Joe Battista: A Hat Trick of a Weekend in Hockey Valley
A lot of people were looking forward to last weekend in Happy Valley so they could attend some big event in Beaver Stadium involving a couple of football teams.
A smaller group of Penn Staters -- no less dedicated -- were excited for the weekend as well.
For me, there's at least a hat trick of important things that happened last weekend, the Whiteout notwithstanding.
I want to give a shout-out to all my former teammates and players -- some of whom are pictured with this column -- who made it in for the weekend. I just love your enthusiasm for the exciting times that lie ahead for PSU hockey.
It is a thrill getting together with such loyal and passionate Penn Staters and hockey enthusiasts. We are going to have a lot of fun in the next few years as we watch the evolution of our program take place right before our – and your -- eyes. Thanks to all of the hockey alumni for the part they played in the growing hockey legacy in “Hockey Valley.”
It was the opening weekend of the NHL -- the Nittany Hockey League.
The Happy Valley NHL is the league for those of us (slightly older guys) still bold enough to lace ’em up and skate at each other at blinding speeds, all the while dodging fiery volcanized rubber disks shot with incredible accuracy!
OK, that’s me getting carried away. Again.
The NHL is essentially a bunch of us has-beens playing the game at a slow pace so we can still catch a pass and avoid rubber biscuits shot so poorly you have to duck even if you are five feet from the net.
Not exactly how I coached hockey at Penn State – but it’s how I play it these days.
Seriously, it’s a hoot being back on the ice and feeling the rush of cold air and the tingle of good, hearty sweat. It’s what those of us who live and breathe the game have looked forward to after the blistering heat of the summer.
It was also a weekend to remember those who perished in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.
A few of my fellow columnists have already eloquently described the feelings that many of us share regarding that horrific day in our nation’s history. For part of the football game on Saturday I sat next to some of the Wounded Warriors who were honored on the field.
With tears in my eyes, I shook every one of their hands and thanked them for defending our freedoms. They have made sacrifices many of us would not have the courage to endure. They are the real heroes and celebrities because they literally risk life and limb.
God bless all who serve and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice -- especially the innocent victims in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, so very near to us here. I get to enjoy my time tailgating, playing golf and trying to play hockey because of the people who serve the greater good -- the firemen, police, EMTs and members of our armed forces. I for one will never take any of them for granted.
Speaking of courageous people… You may remember that I wrote awhile back about one of my former assistant coaches, Matt Bertani, who is a member of the New York Islanders’ coaching staff.
Matt suffered a near-fatal collision in an adult league hockey game that left him with a broken neck. Matt handled the entire incident with the same confidence and positive attitude he brings to everything he does in life.
After numerous months in a halo, followed by more in physical therapy, I am happy to report that my good friend and PSU hockey family member is back on the ice and coaching at the Islanders development camp. Way to go Brother Matt, you are a shining example of quiet perseverance. We wish you all the best this year on and off the ice!
I wanted to check in with you after my pronouncement of my New School Year’s Resolutions:
We are four weeks into Penn State’s new school year – difficult to believe -- and I can claim to have had modest success sticking with my New School Year’s Resolutions. I have been working out at the YMCA and playing more hockey at the PSU ice rink.
I have been eating better and eating less -- down five pounds despite a detour to Charlotte, N.C., for a fundraising trip where I just couldn’t resist some of the Southern delicacies. Just awesome, y’all. I did get to relax a bit and I have kept up my reading. I still have some deficiencies and hope you are doing even better with your own New School Year’s Resolutions.
In closing, I want to give another shout-out, this time to the 17-year-old Jessie Pegula, daughter of our ice arena donors Terry and Kim. Jessie had a terrific showing in her professional tennis debut at the U.S. Open.
Jessie exorcised some athletic demons and was part of a historic upset, as she and her teen-aged partner Taylor Townsend of the U.S. defeated Jelena Jankovic and Liga Dekmeijere in the second round of the Open. Jessie and Taylor then fell in the third round, but overall it was a net success. Congrats Jessie!