CRANBERRY, Pa. – On Friday evening, Mario Lemieux stood at center ice between two Pittsburgh Penguins Elite youth hockey players and dropped a ceremonial puck to commemorate the grand opening of the arena bearing his name.
The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new training facility as well as a new center for UPMC Sports Medicine, will officially open to the public starting Monday after a grand-opening weekend of events.
It’s truly perfect that it’s Lemieux’s name on the building, as he was a one-of-a-kind hockey player and this is a one-of-a-kind facility.
“This has been a wonderful tribute to Mario Lemieux,” said Penguins chief operating officer Travis Williams. “Obviously a well-deserved tribute for the time, effort and work that he’s put into the Penguins organization and the community and the philanthropic events that he’s done – this is just a great culmination of that.
“It’s also a great symbol of the partnership between UPMC and the Penguins. To be able to put together a facility like this when it’s one of a kind and world-class, to combine sports medicine, performance training and on-ice development and have it be the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins practice facility is unbelievable.”
When the Penguins and UPMC first began having discussions about creating a facility like this – back when construction was being completed on CONSOL Energy Center – they traveled the country looking for something similar they could potentially emulate.
“I came back and said, ‘We have good news and bad news,’’” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said. “The bad news is that there isn’t a facility like this anywhere in the country. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a facility like this anywhere in the world.’
“They (UPMC) said, ‘Well, what’s the good news?’ I said, ‘Well, there isn’t a facility like
this anywhere in the country or in the world, so when we build it, it will be the first of its kind. They saw that as an opportunity.”
An opportunity to be progressive by consolidating sports, performance training, medicine and research into one building to be used by both a pro team and the general public.
“We’ve all grown up with sports,” said UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff. “We have sports in our schools, our backyards, at fields and sometimes there’s a training accident and we get hurt. When we get an injury we go to our physician or the hospital. This facility combines athletics with sports medicine, and that’s the unique proposition.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned in the 21st century it’s that you can’t do athletics without running into some sort of injury, whether it’s serious or not. Therefore, sports medicine needs to start before and during the athletics. It needs to be a part of training program; it needs to be a part of injury prevention. It needs to facilitate minor injuries and major injuries. I am extremely proud and I am extremely pleased to be a part of this 21st century cutting-edge facility.”
A quick look at the “four pillars” the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is built on…
The Pens will now use this as their practice and training facility, replacing the Iceoplex at Southpointe. The complex will also be home to the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite youth hockey program and will host numerous amateur, high school and college games in addition to offering public skating.
There are two full-size hockey rinks with approximately 1,500 total seats and 14 locker rooms. There’s also 1,500 square feet of hockey skills training space with a RapidShot system, three RapidHands training stations, and a resistance skating lane made of synthetic ice.
2. SPORTS MEDICINE
The facility has 54,000 square feet of clinical space that contains everyone and everything a person needs to help them get better after they’ve been injured.
There’s a sports medicine clinic with 24 private patient rooms, a physical therapy gym overlooking the Penguins practice rink, aquatic therapy and on-site MRI and x-ray imaging. All of these on-site services will be provided by over 50 sports medicine experts in orthopedic surgery, sports performance, primary care sports medicine, physical therapy, athletic training, nutrition, sports psychology and concussion and musculoskeletal radiology.
“We don’t have to call on the phone to see what we should be doing next,” Wright said. “We walk right over to the performance gym and tell the performance coach what we’ve just done for this athlete so that we can hand off care one to another. It provides amazing continuity. To have everybody in the same place just raises the bar. You don’t have to go anywhere. We’re all there to serve you.”
3. PERFORMANCE TRAINING
Former Pen and fitness Gary Roberts is running the Sports Performance Center that, while straddling both rinks at the complex, will focus on hockey but encompass athletes of every sport.
He also will consult with the full-time UPMC staff who, along with him, will work personally with players from every echelon of hockey – professional, collegiate, junior and youth – as well as athletes of all ages and levels, including a morning program for business executives.
Finally, the facility houses world-class researchers who will be using science to answer questions about hockey. Morehouse said specifically, they’ll be looking at concussion research as well as new treatments and new surgeries.
“We have the top sports researchers in the world in our department,” Wright said. “But to be able to now apply what we know to hockey – asking questions like, ‘How can we heal ourselves with biologic therapies? How can we optimize the performance of kids and train injury out of them by predicting who’s going to be injured and trying to help them before it ever happens?’ – this building allows us to do that all in one place.
“I just think that the synergy that we’re having amongst all departments is going to be mind-blowing.”