Penn State Hockey: Pegula Ice Arena Tour And Joe Battista Q&A
A short question and answer session with Joe Battista, Associate Athletic Director for Penn State's Ice Arena and Hockey Development.
Q: What does this mean for you personally as opposed to Penn State Hockey?
A: Well, it’s been a 35-year adventure, dream for me and it started back when I came here in 1978 as a freshman. The rumors then were that a new ice arena was going to be built, 4,500 seats, Division I hockey and anybody that was around in those eras old enough like me to know that, the economy just wasn’t cooperating. A decision was made to just scale the project back and instead of a 4,500-seat facility and stepping up into the Division I varsity world, we ended up with Greenberg (Ice Pavilion) with 1,056 seats and a really good club hockey program over the years.
But the dream really started with a bunch of guys back in the 1970s, Roy Scott and Dave McCrabb and Larry Hendry, who was the coach then. It was a varsity sport here back in the 1940s and it went away for 25 years. On behalf of a lot of other people who have dreamed this dream, I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s happened and couldn’t be happier with the facility. It is magnificent and when you see the looks on the men’s and women’s players as we did when we moved in here on September 9, it made it all worth it.
Q: At what point in the last couple of years did it kind of hit you that this thing is close?
A: Obviously, all of it for me was exciting, but I’d have to say that I just happened to show up here the night that the final piece of precast concrete was being placed. We had a huge, yellow crane outside the building and it lifted it up over and down between the steel, and they turned it and set into place and when it hit and they locked it into place, you could see the bowl. And it was really at that point that it was like “Wow, look at this, this place is going to be amazing,” and I’d say that’s probably when it first really, really hit me.
Q: Why is the ice going to be so good?
A: The ice is going to be good because this is primarily an ice facility, but we will have a multipurpose functionality to it. We will shut the main arena ice down from May through the middle of June, and during that time we’ll hold commencement for some of the colleges; we may hold commencement for some of the local high schools. We’ll have some trade shows. We’ll have Happy Volley and we’ll probably do a week or two of basketball camp, where they’ll lay down sport court and be able to do that, but primarily this facility is all about ice and ice-related functions.
We built the ceiling, again when you see it, it’s a tin can and Terry Pegula actually said, “I want it to be so loud in there it sounds like a little child inside a tin can with a hammer.” It’s not set up for a concert, that’s for sure. We have enough of those around here. The other facility, the community rink, will be open all year round. Hopefully we will only have to take the ice down maybe once every 3-4 years for maintenance, otherwise it will be up and running all the time.
Q: How close are you to be completely done other than maybe light bulbs and things like that?
A: Very close. It’s really right now the devil’s in the details. It’s making sure things work a little here, work a little there, but I will tell you and Chris Whittemore our manager here, whose really kind of our ice expert, we’ve all known it will take a year before we have the ice temperature, the humidity, all of the things that go into making great ice where we need it to be. It’s a process. It’s not something that you just come right out.
Anybody that followed the Penguins knows that when CONSOL (Energy Center) first opened up they had their share of issues in there and it took a while to work that out. I’d say right now, based on the feedback we’ve gotten, the players love it. Temperature’s terrific. The ice is hard. It’s fast. (When you see the ice plant), you’ll see that we did not hold back on making sure we had the best of everything in there and redundancy so that we’re able to quickly shift from one compressor, pump whatever we need to another, in order to make sure this lasts a very long time.
Q: How have you seen youth hockey in the area progress already since Pegula Ice Arena broke ground and how do you see it developing down the road?
A: Well if our numbers of our learn to skate programs and our group lessons are any indication, it’s already revved up. I think from the time it was announced, people knew what was coming here. Greenberg (Ice Pavilion) has four locker rooms, very small locker rooms. This building has 14 and there’s going to be the ability to run tournaments, showcases and competitions for figure skating that we could never have dreamed of over in Greenberg. That was part of (Terry Pegula’s) vision. He wanted to see this spark more and more interest, not only in watching hockey but participating in the sport as well.
Q: There was a report last week from the Board of Trustees on the department of athletic finances. Startup costs for hockey were cited as one of the expenses. Is the overall goal still to make this program revenue self-sufficient?
A: Absolutely, and obviously we’re off to a great start because we have no debt service on the building. The original gift was $88 million and then (the Pegulas) gave an additional $14 million to help with scholarship costs. We’ve since then added several additional fully-endowed scholarships and our goal is to get to all 36 (18 for the men and 18 for the women). Right now we’re at 22. If we can get it up to 36 that certainly helps quite a bit. We’ve also done more fundraising and the goal for us in our ice campaign is to reach an additional $10 million and we’re closing in on that.
We hope to have that done here soon and that will go towards operating and enhancements for the program and the building. Sponsorships are doing extremely well. When you go out there today you won’t see the board ads up yet but that is just because we haven’t gotten them but by the time the first hockey game begins they’ll all be taken. All the in-ice ads are sold so we’ve done very well in that respect. And then obviously with the success we’re having with the ticket sales and revenue, while it is an expensive proposition we’re pretty confident, that it’s like any startup it’ll take us a few years to get there, but our goal is to be revenue-neutral, the building to pay for itself and the two programs to be self-sufficient.
Q: When you say a game at Beaver Stadium, do you mean collegiate or NHL?
A: I think it’ll be both. Certainly from a selfish perspective I would like Penn State to be the first outdoor game in there. If we play Penn State-Notre Dame, Penn State-Boston College or Penn State-Michigan in Beaver Stadium, one of those, and don’t read anymore into that, I’m just throwing those names out there. I don’t think people understand that you won’t just attract Penn State and whoever we’re playing, their fans. You’re going to attract hockey fans from all over the state, all over Canada; they’ll come because it will be an event. Obviously at some point the goal would be to have an interstate rivalry game in here between the Penguins and the Flyers, but I don’t know, maybe there will be a Sabres game in here. I think there are 102 million reasons why it might be the Sabres too.
Q: Can you describe the feeling you had the first time you skated on that ice?
A: Numb. It’s funny because the ice was only about a half-inch thick when we first went on it. Normally ice is an inch and a half. So the very first time we went on we did some publicity shots. That was cool, taking the first step out there; I had a little lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. A week later when the full ice sheet was down and myself, Marv Bevan our project manager and Chris Whittemore our rink manager; the three of us went out and really gave it a test run. I hadn’t skated, I don’t know that my skates hit the ice. I hadn’t skated that hard in a long time and boy did I feel it the next day. It was sheer joy being out there and just looking around. And then everything was going great until Mike Wierzbicki hit the goal horn and scared the living heck out of me and I fell. It was a lot of fun.