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We Are… Happy in Hockey Valley

by on February 18, 2020 5:00 AM

This past Sunday was celebrated as “Hockey Day in America.” NBC’s NHL hockey coverage included three games and featured stories throughout the day about the growth of interest in hockey, especially at the youth level. There were stories about the growth of women’s hockey, special needs hockey, and sled hockey as well as the number of minorities playing hockey. 

In short, it was a great day to binge watch hockey

The NHL network showed a special version of the 2004 movie “Miracle” which tells the story of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team in Lake Placid. It’s the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” and the special showing featured Bob Costas interviewing Al Michaels, who was the play by play broadcaster for the iconic game where Team USA upset the heavily favored Soviet Union squad 4-3.

It’s been almost 10 years since Terry and Kim Pegula gave their transformational gift to Happy Valley that turned this area into Hockey Valley. It was also 10 years ago that I wrote a column about those of us involved in Penn State hockey already believing in miracles, and this was months before the Pegulas would give a total of $102 million for the building of the Pegula Ice Arena and the transition to NCAA varsity hockey.

Little did any of us know at the time what a massive transformation there would be in hockey’s local profile in the next 10 years. Thanks to Terry and Kim Pegula’s generosity, the dreams of Penn State hockey fans would come true after a 100-year wait.

That’s right, it only took 100 years for Penn State hockey’s fortunes to finally change.  You see, the first hockey games played by Penn State were in December of 1909 against Carnegie Tech (Carnegie Mellon). This year represents the 110th anniversary of that first foray into collegiate hockey for the Nittany Lions.  

There are a few other noteworthy anniversaries in Penn State hockey lore including the 80th anniversary of the 1939-40 team coached by Dr. Arthur Davis. The 1980 Icers team (that I actually played on as a sophomore) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Conference championship over Villanova. Am I really that old? The 1990 Icers squad is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its 4-3 ACHA National Championship victory over Iowa State, the first national title team I had the honor to coach. The 2000 Icers team is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “The Magic City Miracle” and it’s three straight come-from-behind overtime victories, including the 3-2 finals win over Eastern Michigan.

The 1990 Penn State Icers team was the first national championship squad coached by Joe Battista, winning the ACHA title 4-3 over Iowa State 

Hockey has had a rich, if somewhat low-key, tradition here for a long time. This weekend is the annual Alumni Weekend for men’s hockey. On Saturday, the “older” alumni skate at 11:15 a.m. while the younger alums skate at 1 p.m. Every year I say, “This will be my last one” and every year I get talked into playing. As you might guess, it doesn’t take much to get me to agree to join my old teammates and guys I coached for an annual chance to prove “the older we get, the better we were!”

Head coach Guy Gadowsky’s 2019-20 Penn State squad is currently in a tie atop the Big Ten standings with this week’s opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Ten years ago, you would have been laughed at to suggest Penn State and Minnesota hockey would be mentioned in the same sentence, let alone discussing a battle for first place for the Big Ten hockey regular season title. If the Nittany Lions can come away with a sweep, they will be in a great position to clinch the Big Ten regular season title, although they will still need some help as a few teams still have a mathematical chance to win the title and first-round bye. A sweep of the Gophers would also put them in a good position to return to the NCAA tournament.

While the women’s program has yet to achieve the success of the men’s program, they have shown steady improvement under Coach Jeff Kampersal, making it to the CHA semifinals each of the past two seasons. Having secured its best ever recruiting class, it is only a matter of time before the women earn their own trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The 1999-2000 Penn State Icers reeled off three consecutive come-from-behind, overtime victories to win the ACHA national championship. 

If you have kids that are interested in playing hockey, Pegula Ice Arena offers a number of learn to skate and learn to play hockey programs, as well as youth hockey programs, and is home to the State College Youth Hockey Association, State College Little Lions, the PSU student hockey intramural league, and its own version of the “NHL” in the form of the Nittany Hockey League for adults. 

Former Icer Ryan Patrick is the director of youth hockey programs. Those old enough to remember the aforementioned 1980 “Miracle on Ice” or who have seen the movie “Miracle” might make the connection between Ryan Patrick and his father Craig Patrick, who was the assistant coach on Herb Brooks’ gold medal winning team. Ryan, his brother C.J., and his cousin Curtiss all played for the ACHA Penn State hockey team and helped the Icers win several ACHA National Championships. 

The hockey tradition in Happy Valley has played a major role in fans being “Happy in Hockey Valley.” Come out to Pegula Ice Arena this Saturday to see the alumni games and to cheer on the Nittany Lions as they take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota Friday and Saturday for a shot at the Big Ten regular season title.

The 2019-20 Penn State men's hockey team is seeking a Big Ten championship and an NCAA tournament bid. Photo by Paul Burdick


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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