CRANBERRY TWP — The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex combines the Pittsburgh Penguins and UPMC brands to create a place devoted to hockey, but also a place to help injured athletes get back to the field, court, ice and life.
The $70 million project broke ground on Oct. 2, 2013, and less than two years later it is ready to open for business Monday. The complex is at 8000 Cranberry Springs Drive.
“It is very exciting that the day is finally here,” said Matt Herr, executive director of the complex. “There is not a facility in the world that combines the UPMC medical brand, the Gary Roberts performance side and then obviously the Pittsburgh Penguins and the hockey side.”
2 rinks ready to use
The facility is a two-story, 185,000-square-foot building with two rinks open for public skating, figure skating and amateur hockey, according to UPMC documents.
The two rinks will have 1,500 total seats. The complex will also feature 1,500 square feet of hockey skills training space and a dedicated sports performance space.
The Penguins will have an NHL-quality locker room and weight room. The Penguins will use the rinks for practice, training camp, development camp, youth clinics and other activities.
Herr said overall he thinks this will be a great development opportunity for the community, but also a great opportunity to help develop young players.
“We have added another two sheets of ice to the Pittsburgh area, which is great for the expanding demand for ice hockey and skating in general,” Herr said.
The facility is for the community and developing the skills of the younger players, he said
“I am excited to get the kids out onto the ice to see them smiling and having fun playing hockey. That is the goal for us to obviously develop these players … I think to see the smiling faces and the enjoyment of people while they are skating and playing hockey.”
In September, when the Penguins training camp starts, the sports complex will host the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Programs Team USA from Ann Arbor, Mich., the Muskegon Lumberjacks from Michigan and the Youngstown Phantoms from Ohio, which are all from the Eastern Conference of the Tier 1 Junior Hockey United States Hockey League.
“We are honored to have them,” Herr said. “It is a big deal for us and our facility to kick it off.
“We are just excited to drop the puck.”
Special medical focus
Dr. Vonda Wright, orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the complex, said when patients come, they are going to get lead sports medicine orthopedic surgeons, primary care doctors and experts in sports related injuries. They will be able to get MRI’s, X-rays, injections and physical therapy in the same building.
The idea behind this model is a patient center approach, where the patient is the main focus.
According to UPMC documents, the sports medicine center has 24 exam rooms and six teams of physicians to care for athletes from any sport and any level.
Chuck Finder, media relations officer with UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, said the center has already scheduled patients and the physical therapy gym already has 100 patients scheduled for Monday.
Wright said she wants this center between the sports medicine and the ice rinks to become a real hub of activity for the community.
“Just really reaching out and bringing to the consumer all this knowledge that we have accumulated over the years,” she said.
The medical facility will be dedicated to all sports-related injuries, she said.
“We are not only doing it with the Penguins, one of Pittsburgh’s really beloved teams, but we are doing it in a really fast-paced transitional region of Pittsburgh,” Wright said. “We are just thrilled to become neighbors up here with all of those forward-thinking people.”
One of the goals for the center is to make headway for hockey players with concussions with the NHL, much like the NFL is supporting concussion research for football players, Wright said.
Concussions are much more complex than researchers ever realized, she said. It has effects on brain metabolism, eyes, ears and is more complex than just getting hit in the head. Part of what will be research at the facility is better technology to prevent this injury.
At the new facility, Wright said she has built a framework called InSPIRe, which stands for the Institute for Sports Performance and Innovative Research.
“What we have done under this umbrella is really bring the great minds of sports science together to work on common questions,” she said. “We are going to be researching how to use our own body to heal ourselves by using growth factors and stem cells in athletes and regular people.”
Wright said the team is going to look at how to prevent injuries in youths by measuring them during preseason and then train the injury potential out of them in the performance center.
She also noted that they will be capturing athletes in motion before the season starts from 360 degree cameras around the ice, so if they are hurt they can return to their preinjury function. The idea is to compare how an athlete is doing post rehab with how they were doing before were hurt.
“I think people could say, ‘Oh it is just for sports, they are not saving lives,’” Wright said. “As sports doctors, we are saving people’s mobility. We are returning them to an active lifestyle, we are returning them to their job. In doing that we are preventing the chronic disease that kills so many people in this country.”