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Chasing the Dream ... Part II

by on December 05, 2013 10:00 AM

It has been 35 years since I enrolled at Penn State as a freshman in 1978 and over 26 years since I began my first job at my alma mater.

Announcing that I was "retiring" from the university on November 8 was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life.

Those who know me best know that I bleed "Blue and White" and love Penn State with all my heart.

I have spent more years in this wonderful town (over 31) than anywhere else in my 53 years. It is easy to take life in Happy Valley for granted. Low crime rate, no traffic (other than on move-in and football weekends!), lot's of great activities and events, and a world class university.

But while I will miss working in "Hockey Valley" and being around the magnificent Pegula Ice Arena on a daily basis, I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to return to where my professional career began, in the NHL. This time around it's not with my hometown Penguins, but with Terry and Kim Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres.

I am serving a dual capacity as Vice President of Hockey Operations and Administration for the Sabres and working with all the Pegula's hockey-related businesses. It's a fascinating job that allows me to work on a day-to-day basis with one of the great hockey players of all-time, NHL Hall of Fame member and President of Sabres Hockey Operations, Pat LaFontaine.

Pat is one of the most energized and positive colleagues I have ever worked with and he is a class act. Pat puts the welfare of others first and goes out of his way to say hello and get to know all the people who work for the Sabres and First Niagara Center.

We also have a new head coach in Ted Nolan who has paid his dues and has brought a whole new attitude to the locker room. He is another class act who cares about his players and is dedicated to shaping the Sabres into a playoff contender by building a solid foundation.

While I am personally excited about this new challenge in Buffalo, my service to the university will never really end. I will continue to assist the hockey program as a volunteer fundraiser and as an active hockey alumnus.

I will be back and forth a lot to State College and will be the guest speaker at the "Tailback Club" breakfast on December 11. I will speak to students in the Smeal College of Business, the College of Communications, to the Lion Ambassadors, and anywhere else I am asked to speak (if available!).

I will also be back often, along with our scouts, to keep an eye on the hockey players coming through Penn State as well as players on the various NCAA teams that play PSU that we have drafted or are looking at as free agents.

It has been a "long and winding road" and an amazing journey that has allowed me this great opportunity. The mentors, friends and colleagues at Penn State who have helped shape me, inspire me and pick me up when I fell will never be forgotten.

The staffs for the Penn State varsity hockey teams and for the Pegula Ice Arena are outstanding and the programs are in great hands. I have the greatest confidence in the people there and am looking forward to watching the teams grow and the arena bustle with activity!

My new dream is to see Terry Pegula hoisting the Stanley Cup, and there's probably a lot of people who will chuckle and laugh at that vision. But they're probably the same people who laughed about building the Pegula Ice Arena and taking the Penn State hockey programs to full NCAA varsity status.

There's no easy fix in Buffalo. We are currently in last place in the NHL and with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and salary cap rules, it is more difficult to improve through free agency than ever.

We have made some very difficult personnel decisions in the past few weeks, but have a solid core of hockey department personnel and new leadership in place to guide them. I have learned a lot over the past six weeks but in the end the same principles apply in any successful team and organization. Get the right people wearing the right hats in the right seats at the table, all committed to a common goal.

I am excited to be working with so many talented hockey people and owners in Terry and Kim Pegula who are dedicated and committed every day to "Building Buffalo", literally!

Every day I drive past the construction site of the new $180 million Harbor Center that is connected to the First Niagara Center. It will house a double sheet rink on top of a five story parking deck with a 200 room Marriott hotel and retail shops.

By the way the connection to State College continues as the Marriott is a part of the Shaner Group of hotels pairing another Penn Stater in Lance Shaner with Terry Pegula, our Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson, and yours truly.

These are exciting times and getting to chase another hockey dream reminds me of how blessed and fortunate I am to have this opportunity to be back in the NHL surrounded by passionate and visionary colleagues.

None of this would be possible without my experiences and ties to Penn State and I will never, ever forget my roots.

We are ... and always will be ... Penn State!

From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, JoeBa has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities. Battista was an influential player in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley. He is now Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Buffalo Sabres.
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