Sunday September 22, 2013 brought about a bittersweet close to a 32 year chapter in the history of Penn State for all the patrons who "laced 'em up" to skate at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion on the Penn State Campus.
Tucked next to the football practice facilities and offices it was not unusual for some faculty, staff and students to go through years at PSU and never even realize we even had an ice rink on campus.
Parking was always a challenge. Giving directions to visitors often resulted in folks driving all over campus trying to figure out which of the turns they should have made at the five way intersection of Bigler road, Bigler "extended", Hastings, McKean, and McKean "extended".
Even the front entrance to the building was never easy to find and there was little in the way of signage for us to promote the facility.
Despite the challenges the "Ice Pavilion", "Greenberg", the "Ice Rink", or the "Icerdome" as it was called over the years, helped serve the recreational and entertainment needs of millions since its opening in January of 1981.
Back then the walls were bare and the Nevco scoreboard (which functioned to the very end) was literally installed the day before the first PSU hockey game.
So Sunday night, with the efforts of Assistant Manager Sheri Cramer and supervisor Deb Campbell, the current Ice Rink staff gathered for a pizza party and a "Last Skate".
The younger members of the staff probably had no idea that I stood there watching them play a game of "shinny" hockey with moist eyes and a smile on my face. The hockey skaters were trying to learn how to do spins from our figure skating staff and the skating staff had a ball playing an impromptu game of hockey.
My wife, the former Heidi Smith, made it in to reminisce a bit, as we have shared so many memories in Greenberg over the years. It was a second home to us and our kids (much to their chagrin at times getting dragged to the rink to watch me coach!). Heidi was actually the first "Score-O" contestant at the first Icer game in the rink and almost put the puck through the small slot in the board that hung on the crossbar on the first shot!
Heidi was a member of the Hockey Management Association (HMA) in 1981 that handled home game operations, sold advertising and programs, and handled all the marketing of the team. That is how we first met as I was the Vice President of the organization and she caught my eye at the very first recruiting session for new members.
We became friends but she played hard to get. We didn't have our first date until two years later. We didn't start dating seriously until I returned to PSU as a first year coach in 1987-88. She claims I needed "maturing"!
Heidi and I took some pictures on the ice and over by the bench where for 19 years as the Head Coach of the Icers, I made every referee feel very welcome! (You believe me don't you?!!). Perhaps the most often heard phrases from the old coach were "I am starting to lose my sense of humor Stripes" and "You couldn't ref a pee-wee game!" I actually had great fun with the fellas in black and white stripes over the years and many are still very good friends.
So as I skated around for the final time I started thinking about the friendships, the administrative challenges, the battles, the fun, the heartbreak of a tough loss, and the exhilaration of the big wins.
Mostly I thought about all the good people who worked at the rink over the years and the coaches and players I had the privilege of working with in my 32 year adventure at Greenberg. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the generosity of the Greenberg's whose gift made the facility possible and some of the key people behind the scenes who supported the rink and programs.
Herb Schmidt, Larry Fies, Dale Roth, Vance McCullogh, Vinnie Scalamogna, Brian Hassinger, Terry Houser, Grant Davis, Chris Whittemore, Dena Yeagley and many more that I could name. To all of them I say "Thank You" for your service and your patience in putting up with this dreamer who always badgered them with the idea that someday we could have a big-time arena and major Division I college hockey in Central Pa.
I tried my best to come up with a top ten list of my favorite (and not so favorite) memories at the Ice Pavilion but between my rapidly fading memory and the stress of opening the new Pegula Ice Arena, it was tough to focus. So here is a random sampling of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" from 32 years in Greenberg:
- Sneaking onto the construction site in fall of 1980 with several of my teammates and realizing we were standing in the future office of Football Coach Joe Paterno.
- Dressing in the lobby for our first-ever practice because the locker rooms were not yet ready.
- The first game in front of a capacity crowd on January 16, 1981 after spending two and a half years playing "home games" in Mechanicsburg and practicing outdoors.
- Working as a camp counselor in the summer of 1981 for the first (and almost last) PSU hockey camp. Almost the last because the staff got into a huge water battle with the campers that resulted in a small flood in the dorms when one of the kids turned a fire hose on us! Had a little explaining to do to Coach Clayton John after that mess!
- Winning the first ever Nittany Lion Invitational in my senior year in 1982 in dramatic fashion scoring 2 goals in the final 56 seconds to erase a 5-3 deficit and scoring in OT to win the championship.
- Participating in the annual ice show as Surfer Joe, Sheriff Joe, Coach Joe, Aerobics Instructor Joe. I was always in a comedy routine so that when we fell people laughed thinking it was part of the show!
- My favorite "Ice Rhythms" memory was when Professional skater Dan Hollander did his trademark back flip over Dena Yeagley, Gloria Leous, and me to the delight of the capacity crowd.
- Meeting Heidi Smith. We spent the better part of our married lives at Greenberg.
- Hosting and winning the program's first ever ICHL championship in 1989 (as the #4 seed) with dramatic upset wins in front of capacity crowds
- As a rookie Head Coach at age 27, I was so frustrated at the poor level of officiating in a game that I put my foot on the dasher boards and actually reached out to grab the referee (which would have cost me my job!). But due only to "Divine intervention", I slipped and fell and looked up at my assistant coach Ray Lombra and said, "Ray, I think I broke my leg".
- Jamming over 1,600 people into the 1,056 seat rink in 1991 for a game vs. rival Rhode Island and having the Fire Marshall (who was a hockey fan!) in the building and give us a big tongue lashing (Afterward the SRO capacity was 1350!).
- Hosting the first "official" American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament in 1992 and having our game vs. North Dakota State televised on the fledgling KBL cable sports channel (now the Root Sports Network).
- Beating NCAA varsity opponent Findlay University 8-2 at Greenberg Ice Rink giving notice that PSU Hockey was for real.
- My 4 year old son Jonathon pulling the fire alarm back by our locker room just as the second period was about to begin and me turning to assistant coach Scott Balboni and saying, "Ten dollars says that was my kid," and watching faculty advisor Paul Cohen run around to the lobby (with a smiling Jonathon under his arm) yelling to everyone it was a false alarm!
- Of course, I have fond memories of my time on the home bench where the players endured the infamous "JoeBa Raised Eyebrow" and the "JoeBa Stomp"!
- Teaching and Directing as many as 7 weeks of hockey camp every summer for 20 years.
- Defeating Iowa State in dramatic fashion to win the Nittany Lion Invitational championship in 2003 which helped propel us to the 6th and final ACHA National title that March.
- Any game over the years when we played arch rival Ohio University including back-to-back come from behind OT wins in 2005 that sent the Icer faithful into pandemonium.
- Icer Hall of Fame induction ceremonies held at center ice which inevitably left me smiling and crying as I hugged each new inductee.
- The final season in Greenberg in 2012-13 which hosted both the men's and women's NCAA varsity hockey teams first seasons.
- Playing in my final "NHL" (Nittany Hockey League) game and scoring the winning goal in OT!
I could of course tell hundreds of more stories and I apologize for leaving out some of the good and not so good memories. It has been an amazing 32 year journey in the Greenberg Ice Rink.
On behalf of all the patrons who enjoyed a public skate, a youth hockey practice or game, a private or group skating lesson, a game of broomball, or an Icer or Lady Icer game, I say THANK YOU!