Just a few short years ago, the Penn State Men’s Hockey team was essentially a traveling club team – competing against lower-level competition in aging facilities around the northeast. They were one of the elite teams at their level, winning multiple championships in the ACHA League under Coach Joe Battista, aka JoeBa.
Even so, they were considered to be the equivalent of a Division III team. The success they had wasn’t enough to be considered in the same conversation as the more well- known and elite programs in collegiate hockey, Teams such as Denver, Union, North Dakota and Boston University dominated the sport. Huh? No offense, but how could a world-class university like Penn State not be considered among the likes of Denver or Union when it comes to college hockey?
Enter Terry & Kim Pegula. Terry’s a Scranton-area native and Penn State grad who parlayed his petroleum and natural gas engineering degree from Penn State into a net-worth of over $4B. Avid hockey fans, in 2010, the Pegulas committed over $100M to help propel Penn State into an NCAA Division I team with a simple ACH transaction with a couple of commas. Not to dismiss the contribution, but let’s put that donation into perspective – it’s a mere 2.5% of their overall net worth.
Regardless, this donation ultimately led to the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. Penn State joined Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the newly formed conference starting in the 2012-2013 season – and Notre Dame later joined as an affiliate member. Not bad!
Pegula wasn’t done there. He then went on to purchase the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills, but that’s another story for another time.
Clearly, when someone plunks down a hundred million, they want to make an impact and see results – and not just in naming the facility the Pegula Ice Arena. Sure, maybe some people may be happy with that, but this wasn’t just a philanthropic effort. Terry seems to be a competitive guy and he wants results on the ice.
In the 2016-2017 season, Penn State delivered! The Lions skated their way to become Big Ten Champions in just their fourth year of Division I play. The victory also secured their spot in the NCAA tournament, where they destroyed the perennial powerhouse, Union, 10-3, before losing to eventual Champion and another perennial powerhouse, Denver.
You can imagine that expectations for the 2017-2018 season are pretty high. After a shaky 5-8 start, a trip to the desert was just what the doctor ordered!
The Lions made their way to Tempe for a rare matchup out west. The Sun Devils, like the Lions, are newcomers to the D1 Hockey scene, this being their second season, but still playing as an independent.
When we saw the match on the schedule for Glendale, we jumped at the chance to see the team in action.
In September, we ran into a few of the Penn State players while in State College and told them we’d be there in the desert to welcome them. Little did we know we’d also get a chance to see them on their home ice in October as well when we made a trip to see the Penn State vs Michigan game.
On Friday night, we made the trip to Glendale during rush hour and it reminded me why we gave up our Coyotes tickets all those years ago. The traffic to make the normally 30-minute trip easily doubled the time. We still made it in time to catch Happy Hour at Bar Louie, which sits across the plaza from the Arena.
We had originally purchased seats on the glass next to the penalty box, but we received a call and email earlier in the week saying they were relocating us. They were pushing everyone to one side of the arena for improved optics for the TV coverage. The good news? They included access to the BMW Club, which provided free food! The Club was steps away from the ice and our seats.
During warm-ups, we got down to the glass to welcome the players. Sure enough, some of those that we met in State College acknowledged us. I have to think, as a Penn State player, some 2300 miles away, it must be nice to see fans supporting you no matter where you are.
We also noticed Coach Gadowsky mingling with some fans up in the stands while the team warmed up on the ice.
There were plenty of Penn State fans in attendance, even this guy sporting the famed Johnstown Chiefs sweater.
After a scoreless first period, the Lions capitalized on a couple of power plays to put them up 2-0 going into the third period. Then the floodgates opened.
Penn State put up a whopping five goals in the third to easily dismantle the Sun Devils 7-0 on the first night of a two-game series. The Lions out-shot the Devils by an unbelievable 49-15 margin on the night.
The next night, we stuck with our routine to hit Bar Louie again before the puck dropped. And the Lions stuck with their routine – out-shooting the Devils again, 49-25. Their aggressiveness paid off again with a 4-2 win to sweep the weekend series, moving their record to 7-8.
The Lions now head into B1G play where things get even tougher. Let’s hope they pull together for a run down the stretch so they can build on and improve from last year’s success.
On our way out, we couldn’t resist getting a selfie with Sparky! After all, we have a daughter sporting the maroon and gold as well!