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Volume 21 No. 1
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Penguins, Highmark team up on youth rinks

The Pittsburgh Penguins have remained active locally during the ongoing NHL lockout through a series of charitable youth hockey and recreational initiatives.

“It’s a priority of ownership to support youth hockey in the region,” said Penguins CEO David Morehouse of team owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux. “But it’s also a way, during the lockout, to be engaged with our fans and hopefully our future fans.”

Penguins CEO David Morehouse has kept the team active in the community since the lockout has kept Consol Energy Center quiet.
The most expansive program is Project Power Play, which will lead to the construction of 12 dek hockey rinks over the next four years: four in Pittsburgh, eight elsewhere in Allegheny County. Highmark, the Pittsburgh-based independent medical insurance licensee of Blue Cross Blue Shield and a founding partner of the Penguins’ Consol Energy Center, has committed $1.5 million of the $2.1 million cost of the project. The rest is funded by the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.

The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are providing the land, construction, lighting and maintenance services at all 12 rinks, which

will be 155 feet by 75 feet. Startup hockey equipment, branded in the Penguins’ colors, also will be provided.

Dek hockey, played in sneakers instead of skates and with less sophisticated equipment, is more accessible for participants because it comes without the high costs associated with ice hockey.

The first facility, in Pittsburgh’s Banksville Park, opened last month. Two more are scheduled to open by the summer.

Since the Penguins, a perennial Stanley Cup contender, have sold out almost all of their games in the Sidney Crosby era, any community initiatives would appear to be completely philanthropic — but Morehouse said there are other benefits.

“We’re doing great as a franchise right now, but there’s always going to be a next generation to appeal to,” he said. “Our entire focus of branding has been youth-oriented, but it’s also important to know that all of our sponsors insist on community engagement, and hockey needs the most help as a youth activity because it can be expensive. These partnerships make sense.”

The sponsor engagement won’t extend to prominent branding, though. There will be only three dasherboard ads at each rink, showcasing the Penguins, Highmark and the city of Pittsburgh.

Dan Onorato, the executive vice president of Highmark — and the former Allegheny county executive — said the deal made sense for the city and county because the rinks enhance municipal parks at reasonable cost to taxpayers. As for Highmark, Onorato said the program meets the company’s goals to promote healthy living, noting, “The Penguins really connect with the youth in our region.”

The Penguins manage three additional youth programs. PensFit, which launched in early November, provides free floor hockey equipment to more than 250 elementary and middle schools in the Pittsburgh area. Penguins Elite, which launched in March as the franchise’s first entry into direct youth hockey development in 30 years, manages five boys teams and three girls teams, ages 9-19. Little Penguins Learn to Play, in its fourth year, offers children ages 5 to 7 free equipment and instruction.

All three programs are funded in part by the Penguins Foundation, of which many team sponsors — including Consol Energy, Highmark, Dick’s Sporting Goods, PNC Wealth Management, UPMC, Trib Total Media and FedEx Ground — have seats on the board.