well. The dasher boards surrounding the rink are the same ones that were used in the Mellon Arena.
A “Skate With The Mascots” and special figure-skating presentations of “A Magical Christmas” highlighted the opening weekend of Penguins Pond.
PIHL high school hockey action began on Monday, with the rink set to host over 25 varsity and junior varsity matchups over the coming weeks. The Pond will also entertain amateur hockey games, scrimmages and practices, as well as a “Skate with the Greats” session with Penguins alumni on Friday, January 11 at 6 p.m.
A Michigan native, skating outdoors is nothing new to Bylsma. The Penguins bench boss says that the youth hockey players are sure to have a blast when they take to the ice at Station Square.
“When you play amateur hockey, to be able to play in the CONSOL Energy Center, those are memorable moments,” Bylsma said. “To be able to play a game like this outdoors, a facility like this with the city in the backdrop, this is going to be a memorable experience for all the kids that come out and play. They won’t forget their game in this facility.”
When those players inevitably make a pass off the boards, they’ll be touching a piece of history. And as Bylsma believes, it’s nice to have a piece of the old home still intact in the city’s newest frozen sheet.
“A little bit of the Mellon is a good thing.”