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How a Penn State Ice Hockey Dream Came True

by on September 28, 2010 12:49 PM

On Aug. 25, I received the following text from Terry Pegula:

jst sgnd gift agrmnt, gr8 day 4 hky in Hpy Vly! 

The historic $88 million gift from Terry and Kim Pegula will be pivotal in bringing Division I ice hockey to the university. Despite the handful of negative Neds and Nellies out there, most people view the Pegula’s largesse as a gift that will benefit millions of people for many years.  (By the way, it’s also their money and their right to choose how and to whom they want to direct it. For the uninformed, they also have given away significant monies to academic, cultural, and community causes, as well as athletics.) 

If I know the Pegulas as well as I do, they will only do more in the future. Let’s hope that by properly thanking them for this gift they will decide to do it in Central Pennsylvania.

This amazing act of philanthropy will provide a world-class venue for our area. It will create jobs and make a significant economic impact on the region as thousands flock to Happy Valley to see professional ice shows, such as Disney on Ice; professional hockey games with NHL and AHL teams; figure skating; and local, regional and national hockey competitions.

The state of the art double-sheet ice arena and practice rink will be used by adults and kids of all ages for ice skating, hockey, broomball, speed skating, curling and more. Open 7 days a week, between 15-18 hours a day, the facility will serve more than one million patrons annually.

Lou Prato, a good friend and terrific writer, has discovered that Penn State was among the very first college teams to ever play a hockey game back in 1909.  I am more familiar with the well-documented era from 1939-1946, when varsity hockey existed in Happy Valley.

We are now very close to a return of varsity hockey and those heady days of George Wolbert, Johnny Dufford, Peany Gates, and Larry Lightbody, Jim O’Hora, and Doc Davis!

None of this would be possible if…

  • a group of ice enthusiasts weren't willing to play on outdoor flooded tennis courts in the 40s; 
  • a college freshman, his buddies, and a chemistry professor hadn't stuck out their necks in the early 70s and talked the university into resurrecting hockey as a club sport; 
  • a former army captain hadn't had the vision or the leadership to "fight the good fight" in the late 70s and establish a paid coaching position and endowment;
  • a professional academic counselor had not been willing to become the "hockey mom" and help hundreds of kids get a shot at a PSU degree;
  • a father had not taken his sons to “Stick Night” at a Penguins game in the late 60s, fostering a love of the game of hockey;
  • a former Division I player with a young wife and a new job had not been willing to volunteer to coach at a critical time;
  • a hockey dad had not answered the call to reenergize the Icers booster club by raising money and interest, and if other parents and volunteers over the years had not followed suit to carry the torch;   
  • the parents of two Icers players had not stepped forward to make the lead gift to establish the initial Icers endowment;
  • a local entrepreneur had not pushed hard to put hockey on the front burner in our athletic director’s mind;
  • a university administrator had not championed our cause in the halls of Old Main;
  • another parent hadn’t stepped to the plate recently to give a large estate gift that helped inspire the Pegulas to action;
  • a sports camp director had not helped us create one of the most successful hockey camp operations in the country—despite the lack of a varsity team—and spent countless hours of counseling an often overly passionate former coach;
  • a distinguished professor of industrial engineering had not spent countless hours working with players, parents, boosters and students in the Hockey Management Association to become the "Godfather" of Penn State hockey;
  • an old goalie, who moonlighted as an economics professor and associate dean of one of the largest colleges at PSU, had not spent the better part of the last 23 years as my "consigliore," putting up with my wild ideas, and talking me down off the ledge many times;
  • a faithful wife hadn’t showed up at a hockey management meeting in 1980 and stood by this crazy old hockey guy for the past 20 years.

All of these people played an important role in bringing us to today. Of course, it’s the generosity of one of the most passionate hockey fans I have ever met (and his family’s support), and the hard work from Penn State administration, development, and athletics that are ultimately responsible.     

Personally, it is a dream 32 years in the making.

It took a lot of passion from dozens of people to make it reality. With the risk of sounding overly dramatic, it was quite the coincidence that we spent the morning of August 25 with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey Team Captain Mike Eruzione, who was giving us a tour of Agganis Arena at Boston University. 

He scored the winning goal that led to Al Michaels’ famous call: "Do you believe in Miracles?  YES!"

Thanks to everyone who helped make this impossible dream come true.

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Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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