An Achilles tendon injury and orthopedic walking boot hasn't slowed Jay Roberts. The general manager of Consol Energy Center has projected an aura of enthusiasm lately.
He and his staff are busy converting the arena into a basketball venue for second- and third-round games Thursday and Saturday of the NCAA tournament -- the first in a series of scheduled and proposed major events that are the raison d'etre for the new arena -- along with being the home of the Penguins.
"We've had some big stuff, but this is the biggest non-hockey sporting event we've done," Roberts said, citing the venue-christening Paul McCartney concerts in August 2010 and the Big East-SEC Challenge in basketball last season.
Sitting across the street from the Civic Arena (or Mellon Arena, as it was known in its later years), which is being demolished, Consol Energy Center is modern and inviting for big acts.
It will be the venue for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in June and the 2013 Frozen Four, the college hockey equivalent of basketball's Final Four. Roberts said the Penguins and other sports teams and local organizations are working to try to lure events such as the hockey world junior championships, the NCAA wrestling championships, the USA Gymnastics national championships, an NHL All-Star Game, maybe even Davis Cup or Fed Cup tennis.
In the works is an annual college hockey tournament expected to kick off next season and feature regional teams, a la the Beanpot in Boston.
The NCAA games and open practices this week give Roberts and his staff a chance to stage a major event and show off the things that make Consol Energy Center a huge upgrade on the old arena.
The ice does not have to be taken down this week, as it would have at Civic Arena to prevent condensation and other problems. The new venue has climate control and dehumidifiers that far outclass the old systems across the street.
"It's a big deal," Roberts said
Although there has been college basketball at Consol Energy Center, it hasn't been like this.
The teams that come in will each have a modern, clean locker room with attached coaches' office and what Roberts called "decent showers." And that doesn't include using the Penguins dressing room, which would have been the case at Civic Arena.
"We really struggled to get four decent locker rooms," at the old arena, Roberts said.
Three tractor-trailer loads of storage items are being moved off-site so some storage areas can be carpeted and outfitted for use as media work rooms and other purposes.
"The ability to utilize a lot of the different spaces we have makes it much better here," Roberts said.
And that's just behind the scenes. There is a lot of work to do in the fan and floor areas -- work that started Sunday after the Penguins game ended.
Duquesne is the host school, but the NCAA coordinates much of the venue preparation.
"The NCAA is very detailed-oriented," Roberts said. "The manual [for this event] is a couple-hundred pages. It doesn't give a lot of room for imagination. Their goal is to make every site the same."
All signage and advertising inside Consol Energy Center will be covered. The basketball floor is provided by the NCAA -- the one owned by the arena is actually one bought from the NCAA, which uses floors in its postseason tournament for just a couple of seasons. The NCAA also is providing the officials' table with its LED advertising. The capacity is expected to be 19,000-19,100.
The doors open Wednesday morning for practices, but things will be finished before then.
"We have to have everything set up and ready to go for an NCAA walk-through by Tuesday at around 5 [p.m.]," Roberts said.
It's a lot of work, but Roberts doesn't mind.
"We love having these events," he said. "I love working with the NCAA events. It's a lot of fun, a lot of excitement.
"One of my favorite events was back in '97, the NCAA tournament we did [at Civic Arena]. Coppin State [beat South Carolina]. It was incredible -- 17,000 people all of a sudden [became] Coppin State fans. No one had any idea where they were from. They didn't even have their own band. They hired a local band. They didn't have hotel rooms locked in for the next night, so they scrambled a little bit. It was so cool.
"I'd love to see a giant-killer this time."
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com , 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 13, 2012 4:00 AM