The Penguins will team with UPMC to build a "first-of-its-kind" sports performance center and practice rink in Cranberry, with the goal of making it the top spot in the country for hockey-related training and injury treatment and prevention.
Team and UPMC officials are about to begin discussions with the township about building the 150,000-square-foot facility on land UPMC is in the process of buying off Route 228 near the Westinghouse Electric Co. headquarters. They hope to open it in the summer of 2014.
The center would be patterned after the UPMC sports performance complex on the South Side, where the hospital teamed with the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh to build sports medicine and practice and training facilities.
But in Cranberry, the center would be geared primarily toward hockey players, although it would be open to other athletes as well. There will be programs, for example, to help players with their skating stride and shot motion. The sports medicine side would help with the prevention and treatment of hockey-related injuries.
"It will be the first of its kind in the United States dedicated primarily to hockey," Penguins CEO David Morehouse said.
When the team first began talking to UPMC about the idea two years ago, it scoured the country trying to find a similar facility but could not, Mr. Morehouse said. He believes the center, once it opens, "will quickly establish itself as the pre-eminent place in the country for hockey-related performance training and hockey-related injury treatment and prevention."
Albert Wright, who oversees UPMC's sports medicine programs and facilities, said the Cranberry center also will be utilized to expand the hospital's pioneering programs in diagnosing and treating concussions, an injury that is receiving increased scrutiny in the National Hockey League just as it is in professional football.
He described the center as the hospital's "second crown jewel" alongside the South Side sports complex. It would have a complete array of imaging suites and other state-of-the-art tools to help to treat injuries and improve performance.
"We hope it will be a destination facility for hockey-related performance and injuries, but we will continue to treat the strains, sprains and concussions of" other athletes as well, Mr. Wright said. "We'll take care of everyone from professional athletes to the weekend warrior."
Under the deal, UPMC would build and own the Cranberry center. The Penguins would lease the ice rink and related facilities from the hospital. The team also would put some money into the practice facilities. The total cost of the complex has yet to be determined.
Susan Manko, a UPMC spokeswoman, said the UPMC sports medicine and training facilities within the complex will be tax exempt and the parts leased by the Penguins will be taxable. She said a similar arrangement applies on the South Side with the Steelers.
The ice rink will serve as the Penguins' chief practice facility when Consol Energy Center isn't available. It also will be used for training camp each year and the development camp for NHL prospects.
In moving to Cranberry, the Penguins would be leaving their longtime practice facility at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, where they have practiced since the complex opened in 1995. It was built by the former team ownership group led by Howard Baldwin.
Mr. Morehouse said the Penguins settled on Cranberry because UPMC wanted a bigger presence in that area and because the North Hills has some of the fastest-growing suburbs in the region and the only ice rink now available in that area is in nearby Warrendale.
"The demand could easily accommodate four sheets of ice around Cranberry," he said.
When the new rink is not being used by the Penguins, it would be open to the public for skating and other events. It would be available for youth, high school and college games, hockey camps, skating classes, learn-to-play programs, clinics and birthday celebrations. In addition, it would be the home of the new Pittsburgh Penguins Elite youth hockey program sponsored by the team.
While the Penguins hold the development rights to the 28 acres of land Downtown on which the former Civic Arena sat, the team chose Cranberry for the practice rink and sports performance complex "because our partner wanted to be in the north. We thought to be a good partner we'd go up north," Mr. Morehouse said.
Mr. Wright said the new center will be "extremely interactive," allowing athletes, for instance, to watch the action on the ice as they are rehabilitating injuries.
"We think it's going to be special," he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262. First Published June 27, 2012 4:00 AM