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Penn State Hockey: NHL Game At Pegula Seemed Inevitable But Plenty Had To Happen First

by on September 22, 2016 9:00 PM

Penn State Assistant Athletic Director Michael Cross' office is predictably straightforward considering he was only hired this August. His diploma, which formally declares him "Dr" isn't even hung on the wall and about the only other noticeable decor is a massive monitor with a packed schedule across the screen.

But despite having only been in State College for a few months, the former Bradley athletic director certainly has gotten a lot done. Mainly Penn State's first professional hockey game on campus, a meeting between the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild this coming Monday some six years and nine days after the university announced it would venture into the world of Division I hockey.

Even if the Sabres always made sense as a part of Penn State's first professional endeavor, owner Terry Pegula bankrolling the Nittany Lions' arena and essentially birth, there were still plenty of logistics to take care of.

"Once that (interest in the event) was established with the Sabres there was some back and forth about dates and ultimately they presented us with a date," Cross said adjusting a coaster on his office table. "And it worked well from a facilities standpoint, it worked well from a scheduling standpoint as it relates to other activities on campus. The relationship aspect was important, I think it's appropriate that their team and their franchise as the first one to play in here as a professional team, they're tremendous supporters of the institution and athletic program and we appreciate that and we appreciate the ability to partner with them again."

From there it was a matter of getting the building ready. For example there are NHL netting requirements around the rink that differ from the college game, a trapezoid on the ice behind the goaltender had to be painted on to match the professional markings. Medical protocols are also different in the NHL and so Penn State had to be able to provide those services. Minor changes, but ones that had to be taken care of.

Even the ice shavings. 

"The snow shoveling on the ice between the media timeouts, it's a different protocol in the NHL than it is in college hockey." Said Associate Athletic Director Mark Bodenschatz who overseas management aspects of Pegula Ice Arena. "It's a different pattern and there are more numbers. In the NHL they end up shoveling off the whole sheet of ice, in the college game it's just around the dashers and then the goal mouth. So it's a little bit more expanded."

Beyond that the game will be presented as a Sabres' home contest around the building as well as behind the scenes with the displaced home team using the Nittany Lions' locker room while the Wild use the women's lockers down the hall.

Financially, Cross wouldn't go into specifics but with Buffalo giving up its opening preseason game of the year he emphasized that Monday's proceedings are a positive for all involved between ticket sales and travel costs. The net result is allegedly a lucrative one for both organizations, something that could very well mean more professional hockey visiting State College in the future. Even if professional hockey has been quietly visiting already.

“I have been fortunate enough to have been to the Pegula Ice Arena already," Buffalo coach Dan Byslma said on Thursday. "I actually coached a kids’ teams on both rinks, I've been in the Penn State dressing room. It's first class. I’m gassed up to see an NHL game in that arena. I’m looking forward to the student end zone, how the fans fit in there, I’m excited to be able to bring the NHL there and to coach in that building.”

Heck, even the referees are excited.

"It's my understanding that this has been a very popular game with the NHL officials," Cross added. "There are a lot of people vying to do this particular contest because of the building because of what they've heard about this in the hockey community."

And about that long awaited NHL game at Beaver Stadium?

"It's a good first step."

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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