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Joe Battista: Hockey People are Just a Different Breed

by on November 15, 2012 6:24 AM

It’s been a great start to the hockey season at Penn State. Our teams are off to pretty good starts considering they have one recruiting class each under their belts and are playing against established varsity programs.

This past weekend actually included a signature win for the men’s program, as it rebounded from a tough 5-1 loss on Friday to a gritty Air Force team by turning the tables and winning 5-1 on Saturday. Air Force has played in the NCAA tournament five out of the last six years, including an Elite 8 playoff run in that span.

A 5-1 win over a program of Air Force's caliber is an amazing accomplishment for our young Penn State team.

The weekend didn't start out so great, as Air Force thumped our Nittany Lions. Air Force coach Frank Serratore gave a post-game press conference on Friday night that was part entertainment and part a message to his team, one that has become a cult hit on YouTube.

Coach Serratore is my kind of coach. He is animated, fiery, passionate and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He is also one of the classiest guys in college hockey. Even though a head coach's weekend schedule is very hectic, he agreed in advance to speak at our first-ever Booster Club Hockey Brunch along with PSU coach Guy Gadowsky.

So at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, when he could have been watching video, meeting with players, spending time with his daughter Carly (a Cadet at the AF Academy), Coach Serratore came and had brunch with a lot of strangers and gave a rousing, entertaining, emotional speech which ended in a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.

Frank's son and our team captain, Tommy Olczyk, were roommates in their junior hockey days, and their families became very close. Coach Serratore became very emotional when he described his son and Tommy's friendship. When it was Tommy's turn to address the crowd, he talked about the Serratores like they were family.

In a lighter moment, Coach Serratore introduced his daughter Carly, who is a junior at the Academy, as a "trained killer" and wanted to be sure all the young men in the audience got that message.

Listening to Coach Serratore, Olczyk, and Coach Gadowsky speak at the brunch reminded me that hockey people are just a different breed. We are so passionate about the sport we love and we spend so many hours training, playing and traveling together that we forge pretty special bonds as players, coaches and even as competitors.

In my years of being around hockey people, you just find them to be so down to earth, so gregarious and so willing to lend a hand.

Most members of the media will tell you hockey players and coaches are the easiest to work with, and I have watched this first hand in my experiences with athletes and coaches.

Sure we have some colorful characters and you have your "professorial" types among our coaches, but mostly you just have a bunch of regular guys coaching the sport.

We college hockey coaches even have a charity to help our own. "Hockey Coaches Care" is the official charitable foundation of the American Hockey Coaches Association. It was created by hockey coaches to assist members of the amateur hockey community in the United States.

On a recent business trip to Florida, I was able to get together with a group of my former players on very short notice. Hockey people are also, for the most part, a very loyal bunch. The memories were crystal clear and the laughs as loud as ever.

Rob Shaner, who was co-captain of our 2000 national championship team, was my host. He’s my hero. The guy lives one mile from the Atlantic Ocean and one mile from the Glacier Ice Arena. Beach or boating during the day and hockey at night. What a life! His boat is called "Game Day" out of the port of "State College."

I so enjoyed seeing Coach Serratore and hearing him speak. The first-class program he runs at Air Force is a reflection of its coach.

I also enjoyed seeing so many of my former players who live and work in South Florida. They are all very successful and very happy. I can't help but feel that hockey, and all the hockey people they have encountered, have played a big role in shaping them into the men they are today.

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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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