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Penn State Aims to Become National Model with Hockey Program, Spanier Says

by on September 17, 2010 8:18 PM

Filed by Michelle Willemin and Adam Smeltz,

UNIVERSITY PARK -- If there was any doubt, Graham Spanier nixed it Friday when he pulled on a blue-and-white hockey jersey and stepped to the podium.

NCAA Division I ice hockey -- both men's and women's -- is indeed coming to University Park, university President Spanier told the Penn State trustees at their regular meeting.

Rumored for months, the announced program will bring to 31 the number of varsity sports offered at Penn State. An $88 million gift from Terrence M. and Kim Pegula, of Boca Raton, Fla., will be the lead gift for the hockey program, financing 20 women's and 18 men's scholarships; a 5,000- to 6,000-seat arena near University Drive; and other associated elements.

Spanier said the gift is the largest private donation in university history. Terrence Pegula, a 1973 Penn State graduate in petroleum and natural-gas engineering, founded the Warrendale-based East Resources Inc. and was a key shareholder. The privately held energy-exploration-and-development company was sold in July to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion, according to CTV News.

"Our goal here is to work with the hockey community to grow and advance the sport," Penn State athletics Director Tim Curley said at a Nittany Lion Inn press conference Friday. " ... We want to make this a transformational gift that impacts all of North American hockey."

The Penn State Division I hockey program is scheduled to begin play in the 2012-13 season in the Greenberg Indoor Sports Complex. It's expected to move to the new arena by 2014.

That arena will take shape just west of the Bryce Jordan Center, along University Drive behind Shields Building, athletics officials said. Spanier said it will include two sheets of ice and provide a state-of-the-art venue not only for Division I hockey, but also for figure skating, high school hockey, National Hockey League exhibition games and other community and family events.

He said Penn State wants to make the facility and its activities a national model, a standard "by which all other national programs are measured." It will be the only venue of its kind in an 80-mile radius and "will change the future of hockey at the university," Spanier said. Since the 1970s, ice hockey has been offered only as a club sport at Penn State.

Curley said the university tentatively plans to keep offering the club sport if there's sufficient interest.

For the Division I program, he said, the next big step is the appointment of an arena architect. A coaching staff is likely to be appointed next year, as the program gains more definition, Curley said.

He said he hopes the program can be financially self-sustaining; in fact, he added, Terrence Pegula has said he wants the addition to strengthen, not burden, the athletic department's finances.

Pegula, who betrayed a spiritual side Friday, said he "really thought long and hard: Do I really want to spend this much money for a treasure on Earth?

"Then I thought about the years that I spent as a rink rat with my oldest son, learning to skate, youth hockey ... . I got my answer. I remember the character we built in our young players. Our 9- and 10-year-olds wore a collared shirt and a tie to our games."

Coaches in his youth-hockey organization, Pegula said, taught the players "how to be young gentlemen."

"Maybe someday, somewhere in these hills of Pennsylvania, we're going to find a Pennsylvania Crosby," Pegula said, referring to NHL player Sidney Crosby. " ... Hopefully, he'll play hockey at Penn State. And I think that's awesome."

Initial hockey play schedules and opponents have yet to be finalized, but five other Big Ten schools already have Division I men's hockey teams. Three have Division I women's hockey teams.

Big Ten Conference rules allow for a conference championship when at least six member institutions sponsor a particular sport.

But "a decision of that nature ... cannot be made without a significant amount of discussion both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with the hockey community as a whole," the conference announced in a statement today. "Whatever we do, we will communicate in a respectful and responsible way as we endeavor to balance all of the unique interests in play."

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