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Pegula Ice Arena Makes Immediate Impact

by and on April 09, 2014 1:45 PM

One of the great things about a renowned university like Penn State is its tradition.

By the time many students arrive as freshmen, many traditions have been in place for years, if not decades, or even longer.

New traditions are usually formed, though they typically take a while to develop. They usually don’t feel “big” right away.

That’s what made the inaugural season of the Pegula Ice Arena so great. Penn State hockey on a varsity level in a first-class rink was new, and it immediately made a huge impact. Right away. No need for waiting.

I attended a few dozen games this past season, watching mostly from press row, and a few from the suites. I met ESPN broadcaster John Buccigross and got to know Penn State women’s coach Josh Brandwene pretty well.

I witnessed opening night, when the Nittany Lion mascot led the men’s team onto the ice as U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” blared through the loudspeakers.

I learned that David Glen, who voluntarily missed three games after undergoing bone marrow transplant surgery earlier this year, is so much more than a hockey player. I was reminded that Penn State continues to be at the forefront of student philanthropy: the men’s team hosted a THON child and the women’s squad smashed a program attendance record while raising more than $5,000 for THON and the WBCA Pink Zone.

I learned there was a passionate hockey fan somewhere inside of me, and now I have one more reason to love Penn State. And I’m not alone. I talked to people who attended their first-ever Penn State hockey game this past season, and everyone plans on returning to Pegula next season.

Chances are that next year will be more successful than this past season, and the year after that even better. And it’s important not to overlook the women’s team: Brandwene and his players have started something that, I feel, has some serious potential to be special much sooner than their record may indicate.

A lot was written and said about the history of Penn State hockey in the lead-up to this season. Not surprisingly, Joe Battista’s name continually came up, as it should have.

The former Icers coach and athletic administrator spearheaded Penn State’s program for decades. He famously is on record as saying he came to Penn State, in part, because he was told a new hockey arena was on the horizon. That was more than 30 years ago.

In the pre-season conference at which Battista spoke, the first question was what this season meant to him personally, not necessarily to Penn State or to the area. He spoke passionately, enthusiasm bursting through.

Moments later, he led a media tour, during which he was asked questions I’m sure had had already answered a few hundred times.

During a break in the tour, I asked him how many tours he had led, and he told me about 500. I stood waiting for the punchline, but there was none.

Here was Battista, a man who had shown the locker rooms, workout facilities and suites to more than 500 groups, and he was displaying the same amount of excitement as I imagine he had on that very first such occasion. I guess the joy of living your dream after waiting for a few decades doesn’t wear off that easily.

Battista has since moved on, having taken a job with Terry Pegula’s company. Battista’s gone, but his dream is still here.

On some level, I was always jealous of fans who could say they saw Joe Paterno’s first game, or witnessed Penn State’s first national championship, or saw the Nittany Lion men’s basketball team claim the Atlantic-10 title at Rec Hall.

I’ll never know what any of those experiences were like, but I have a little bit of a consolation prize in attending opening night at Pegula. It was a moment I’ll probably always remember. If you were there, you know what I mean.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

John covers sports for the Gazette.
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