Western Pennsylvania has been a hotbed of hockey since Mario Lemieux laced up his skates for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1980s. But growing local talent — especially players of color — has been hindered by the lack of an indoor ice rink in city limits.

Until now.

The Penguins are teaming up with the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority to convert the landmark Hunt Armory in Shadyside into a temporary ice rink for youth hockey.

Built in 1916, the Hunt Armory spans an entire city block. It was once one of the city’s main auditoriums, hosting everyone from President Eisenhower to Billy Graham. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association have awarded a grant to the Penguins to convert the Hunt Armory into the new home of the Penguins’ Hockey Diversity Program and new middle school hockey academy.

“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,” says Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse. “These investments and programs are at the center of that mission.”

The Pens’ diversity efforts include the newly-created Willie O’Ree Academy (named after the trailblazing black winger who is known as “the Jackie Robinson of hockey”), which provides mentorship and training for young players of color in Western Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All costs of the rink installation and operations will be covered by the Penguins, at no public expense. The Hunt Armory has had many redevelopment plans fall through, but a wish for a rink by the community has been a constant. Mayor Bill Peduto, who plays ice hockey, has long been an advocate for a city rink.

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

The Pens note that via their Project Power Play initiative, the team has built 15 deck hockey rinks in the city since 2012, and intends to construct others in Homewood and the Hill District.

While the NHL’s players and fans are overwhelmingly white, the league is trying to change that. The grant (the amount hasn’t been specified) is focused on supporting grassroots youth hockey initiatives that emphasize diversity and inclusion.

The Hunt Armory plan calls for the rink to be open Nov. 26 through early March, at which point the Armory will be returned to its original condition. In addition to the youth programs, the rink will be open for public skates.

If the program is a success, the Penguins will consider repeating it next year.