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NHL, NHLPA Contribute To Penguins’ Diversity Initiatives



Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been pushing hard to promote diversity in hockey, and that has been recognized with a grant from the NHL and the NHL Players Association. The opening of a seasonal rink in the city this fall is at the center of the latest part of the initiative.

The undisclosed amount of monetary support is aimed at continuing to advance access to hockey among “youth players of color in city neighborhoods.”

The Penguins and the Penguins Foundation already have diversity programs such as Learn to Play and the Willie O’Ree Academy. Now the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority are joining in and, with help from the grant, the entities are focused on repurposing the Hunt Armory in the Shadyside section of the city as an ice rink that would operate from November through March, opening more opportunities for youth hockey development, and is slated to serve as the headquarters of the Penguins’ Hockey Diversity Program.

It would be the first hockey rink built inside the city limits in decades.

A highly detailed look at the repurposed 46,500-square-foot Hunt Armory project can be found here, and a look at the operational Willie O’Ree Academy is outlined here.

Here is the news release from the Penguins:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been awarded a grant from the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) to support efforts to create access to the game of hockey for youth players of color in city neighborhoods. The announcement comes on the heels of the Penguins’ Willie O’Ree Academy launch last month, and coincides with the team’s ongoing efforts to repurpose the Hunt Armory as an ice rink for youth hockey development.


The grant advances recent discussions among the Penguins, City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority to build a seasonal hockey rink within the 46,500 square foot Hunt Armory in Shadyside, which would be the first public rink built within the city limits in decades, and provide a publicly-accessible rink to support equitable and inclusive hockey programming for Pittsburgh youth. The rink would be operated from November to March and will serve as the headquarters of the Penguins’ Hockey Diversity Program and a new middle school hockey training academy. All costs of rink installation and operations will be supported by the Penguins, at no public expense.


The Penguins’ hockey diversity programming is spearheaded by the Penguins Foundation and will include initiatives such as the introductory-level Learn to Play program and the recently launched Willie O’Ree Academy, which provides targeted training, social and mentorship opportunities for youth hockey players of color in the greater Pittsburgh area.


“The Penguins have been committed for decades to giving back to the Pittsburgh community, and we are now one of the leaders of the League’s efforts to improve diversity in the game of hockey, and these investments and programs are at the center of that mission,” said Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse. “I want to thank the NHL and the Players’ Association for recognizing the ongoing work we’re putting into this effort, and the City and URA for their partnership on behalf of city youth.”


The Industry Growth Fund (IGF) grant comes from a joint NHL-NHLPA fund established as part of the latest collective bargaining agreement that is focused on the support of grassroots initiatives designed to increase participation and emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion in hockey.


“With the help from NHL Clubs like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Industry Growth Fund is committed to making hockey more accessible to communities across North America,” said Rob Knesaurek, Group Vice President, Youth Hockey and Industry Growth. “Intentionally investing in access to ice for children in Pittsburgh is an example of how Clubs can make meaningful, positive change in their communities, breaking down barriers so even more people can benefit from the positive life skills and values playing hockey provides.”


“We are proud to help play a role in growing the game of hockey in Pittsburgh and improving the diversity of the sport through our support of this great initiative,” said Rob Zepp, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NHLPA. “The Penguins have a strong track record of investing in the grassroots growth of the game in the greater Pittsburgh area and this initiative is another fantastic example of that.”


The placement of a rink at the Hunt Armory is expected by Thanksgiving, and community engagement efforts are planned for this summer. While there are several public hockey rinks around the greater Pittsburgh area — including the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry — the Armory would be the only indoor ice rink for public use within the city limits, which will provide more direct access to children from city neighborhoods.


The Penguins Foundation plans to use the Hunt Armory rink as a base to offer an inclusive and expedited hockey pathway for Pittsburgh youth through its Hockey Diversity Plan that provides access and instruction to new and diverse audiences. The rink will also be open for public recreational skating, and will support local city hockey programs, including Central Catholic and Chatham University, as well as a middle school hockey development program to be established with Sacred Heart Elementary School and Pittsburgh Public Schools.


“Placing a rink in the Armory would not only allow for new and cost-free athletic opportunities for city youth but follow the wishes of Shadyside neighbors who have long called for public skating in this historic and underused building. I’m happy these long-delayed plans are finally coming together,” Mayor William Peduto said.


Further community meetings on the proposed rink plans will be held soon.


In addition to introductory programs such as the Learn to Play program, the Armory would also support more advanced players such as those in the Willie O’Ree Academy, and offer public skating as well.


“Pittsburgh Police are very excited to work the Penguins as part of our efforts to mentor and support our youngest residents, particularly those of color, as they look for fun and safe recreational opportunities in the city,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said.


The first classes by the Willie O’Ree Academy began in June, serving Black youth hockey players ages 10-17 who are already skating in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League (PAHL) or Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL).  The free, nine-week program is being held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, with instruction provided by on-site skills development professionals and training staff, as well as former NHL players.


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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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