Back in 2007 at a Metro Washington D.C. Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association , my wife and I met Joe Battista, the long-time head coach of the Icers, Penn State’s ACHA club hockey team. In addition to reminiscing about the 2002 ACHA championship (played in suburban Maryland) I asked him about moving up to varsity and Division I. He indicated that the reason that had not happened was the lack of a suitable arena and that he thought he might have found a donor that could make it happen but the university was cutting back on capital projects. I did not mention it at the time, because he was speaking off the record.
About three years ago, a donor did emerge, Terry Pegula. Initially, he donated $88 million to fund arena construction as well as hockey teams for both men and women. More money would follow. On Friday night, the arena that bears his name opened with Nittany Lions defeating the Black Knights of Army, 4-1 before a raucous sell out crowd and a Big Ten Network audience.
I am really happy for Battista, who waited and worked a long time to make this happen. Don’t be surprised if the rink itself gets named after him.
I would have loved to have had big-time hockey as a student and if Facebook chatter is a barometer, I am not alone. Hockey could very easily become the #2 sport at Penn State, especially if the men’s basketball team does not improve. There are a lot of hockey fans in Pennsylvania and while the divide between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins may be legendary at Penn State, the combination of them makes for a built in audience.
In addition to having the newest arena college hockey, Penn State joins the newest conference — the Big Ten (#B1G) with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin. That’s a tough group to be in, but with Penn State now the biggest college program in the Mid-Atlantic, it should be able to attract the rising number of quality hockey players from the region and take a few from New England and the Midwest. I am eager to see how it goes.
Lastly, that win on the gridiron Saturday night was pretty fun too.