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Joe Battista: Icers Lucky to Experience Outdoor Hockey on Grand Stage

by on December 21, 2011 8:16 AM

There's nothing like playing hockey outdoors.

After months of talks, it was officially announced the Penn State men’s hockey team will be playing at 8 p.m. Jan. 4 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. That’s the same Citizens Bank Park the Phillies call home for baseball.

So how the heck are we going to pull this off? Well, there's modern technology, portable compressor systems and the NHL’s Winter Classic to thank.

To see the rink being built on the Phillies baseball diamond click here.

The prospects of playing outside on a stage this big has the Icers players and staff dreaming of a crisp January evening under the stars in front of Penn State and area college hockey fans. There is something so pure about skating outdoors, even if the ice is artificial.

I grew up in a town where every young man wanted to grow up to play football, basketball and baseball. Like most athletically minded kids in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, I tried all three sports as I grew up in our sports-crazy town. 

I played basketball with the same intensity, competitiveness and passion I brought to any athletic endeavor I ever tried. My basketball career wasn’t cut short because I lacked a tenacious defense or was out of shape.  It was cut short because I shot enough bricks to build the new Pegula Ice Arena. No touch, no finesse, no basketball.

I played football with reckless abandon and spirit, as a quarterback through midget football and a defensive back in middle school. But it was usually against guys a lot bigger and stronger. I tried to gain weight, but I was a high metabolism kind of kid and football became the pick-up game and intramurals.

Baseball — ah, yes — there was a sport I was built for. Great glove, good speed, left-handed batter, Dad played minor pro.

One problem. I was the best bunter in Penn Hills for a reason — I couldn’t hit.

But there was one activity that always got my juices flowing and set me free — skating.  I found my niche on the ice and with so few indoor rinks in Pittsburgh during my childhood, we became a very creative bunch and found ways to skate wherever we could. Sometimes it was the garden hose on the driveway. Sometimes it was the pond down in the Frey woods or on our friend “Grunt’s” frozen pool. Mostly, it was the Duquesne Light Co. pond and the pond by the 17th green at Alcoma Country Club.

The aforementioned “Grunt,” aka Mike Ruscella, a goalie, once fell through the ice at the pond by the 17th green up to his waste and it took weeks for his goalie pads to dry out. It was at the Duquesne Light pond that a foreign exchange student from Finland named Karl Toivenin told a young 14-year-old freshman, “you stick with the game Joey, someday you be good player.” I hope I lived up to his expectations.

My friends, my brother and I would do just about anything to get on the ice, including driving to a rink 45 minutes away in Greensburg to skate on Saturdays from 3:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. The old Kirk S. Nevin Arena in Greensburg was so cold in the dead of winter we would be better off skating outside.

Skating outdoors is a throwback to a simpler day with no referees, no coaches and no parents. Just being able to breathe the crisp winter air and work up a sweat while playing the game I love is about as good as it gets.  So I am envious of the members of the Icers who will get to experience the ultimate outdoor feeling by playing as a part of the Winter Classic.

With the Flyers on a roll (currently second overall in the NHL) and their long-time rivals the New York Rangers (currently fourth overall) set to play on NBC on Jan. 2, the hockey spotlight will once again be focused on the state of Pennsylvania.  

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here. Fans must enter ‘PSU’ when prompted for the Promotion Code.

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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