Joe Battista: Hockey's Version of 'Saturday Night Fever'
This has already been an amazing season for Penn State hockey and skating enthusiasts in Happy Valley with the Pegula Ice Arena only seven months away from opening.
This Friday night will mark the sixth time this season that the men’s hockey team will play in an AHL or NHL venue. The team travels to the Giant Center for a 7 p.m. start in Hershey against a longtime PSU hockey rival, the Ohio Bobcats, in the final weekend of the storied history between the teams.
But what has really made “Hockey Valley” fans even more excited are recent historic events surrounding Coach Guy Gadowsky’s young upstart Nittany Lions who have taken the college hockey world by storm.
Call it Penn State hockey’s version of “Saturday Night Fever.”
After a respectable showing last Friday night in a 5-3 loss to Michigan State in the team’s first-ever Big Ten road trip to East Lansing, Gadowsky’s guys pulled off a stunner with a 3-2 comeback victory against the Spartans on Saturday Night after spotting the hosts a 2-0 first-period lead.
What made this most recent success even more amazing is that it occurred live on the Big Ten Network on Saturday Night in front of a near-capacity crowd at Munn Arena in the hockey-rich state of Michigan. The Spartans have an incredibly rich hockey tradition: three NCAA national titles, 11 CCHA league championships, more than 50 All-Americans, two Hobey Baker Award winners, dozens of NHL stars including Buffalo Sabres starting goalie Ryan Miller and the home of Ron Mason, legendary coach and former athletic director at Michigan State.
Beating the Spartans in their barn would be a big win any year, but to do it so early in our team’s young history is truly exceptional. It was even more special with so many PSU fans there to support us, including former Icer captain and assistant coach, Dr. Andrew Strasser, and his parents.
Couple this with an upset 5-4 victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Dec. 29 in front of 11,000 fans at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, and we have two wins against Big Ten teams in our first year as an NCAA varsity program.
The MSU victory capped off an amazing week in "Hockey Valley” that started with a 4-2 upset against Vermont in front of a record PSU hockey crowd of 19,592 last Saturday Night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. That's right, 19,592. Sold out. The largest crowd ever to see a college hockey game in the state of Pennsylvania. That is, of course, until we host an outdoor game at Beaver Stadium.
Our hats are off to Flyers President Peter Luukko and his staff and the staff of the Wells Fargo Center (including former Icer and current assistant general manager Joe Sheridan) for their amazing hospitality and efforts to create a first-class event. To be able to empty the arena of 19,592 Flyers-Penguins fans at 6 p.m. and just two hours later fill the building up again for an 8 p.m. start was truly an example of above and beyond service to the hockey fans of eastern Pennsylvania.
The program is earning accolades across the college athletic landscape as a recent article in this week’s Sports Business Journal proclaimed: “Penn State Hockey is a Hot Property.”
Current Penguin and Philadelphia native Eric Tangradi was quoted in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article as saying, "If there was a program at Penn State, being a hockey fan, I'm sure I would have seen multiple games before I even turned 15. It definitely would have been an option of mine and may have lured me from going to play junior. I was able to walk the campus and see [what it is like] there," he said. "It's a really unbelievable school and an unbelievable campus. Athletics and education are incredible there."
So what’s this “Saturday Night Fever” stuff all about? Well, consider that of Penn State’s 10 victories this year, eight have come on Saturday night, including our first NCAA win ever against AIC, 4-3 in overtime in the home of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL, a 3-2 win over RIT in the home of the Rochester Americans of the AHL, a 5-0 win over Army at West Point, a 5-1 win over Air Force at PSU, and, of course, the wins over Vermont, Ohio State and Michigan State.
There are only five more home games left at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion on the Penn State campus and only three chances to catch college hockey’s version of Saturday Night Fever. Next season we will add nine new recruits to the fold and hopefully will be skating to “Sweep Fever” as our young team learns to win back-to-back games on a regular basis.
Next year we also enter the brand new Big Ten hockey conference. “Big Life. Big Stage. Big Ten.” Indeed.