Pittsburgh Penguins planning complex with UPMC

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins are teaming up with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to establish a sports medicine and practice facility in the suburbs.

The team and the region's dominant hospital network hope to open the facility in Cranberry Township in the summer of 2014.

UPMC already has a similar partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who practice along with Pitt's football team at a sports medicine complex on the city's South Side.

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"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 athletes in other sports, too,” said Albert Wright, who oversees UPMC's sports medicine efforts.

"It will be the first of its kind in the United States dedicated primarily to hockey," Penguins chief executive officer David Morehouse said.

The Penguins sometimes practice at Consol Energy Center, their new downtown arena, but skate at the Iceoplex at Southpointe near Canonsburg, about 15 miles south of the city, when the Consol ice isn't available.

This year, however, the company that owns the Southpointe rink announced plans to sell it. Although the Penguins could extend their lease with the new owner, they also have an escape clause that lets them leave if the team builds its own practice rink. The team's former ownership group, led by Howard Baldwin, built the Iceoplex for the team in 1995, but sold it when the team's finances tanked a few years later before Mario Lemieux put together the current ownership group to bring the team out of bankruptcy.

UPMC officials said the new center would also be used to expand its programs to diagnose and treat concussions. Dr. Joseph Maroon, a Steelers team physician and UPMC doctor, is considered a pioneer in the field having helped develop ImPACT, a test used to evaluate whether an athlete has a concussion. The acronym stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing.

The Penguins have become well-acquainted with the increasing scrutiny that concussions are receiving in sports, given that team captain Sidney Crosby was sidelined for all but 22 games last season with a concussion and related symptoms.

The team and UPMC picked Cranberry because it's one of Pittsburgh's fastest-growing suburbs and because there are few ice rinks in the area. UPMC will build and own the center, but the Penguins would lease the rink and related facilities.

When the Penguins aren't using the ice for practice, training camp or other team-related programs, it would be available for youth and school hockey programs, and other community events.