Perfect Fit: Penn State has Finally Become a Home for Division I Ice Hockey
It’s fair to say that some things in life just natu- rally go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Bert and Ernie. We Are and Penn State!
Now, thanks to the abundantly generous and historic contribution by Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula, and his wife, Kim, that was announced in September 2010, the university (and the entire Centre Region, in actuality) are experiencing another logical fit — Penn State and NCAA Division I ice hockey.
After decades of speculation and hope from many, Penn State began its first season of Division I hockey in October. And come next season, which is in about nine months, the university will open the doors to the 6,000-seat Pegula Ice Arena.
Many pieces had to fit together for this en- deavor to be a complete success. One of those was finding the right man to lead Penn State into Division I hockey, and that part fell into place with the hiring of Guy Gadowsky.
From Edmonton, he grew up around hockey — the sport has been in his blood for as long as he can remember.
“It’s just what we did when I was a boy,” he says. “I went to outdoor rinks and skated with my dad, and when Gretzky came to Edmonton, it was exciting times. Watching them [the Edmonton Oilers], that’s when I truly fell in love with the game of hockey.”
Gadowsky played collegiately at Colorado College and had several stints with various professional teams before securing his first head-coaching job with the Fresno Falcons, a team he helped groom for the West Coast Hockey League.
“I knew that helping to develop the team in Fresno would involve many particulars and be a ton of work, but the end result would be very rewarding,” he says. “That opportunity gave me great experience for here, where we had a solid foundation to continue to build on, and we have a great athletic staff that works so hard at all of the details.”
From Fresno, he took his talents to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he spent five sea- sons before accepting the head-coaching position at Princeton University. During his seven-year tenure with the Tigers, Gadowsky led the program to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Joe Battista, former longtime Penn State Icers head coach and current associate athletic director for Pegula Ice Arena and Penn State hockey, was one who had long wanted varsity hockey to become a reality at Penn State. He knows the school picked the right man to lead the program.
“Coach Gadowsky brings instant credibility to our program,” he says. “He is a good man, a good community citizen. He is a family-oriented guy with a commitment to academic excellence, and he puts the welfare of his student-athletes ahead of simply winning.”
Furthermore, Battista praises Gadowsky’s cognition of all things hockey, shown through his strategies, both with recruiting and on the ice. “He is capable of everything that has to do with the sport,” Battista says.
In addition, Gadowsky brings an element of ex- citement with his personable disposition. On ice, the focal point of his coaching philosophy emphasizes speed and creativity. “We want to be a fun team to watch as well as be successful,” he states. “And these are important criteria for developing players for the NHL as well.”
Judging from the crowds coming to see the team this season, both at home in the cozy con- fines of Greenberg Ice Pavilion and on the road, it’s safe to say that Gadowsky is well on his way to making Penn State an entertaining team. And he is ecstatic with what he is seeing in regards to the fan base.
“The passion of the student body and alumni is a big reason I came to Penn State,” he says. “I re- ally value that spirit, that enthusiasm. I observe it from watching other sporting events at Penn State, and it’s phenomenal. I wanted to be a part of that. From midnight practice to our first game [which was a sellout] to hours away in Wilkes-Barre, there are Penn Staters everywhere supporting us.”
And if someone has shown no previous interest in hockey, Gadowsky stresses the importance of seeing a game live. “To see hockey live is very different than from on TV. It’s fast, it’s tough, it’s physical. It’s just so much fun,” he animatedly says.
Battista could not agree more. “Hockey has something of everything,” he says. “It’s got speed, physicality, skill, and teamwork. The atmosphere can be electrifying. We want to expose all Penn State fans to the sport and include them in future achievements.”
Another component of Gadowsky’s coaching style stems from his upbringing. “I grew up in a family of teachers,” he says, “and while that’s not necessarily unique, it’s been a benefit to me, grow- ing up in that type of environment. I take pride in that. It’s taught me commitment, something I still utilize every day in my coaching.”
When asked how he sustains a motivational viewpoint day in and day out to continue to lead Penn State, he says it’s really quite straightforward — “I just love hockey.”
He continues, “To compete in the Big Ten at the highest level and do it at a campus with so much passion is a dream come true for me. It motivates me every day, and I’m grateful for it. I’m having so much fun.”
While living in the present and focusing intently on the current season, he also has high hopes for the years to come.
“When I think of next season, it’s unbelievably exciting,” he says. “We’re jumping into the Big Ten Conference, one of the premier hockey conferences in the nation, and we very well un- derstand how difficult this league is going to be. But we are a high-profile program, and we will be playing in perhaps one of the best environments in the country.”
As Gadowsky continues, he turns just a bit more dynamic, more heartened. “Our ‘secret’ weapon will be our arena,” he says. “The rink is going to be beautiful, next to none. With that be- ing said, the season will be an incredible challenge, but one that we’re up for. We’re doing well so far, and we’ll continue to take it one day at a time.”
The Pegula Ice Arena has that effect — the ability to make many people truly excited for what is to come. Upon completion, the arena will be a 226,000-square-foot venue with capacity for 6,500 attendees (including standing room only). It will consist of two sheets of ice, allowing use for a wide range of campus and community activities, a large weight room and hydrotherapy training room, steam room, numerous concession stands, guest suites, and modern locker rooms.
In short, the Pegula Ice Arena will offer some of the best amenities available at the college level and beyond.
“We did our homework,” Battista says in earnest. “We traveled to many other venues, took the best of what we saw, and added in our wants. We talked and went back and forth and changed our minds and changed them back. There are an awful lot of people involved in this process, and the end result will be tremendous.”
Both Gadowsky and Battista are quick to point out that the Pegula Ice Arena has always been intended for more — much more — than simply Penn State ice hockey games.
“One of the goals of Mr. Pegula is to have the arena and Division I program as a catalyst for hockey in this area,” Gadowsky says. “Every Monday night the players are coaching youth clinics. There are and continue to be very good hockey players coming out of Pennsylvania — we just need more of them, and it starts at a young level.”
Battista adds on to this thought. “I believe the overall impact on the community is how we will define ‘success,’ ” he says. “My goal is to make a destination for faculty and staff, students, alums and their families, and the community as a whole. I want it to be an integral part of State College, maybe especially on those winter weekends, and leave a positive impression on the region. Terry, as the visionary of the entire process, feels the same way — he wants it to be about the community and Central Pennsylvania as a whole.
“We will benefit because of all we’ll have to offer. There will be skating and hockey programs, hockey and figure skating competitions, state play- off games, adult beginning-hockey classes. All of these opportunities will continue to generate in- terest in our region.”
The tumultuous circumstances in the com- munity over the past year have done nothing to hamper the encouraging and constructive ideals that both Gadowsky and Battista have regarding Penn State athletics, alumni, and fans. After the
NCAA sanctions were imposed on the football team, Gadowsky gave a statement affirming the positivity of the entire staff, along with Pegula, of supporting Penn State student-athletes and con- tinuing on with the great traditions of Penn State. He says that he has seen no repercussions on his ability to recruit future players for his squad.
“Above all, it gave me an opportunity,” Gadowsky says. “I knew the student body and alumni were the best in the nation. This experience showed me the resolve of these groups. One bene- fit of it all is that it showed just how strong they are and how much we all pulled together. I couldn’t be more proud of the students and the alumni.”
Battista also remains positive. “If anything, it’s shown how strong and resilient a community we are,” he says. “We have a great mission. We’ll come out stronger and smarter, and we’ll continue to do what’s right.”