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Joe Battista: Another Great Night in Hockey Valley

by on October 18, 2012 6:16 AM

Amazing. Exciting. Thrilled. Great atmosphere. The energy was awesome. The Students stood all game, long chanting and cheering. Can’t wait for Pegula Ice Arena.

These were just some of the descriptions of the scene on Friday night from fans at the first NCAA varsity men’s hockey game, where a capacity crowd of more 1,300 jammed Penn State’s Greenberg Ice Rink on McKean Road.

Although the team lost, 3-2 in an OT thriller despite out-shooting AIC 63-29, it was an amazing night that all in attendance will remember for a long time to come. Yeah, we had a few minor snafu’s (our National Anthem singer Sgt. Bob Timney was about to sing the Star Spangled Banner when suddenly the recorded version accidentally came over the PA system). Sorry Bob, we’ll get the communication plan down as we work out some of the kinks and we’ll get you back.

Overall the evening’s events went smoothly thanks to the efforts of many in the athletic department (especially our event management staff, the Ice Rink staff, and the volunteers of the Hockey Management Association). It was a great start to help kick off the home varsity season.

The opening ceremonial puck drop was a chance for us to recognize and to say thanks to the pioneers who helped build PSU hockey. It included Cheryl Miller, daughter of Arthur Davis, the original men’s varsity coach from the 1940s. Founding members of the club program that resurrected hockey in 1971, Roy Scott, Dave McCrabb, Reds Davidson, and Dr. Larry Hendry, were there proudly wearing their newly made replica jerseys from the 1970s. Former club president Bill Proudman was on hand from the mid-70s, and, of course, yours truly was there representing the 1980s to the present.

Athletic Director Dr. Dave Joyner joined the fun, and the honor of actually dropping the first puck went to a long time hockey fan and current PSU President Dr. Rodney Erickson, who knows a bit about good college hockey having grown up in Wisconsin and having studied at the University of Minnesota.

There was one man who was sorely missed by anyone associated with PSU hockey who would have been at the center of the ceremony. Former three-sport letterman and varsity hockey standout, 92-year-old John Dufford, was unable to attend to take part in the ceremony because of an injury suffered while playing in a competitive senior softball league in Connecticut. That’s right; at the age of 92 he still competes with guys 25 years younger and has no plans to slow down. So the next time you make an excuse for not getting off the couch to get out and “play,” you think of John and the inspiration he has been to the Penn State hockey family and thousands of others. Oh, by the way, John still owns his own drilling company and goes to work every day. He is my hero. John was honored by having his picture on the souvenir ticket that was given out to all attendees at the game, so we know he was with us in spirit.

On Saturday it was Coach Josh Brandwene and the women’s varsity hockey team’s turn to take center stage at Greenberg Ice Rink, as a crowd of more than 500 witnessed history as the first varsity women’s game took place against conference rival Syracuse. They were coming off a weekend trip where they made history of their own by winning their initial game of the season, 5-3 over the University of Vermont. While they lost the contest to Syracuse on Saturday night, it was secondary to the enthusiastic turnout to support the team and launch PSU’s first new women’s program since we added women’s soccer in the mid-1990s. Let’s hope they can be as successful as our women’s soccer team.

On Saturday, I traveled with the men’s team to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Mohegan Sun Arena to see the team’s historic first win as a varsity team in front of a crowd of 5,390 fans who were mostly rabid PSU alums. There was a Blue Band Alumni Pep Band and the Nittany Lion and an amazing atmosphere as the crowd saw PSU’s freshman David Glen score his second goal of the night just 38 seconds into OT to send the crowd into a frenzy and a celebration by the players and staff that rivaled a playoff victory.

Our thanks to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin’s President Jeff Barrett and Vice President Rob Belza for their efforts in making the night possible. A special thanks to our alums in the WB-S area. Wow, what a turnout and reception for the team. You were all a part of history and the team and staff couldn’t have won without you.

For me personally it was an unbelievable weekend filled with myriad emotions as we witnessed several historic firsts from goals being scored, to victories, to seeing old friends, teammates, and both long-time and new hockey fans. My trip with the team on Saturday was made even more special as I was joined by my youngest son, Ryan, who was really too young to remember his dad as the coach of the Icers. Ryan was with me in the locker room to hear a rousing, emotional postgame speech by coach Guy Gadowsky, who praised his young team for its perseverance and hard work in the 4-3 OT victory.

After handing out a Pegula Ice Arena “hard hat," which is given to the player whose performance helps “build the foundation” for the team (freshman Kenny Brooks), and recognizing David Glen’s two-goal performance, including the OT game winner, Coach Gadowsky turned to me with a smile a mile wide and flipped me the game puck. It was my honor to bring it back to “Hockey Valley” to eventually be placed in the All-Sports Museum to forever mark the first victory for the varsity team.

So varsity hockey is off and “skating” in Happy Valley, and the future looks very bright.

Let me say one more time, as it can’t be said enough by hockey enthusiasts in Central Pennsylvania. Thank you, Terry and Kim Pegula, for making so many dreams come true.

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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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