Penguins hope to erect an ice rink

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Even without an end to the NHL lockout, there just might be some hockey nights in Pittsburgh after all -- in a soccer stadium, no less.

The Penguins are working with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on plans to erect an outdoor ice rink inside the soccer team's new stadium at Station Square.

Travis Williams, the Penguins' chief operating officer, said the team hopes to open the rink for public skating and amateur and high school hockey games Dec. 14 and operate it until early or mid-January.

The timetable is contingent on the Riverhounds having most of Highmark Stadium completed by the end of November. Mr. Williams and Melissa Lazar, the stadium's general manager, said the construction appears to be on pace to meet that date.

"We feel fairly confident at this point that they will be done by the end of November," Mr. Williams said. "We're getting more and more comfortable with that every day."

Ms. Lazar said the stadium's turf, concession stands, bleachers, restrooms and scoreboard should all be ready by the end of the month. In fact, everything but a team building that will house locker rooms, offices and restaurants should be finished by then.

If all goes according to plan, this will be the third straight year that the Penguins have built an outdoor ice rink for public skates and amateur and high school hockey teams.

The rink made its debut outside Heinz Field in 2010 as part of the festivities surrounding the National Hockey League's Winter Classic, which was played New Year's Day. Last year, the rink was erected in a parking lot at Sidney and South 26th streets on the South Side near the SouthSide Works complex.

Mr. Williams said the soccer stadium, on the banks of the Monongahela River, is a "great fit" for the ice rink. It will have the Downtown skyline as a backdrop and will be visible from the Fort Pitt Bridge and some of the parkway ramps.

In those respects, the new location, he said, will be similar to the one two years ago on the North Shore, another highly visible spot that offered views of the skyline.

Details such as hours and prices for the rink have yet to be established.

The Penguins decided to go ahead with the rink despite the NHL lockout, which has resulted in the cancellation of numerous games, including this season's Winter Classic.

"Pittsburgh, despite the lack of NHL hockey, is still very much a hockey town, so we want to celebrate that," Mr. Williams said. "We would love to see kids playing on the ice and in the elements just like the Winter Classic."

Ms. Lazar said crews will begin installing the soccer field's turf this week. The ice rink essentially will sit on a tabletop to protect the turf from damage. The Riverhounds also are hoping to host flag football games at the $10.2 million stadium on Thanksgiving Day.

The Riverhounds' season won't start until spring. Beside soccer, the stadium will host Pittsburgh Passion women's football games, lacrosse and rugby matches, and mid-tier concerts attracting 4,000 to 7,000 people. It also will be used by local colleges, universities and high schools. Youth lacrosse and soccer academies and tournaments also are planned.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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