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Making the Case for Hockey at Beaver Stadium

by on December 19, 2013 10:30 AM

You just never know when you will meet Penn State alums.

On Friday December 13, the Buffalo Sabres' American Hockey League franchise Rochester Americans hosted the Lake Erie Monsters (Cleveland) in the "Frozen Frontier" outdoor hockey game at Frontier Stadium in Rochester, NY.

As I was walking into the stadium prior to the game, our Public Relations Director Rob Crean told me an old friend was looking for me down on the field. As I got closer to the area where the Zamboni entered the temporary ice surface, I spotted Penn State alumnus and State College native David Fies.

Dave is the Vice President of Operations at Rink Specialists a company that builds temporary outdoor rinks used all over the world. His dad Larry was the rink manager at PSU's Greenberg Ice Rink and hired me in 1987 and was my boss for years.

Watching Dave and his colleagues work their magic and put up an outdoor rink under less than ideal conditions (Rochester was hit by a nasty snowstorm the week of the event), was impressive.

Frontier Stadium is home to the Rochester Red Wings the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Seeing an ice rink in the middle of a baseball stadium is a bit odd but it didn't stop a standing room only crowd of almost 12,000 from participating in this special event. Neither did the 18 degree temperature! I watched a few hardy soles walking around in shorts and throw back Rochester Americans jerseys.

I have attended outdoor hockey games at football and baseball stadiums and they all have one thing in common: it is a spectacle. It is admittedly not a great way to watch a hockey game. But it is an "event" and one that creates an amazing buzz in whichever location it is held.

The "Frozen Frontier" game exceeded expectations on and off the ice.

Lake Erie jumped out to a 3-1 lead before the Americans stormed back to take a 4-3 lead. In dramatic fashion Lake Erie pulled their goalie and scored with just 0.1 left on clock to tie the game!!! Rochester was down 2-0 in the shoot out but came back and won 3-2 in an atmosphere that rivaled a championship game.

Alas. David Fies' weekend was just starting as they also played men's and women's college games, youth hockey games and finished up with a Buffalo Sabres vs Rochester Americans alumni game.

In early December I was in much warmer weather in Tampa Bay for meetings to discuss growing the sport of hockey, and specifically college hockey. I was chatting with Bill Daly, the NHL's Deputy Commissioner, and in the course of the conversation he told me of his fond memories of attending football camp at Penn State and that his father was a Penn State graduate. Bill was recruited at Penn State but ultimately chose an Ivy League education at Dartmouth.

After law school at NYU, Bill has ascended to become one of the most respected hockey figures in the world. Hockey is enjoying unprecedented levels of interest and Bill has played a major role in that progress.

We also had a brief discussion of the upcoming NHL Winter Classic, which will feature Toronto and Detroit at the "Big House" at the University of Michigan. They will most certainly set an attendance record for NHL hockey and may break the "World Record" of 113,411 set when Michigan played Michigan State in the "Cold War at the Big House" in December of 2010.

Of course, this all leads back to the topic of playing an outdoor game at Beaver Stadium. It simply needs to happen. It would be the equivalent of the economic impact of an Ohio State or Michigan playing football at Beaver Stadium and could even be greater since additional events surrounding the game would fill hotels and restaurants and be a boom to the area.

Sure there are some challenges with such a game being held in Happy Valley "post-football season". But I am confident Penn Staters would embrace such an event and it would at a minimum drive a lot of revenue into the area. It would also be very memorable and it could be historic as we are one of only a handful of stadiums capable of setting a world record!

So when my alma mater is ready to commit to the project, the university can turn to one of our own alums in David Fies to make an outdoor rink in Beaver Stadium a reality.

The "Hockey Valley Outdoor Classic" has a very nice ring to it!

By the way, don't forget to venture up to the Pegula Ice Arena this Saturday, December 21 for the "Pegula Ice Arena Community Day".

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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