One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Rink 2 - Home of the USHL Fall Classic
September 27, 2018 - Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania
In our humble opinion the USHL is the most entertaining league in the United States. For the second year in a row America's top junior circuit brought their Midwestern based teams east to Pittsburgh, although unlike last season's preseason showcase the entire league would compete here over a 4 day period in the first regular season games of the season. The chosen site for the event was UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, about 20 minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh. This nearly new venue opened in 2015 and is the practice home of the NHL's Penguins, and also features medical facilities, gyms and fitness training areas, as well as the 2 rinks in use for the USHL Fall Classic event. The facility sits in a well developed shopping and commercial area directly next to Interstate 79. Fans approaching on game day likely catch their first glimpse of the modern complex from the highway, and see the exterior brick wall bearing the building's name as well as banners for the Stanley Cups won by the Pens. The parking lot is likely sufficient to serve the normal events going on here on a regular basis, but was overflowing for this event. The modern sprawling building features 2 entrances, one for the sports medicine physician and therapist offices and training center, and another for the ice rinks. The building has a modern look, with a brick and glass exterior and gray siding on the higher areas of the walls as well as a relatively flat roof. The glassed in lobby at the main entrance protrudes outward from the main structure and has a large Penguins logo attached below the metal roof of the main entrance. We made the 4 and a half hour trek from home to get their in time for the first game, which was a 11am contest between the Fargo Force and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. As many fans and scouts were arriving at the same time the lobby was abuzz with activity. Tickets for the event were $25 for a day pass or $40 for a weekend pass. If you so desired you could watch up to 4 complete games each day. The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is a busy place that not only serves the needs of the NHL's Penguins, but area hockey teams and skaters as well. With this event kicking off on Thursday the Pens were also on hand practicing on Rink 1 as the USHL game was taking place on Rink 2 as many fans took intermission time to see NHL stars Crosby, Malkin, and Letang go through a NHL practice while the ice was being resurfaced for the USHL contest. UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex certainly represents the state of the art facility that you would expect from a NHL ownership group, and having the USHL games take place here on the East Coast was also appreciated by many fans who never get the chance to see this league, although fans back in the Midwest had some disdain for their teams starting the season so far from home.
Once inside UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex fans were able to purchase their tickets at the main info desk in the lobby. Rink 2 is off to the right upon entering, and this is also where the scout reception area was set up along with signage from the USHL and large life size signs of USHL alums in the NHL. The lobby looks modern with an open ceiling which extends up to the second level. Replica Stanley Cups sits along the front glass of the lobby, and there is a Penguins merchandise store on site, as well as a small sitting area with a fireplace. For this weekend the USHL hauled in some league merchandise to sell in a makeshift souvenir store, although we thought a $30 USHL Fall Classic t shirt was way too pricey for our liking. Weekend programs were available at the ticket counter for $2, but had no rosters, only a weekend game schedule and league info. The rink seating can be accessed either via the main center staircase or elevator just off the main lobby, or by entering the lower level of the rink in the corner and proceeding up a stairway to the upper concourse of the seating. Rink 2 is the smaller capacity rink on site, and has 4 rows of seating on 1 side of the ice comprised of black plastic benches on concrete risers. The front row of the stands is elevated so as to be even with the top of the boards. A scoreclock sits above the goal on the end opposite the lobby and above the seating is a concrete concourse and stool type seating with a small ledge which seemed to be the hot ticket for scouts as that area filled up fast. A flat white ceiling sits high above the ice, and open duct work and ceiling beams are exposed. The concrete walls are complete with black and gold painted trim and a Penguins logo on the far wall. Banners from a couple local teams who call Rink 2 home, including Slippery Rock University, sit on the wall above the lobby. Team benches are across from the grandstand, and with protective netting in front of the entire grandstand viewing is not ideal here. We would guess the seating capacity at about 700, but the place was jammed to the rafters all weekend, as many fans and quite a few scouts opted to watch from ice level along the glass in addition to filling the stands. The level of play in the USHL is incredible, and scouts from every NHL team and Division 1 college were on hand taking in the action. While UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is certainly a state of the art modern facility, the seating capacity seemed a bit small to hold a showcase of this magnitude.
The USHL Fall Classic is an event much more geared for scouts than fans, and much of the crowd on hand was for official purposes rather than to simply watch some hockey. That being said, the event is a great time for hardcore hockey fans. Games nearly all day on the 2 ice pads in the venue make for a hockey paradise for those wanted to see a ton of high quality hockey in a short time. The game day presentation put on by the USHL was certainly professional, although very basic. Oddly there were no National Anthems played, nor any starting lineups announced for any of the games during the weekend. Intermission find the ice being resurfaced and that is all. The coffee shop and cafeteria in the lobby kept busy all weekend, and the venue does not sell soda at all in an attempt to keep things healthy. Sight lines looking through the netting were less than ideal, but the whole event had a big time atmosphere. The PA system and lighting were both top notch, and music was played during intermissions and stoppages. Although there were no rosters available to fans if you walk into the scout room that was on site and look like you below there you could grab a line chart from each team. UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, despite being only 3 years old, does a great job paying tribute to the Penguins, and their history. Penguins signage is nearly everywhere and the place feel like it is truly their home in miniature scale. A painting of namesake Mario Lemieux sits in the upper lobby near the elevator, and there is an entire museum-like display case paying tribute to Mario's early career, including his team jacket from his bantam years, and artifacts from when he played in the Q. For the weekend the display case was sectioned off with curtains as the small area around it was used for scouts, but it is an excellent touch paying tribute to the Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh legend. The action on Rink 2 was enjoyable, and this game found Fargo taking a 3-2 win over the RoughRiders in overtime. The USHL Fall Classic truly feels like an event and UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is a suitable venue for such a Showcase, but seems a little small from a seating capacity standpoint to be the ideal location for this event. The facility is first class however, and is worth checking out, even if only to watch the Pens practice for a bit.