The Pittsburgh Penguins are teaming up with two international giants of science and technology—Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and Covestro—on a bold initiative to make hockey safer at all levels.

“Rethink The Rink,” a first-of-its kind project, will challenge students to develop material solutions that enhance the safety of the sport without compromising game performance. The first initiative will focus on redesigning the rink dasher boards and glass. As students apply their creativity and academic strength to the challenge, they will have access to experts and materials technologies from Covestro, a high-tech polymers producer and “Official Innovation Partner of the Pittsburgh Penguins.”  

Rethink the Rink logo

Source: Pittsburgh Penguins, CMU Engineering, Covestro

“Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before, and so our challenge is to find new ways to keep them safer and reduce injuries,” said David Morehouse, president and CEO of the Penguins. “This collaboration with Covestro and Carnegie Mellon is a specific attempt to use recent advances in material science to address the physical boundary that surrounds a hockey rink. Can we come up with a material solution that reduces the impact of players hitting the boards and makes the game safer for players of all ages?”

The first major step in the process will be a “Make-a-thon” March 12-16 at the College of Engineering. The interactive event will bring together five teams of CMU students to design and develop prototypes for testing. Prior to brainstorming concepts, 25 students will attend briefings on the history of hockey rinks, the technology used in dasher boards today, and the joint injuries most common in the sport. They will also learn about the properties of several different materials they can use. Coaches will provide guidance and feedback throughout the process.

This challenge is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit and energy of the city and indicative of why it is flourishing today.

James H. Garrett Jr., Dean, College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

While working to decrease injuries among hockey players, the teams will face an additional challenge: their new designs for rink boards must not affect how hockey pucks bounce off of them. Engineering students are primed to problem-solve for this type of paradox.

If the “Make-a-thon” is successful, the prototypes will be submitted to experts at the NHL and USA Hockey for their feedback. Testing could then be conducted by amateur players at the FedEx Rink at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

“I cannot imagine better partners than Covestro and Carnegie Mellon Engineering, acknowledged global engines of innovation in materials and engineering,” Morehouse said. “Combined with insight from the Penguins and the NHL on the hockey and rink management side, we think it is an exceptional team to explore ways to make an inherently physical sport safer for all players. This can be a meaningful research project that, if we achieve our goal, could help make a long-term impact on the game.”

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“At Carnegie Mellon we challenge our students to take on unusual problems, to be innovative, to be inquisitive, and to take full advantage of hands-on learning projects like the ‘Rethink the Rink’ challenge,” said James H. Garrett Jr., dean of the College of Engineering. “This initiative, by three world-class organizations, is emblematic of the advanced level of collaboration we practice to drive breakthrough results.”

If successful with the initiative on the dasher boards and glass, the “Rethink the Rink” group would then explore the role of materials in other areas of hockey, including player equipment and rink construction.

“Bringing three Pittsburgh-based organizations together to think creatively about this challenge is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit and energy of the city and indicative of why it is flourishing today,” added Garrett.