Well, everyone knew the arena needed upgrades.
Rostraver Ice Garden, which won the NHL’s Kraft Hockeyville USA contest a few weeks ago, will no longer host a Penguins preseason game Sept. 24 against the St. Louis Blues because it is “not equipped at this time” to do so, the Penguins said in a news release Wednesday.
The arena still will hold fan activities from Sept. 21-24, including a Penguins practice session on the morning of Sept. 24.
But the preseason game originally scheduled for Rostraver rink in Westmoreland County will now take place an hour away at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Butler County, which is the Penguins’ practice and training facility.
The Ice Garden, which opened in 1965 and once hosted Penguins practices, won $150,000 in capital improvements and the opportunity to host a 2017-18 NHL preseason game in April.
Ice Garden owner Jim Murphy said he was notified of the NHL’s decision at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“I’m not going to characterize it a disappointment because of the good relationship I’ve had with the Penguins and NHL over the years … serving as a practice facility in the 1970s, and having hockey camps here when Mario (Lemieux) first came to town,” Murphy said.
“But it would have been a lot nicer for the community if the game were held here,” he said.
Murphy said he wasn’t given specifics of the rink’s shortcomings for the preseason game but noted that multiple improvements are under way. Plus, he said, there will be multiple hockey events related to Rostraver’s win in the contest held Sept. 21-24.
“I don’t have all the specific details, but there will be a food drive, some hockey clinics mixed in, and on Friday there is supposed to be a community gala and Saturday a 5K event,” Murphy said.
“Then on Sunday, the Penguins will have a meet-and-greet and hold their pre-game practice here at the rink … although the Blues are not coming here for their morning skate,” Murphy said.
Murphy said any fans at the Rostraver rink who purchase tickets for the 7 p.m. preseason game will be bused about 65 miles from Rostraver to the Lemieux complex.
Murphy said extensive lighting improvements have been made. The rink is in the midst of a “major piping job,” and subcontractors have been hired to complete the flooring. Improvements planned to the Zamboni include installation of a laser so the ice cut is consistent.
“The NHL has also said it will partner up and provide some physical plant enhancements including adding netting to screen fans from pucks, installing some kick plates at the base of the boards with the ice and some board replacement,” Murphy said.
The Ice Garden emerged as the winner of the national contest after three rounds of online voting in April. The third and final round on April 24-25 pitted the historic facility against the Bloomington (Minn.) Ice Garden.
Contest officials said Rostraver was among more than 1,300 communities across the country — accounting for nearly two of every three rinks nationwide — that submitted stories demonstrating their passion for hockey.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.