Joe Battista: Alumni Weekend Memories
Every so often we are a part of something so amazing it is instantly etched among the great memories that will stay with us forever.
On Saturday night at the Nittany Lion Inn Ballroom, we held our final “Icer” alumni banquet, and it was the most amazing, emotional and spiritual night that the Icer Family could have wanted.
The energy and emotion was indescribable all night. There were inspirational talks by current Icer captain Dan Loucks, acting athletic director Dave Joyner, hockey donor Paul Silvis and former Icer Ben Bouma. There were several tear-jerker speeches given by several of our Hall of Fame inductees, including former coach Scott Balboni, the first Icer captain from 1971, Dr. Dick Merkel, and from more recent players Bill Downey, Curtiss Patrick (who was hilarious as well) and an incredibly inspirational speech by Scott Curry, the captain of the 2002 national championship team.
Scott gave a moving description of how his career almost came to an end because of a head injury suffered during high school. "It was the lowest of lows and I was being told I couldn't play the sport I loved."
But he got a second chance at Penn State, and while he lost out on his dream to play Division I hockey, it led him to Happy Valley. His career turned out just fine as an academic All-American, ACHA All-American and assistant captain for Team USA at the World University games.
Most importantly, Scott met his future wife at PSU, earned a great degree, has a great job in San Diego and is now a proud father. He is one of many shining examples of the Icers version of the "grand experiment."
New Icer coach Guy Gadowsky then gave his own passionate and fiery speech about the future of Penn State hockey. He thanked the Icer alums and reminded them that it was their passion and sacrifices that helped get us to where we are today. He promised to take the foundation of "success with honor" and carry it into the new varsity program.
To conclude the evening, our "special guest" speaker, Jay Paterno, a life-long hockey fan and Icer supporter, delivered a motivational talk that had people jumping out of their seats for a standing ovation. His passionate speech was classy, dignified, uplifting and healing while challenging us all going forward.
Next year, men's ice hockey becomes a varsity team for the first time since 1946 and the excitement and energy are growing daily. But the memories of Icer history from the 1971-72 season until the final ACHA home game on Feb. 24, 2012 will live on in several ways:
1. There will be a "legacy wall" in the new Pegula Ice Arena with displays and interactive videos that will tell the story of ice hockey history in Happy Valley.
2. There will still be an annual alumni weekend but with a new format and new activities, especially once we move into the Pegula Ice Arena in Sept. 2013.
3. All former Icers will be recognized as "honorary" Varsity "S" members from this day forward.
I was personally so moved by the whole evening. During Paul Silvis's speech, he hit all the right notes in describing the Ice Campaign and the "passion, persistence and vision" it took from so many to make this happen.
Scott Curry's emotional HOF acceptance speech, which left everyone reaching for Kleenex; Curtiss Patrick's perfect blend of comic and gracious words; Bill Downey's quiet but passionate grace; the powerful "all in" speech by Coach Gadowsky; and Jay Paterno's challenge to the Icer Alums to help make this program one of the elite college hockey programs in the country.
The 1971-72 team members, celebrating their 40th anniversary, were especially proud and overwhelmed at what they saw and their commitment to support the cause going forward was inspiring.
All I can say is wow, what a night.
It was the perfect "final" Icer alumni banquet before the transition next year.
The good news is the future looks incredibly bright for Penn State hockey, and future alumni banquets will even be better.