Carnegie Mellon University

Still of Penguin's practice rink from newscast

October 01, 2021

NHL’s Penguins Install Boards Designed by CMU Students

Professional hockey is getting ready to kick off the 2021-22 regular season. And CEE students’ innovative work is making the experience safer for players.

Three years ago, through a Rethink the Rink project, students were tasked with creating dasher boards that would reduce the impact felt when players crashed the boards. After feedback and testing by the National Hockey League and USA Hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins recently announced that the dasher boards had been installed in the practice rink at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Rethink the Rink is a collaborative initiative between CMU, The Pittsburgh Penguins, and Covestro, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials.

Sally Chen (center) with other members of her team. During a weeklong Make-A-Thon at Hamerschlag Hall’s Maker Space, student teams created prototypes of the dasher boards, then presented their concepts to high-level executives for the Penguins and Covestro. In 2018, CEE student Sally Chen participated in the program as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Chen, in 2018, explained that her education prepared her to be a valuable part of the team—mostly through the building classes she’s taken. “I got a good sense of how to put pieces together and how far the gaps [in the boards] should be.” Chen also utilized experience from her civil engineering courses to determine the best ways to test, control variables, and understand results. 

According to Terry Kalna, the Penguins’ Chief Revenue Officer, the mix of the Pens’ hockey expertise and Covestro’s materials science provided a backbone for the project. But he told local news station KDKA that the students’ insights added new perspective to the project. “We needed the brilliance that the students brought. This wide-eyed approach to ‘we can make anything better than what we have today.'”

The students’ design will have an impact beyond the Penguins’ practice rink. The boards they created are now available for purchase by recreational ice rinks. Rethink the Rink is just one of the innovative ways that CEE students are learning by doing. In this case, the end results are safer alternatives for both hockey players and ice skaters—allowing them to reduce on-ice risk while enjoying their sport.