New Lemieux complex’s amenities will benefit young players
A few sections of clear boards in front of the team benches. An extra set of boards tucked in a corner.
They’re not the most eye-catching features at the new UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, which is playing host to grand opening activities this weekend.
The 185,000-square-foot facility that cost more than $70 million to build has a pond, a fountain and a big, fancy fireplace. It has a rink built to the exact specifications of the one at Consol Energy Center, right down to the broadcaster’s box between the benches should Pierre McGuire decide to visit.
But the clear plastic and extra set of boards could be the most important features of the new facility for two particular demographics who will skate there: sled hockey players and youngsters just getting started in the sport.
The clear boards will allow sled hockey players to make efficient line changes and see the game while they’re sitting in the bench area. According to Cheswick native Dan McCoy, a U.S. Paralympic gold medalist, that makes the game much more enjoyable.
“At the recreational level, we’re always having to sit on the ice during games. We’re in the play, even though we’re not in the play,” McCoy said. “The puck sometimes comes into the area where players are sitting and we have to stop play to get the puck out from around the sleds and everything. This opens it up that much more so the game can flow better and there’s not that stoppage in play.”
McCoy said he has seen the clear boards at a few rinks, at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Russia, and at venues in Buffalo and Colorado, but none locally.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” he said. “To have that kind of rink close to home and to be able to practice at an NHL team’s facility with those changes built in, it changes the whole game for our local program.”
The extra boards tucked into the corner are of interest to players 8 and younger.
At that age, USA Hockey recommends games and practices are held cross-ice, since the 85-foot playing surface makes more sense for small legs than a 200-foot sheet.
At most rinks, this is accomplished by putting a rubber bumper along the blue line. At the Lemieux Complex, actual boards with curved corners can be temporarily installed.
The rink isn’t the first in the area to have curved boards for cross-ice games, but it is one of only a few.
“They do add the aesthetics of a real game with real boards, so it’s pretty cool for the kids,” said Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League executive director Darcee Purvis.
The move toward cross-ice hockey at a young age, Purvis said, is helping the region produce better hockey players.
“We are in our fourth year of mandating that locally in our league,” she said. “The kids who did that for the first year are now in the Pee-Wee division, which is 12 and under. The development is heads and shoulders above where we were. It is a definite developmental bonus for these kids.”