A Love That Runs Deep

My love for Penn State hockey runs deep.  Very deep.  It stems from my 4 years of doing radio play-by-play for the men’s club team during my college days, calling 2 national championships along the way.

When you work with a team, you spend a ton of time with them.  You travel with them, kill a lot of time at a hotel or rink waiting for games to start, and hours upon hours upon hours on buses just getting to the games.  Ultimately you form a little family.  Even supporting staff like myself form a bond with the team – naturally not as deep as if you were a player yourself – but a bond nonetheless.

For years and years, the Penn State hockey family knew we had what it would take to become a scholarship varsity team and the community to support it.  The one thing we didn’t have was enough money. Funding was needed to build a new facility and seed endowments for scholarships and other costs, so we’re not talking chump change.

Then lo and behold… that dream came true in 2010 when the Pegula family made a massive donation to Penn State to make Penn State varsity hockey – for both the men’s and women’s teams – a reality!  That donation provided everything PSU needed to build that new arena and put the supporting pieces in place to get the teams on their way.

The team started varsity play with the 2012-2013 season, so we were able to make the trip to to PSU for a handful of games that first year.  Heading to PSU for a hockey weekend – for either club or varsity play – always provided a nice excuse for us to get away.  The games were always good and slipping away just for a weekend gave us the quick change of scenery that we often needed.

During those weekend trips to see games, we watched the Pegula Ice Arena take shape.  We saw it go from a parking lot, to a hole in the ground, to a steel skeleton, to its shiny glass and brick facade.  We simply couldn’t wait to get inside for a game!  But then we had a little hiccup with those plans – we moved to Colorado…

We left Pennsylvania in July 2013 and the new barn opened in October 2013, almost 3 months to the day after we moved out west permanently.  (Figures!)  Living 1500 miles away from State College instead of just 170 made getting to games a tad more involved, so we hadn’t been back since the move… until this fall!  Even though we had to delay the trip a couple of times, it was so worth it!

As chance would have it, a friend of mine from back in my play-calling days still works with the team (lucky!). Turned out he was going to be at the rink for meetings during the first day of our stay, so he offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour.  He knew I’d be floored by the new facility compared to our old one.  He was so right!

To say I was amazed is a massive understatement!  Walking through the doors of the building for the first time was one thing.  Going out into the seats to see the rink for the first time was a little overwhelming.  So many feelings stirred seeing that this pipe dream is now an everyday reality for PSU. It’s hard to find words to describe all of the emotions that hit me.

My First Look at Pegula

I kept myself together through all of those emotions (yes!) and the tour was awesome!!  The facilities available to the athletes are stunning.  The technology improvements alone in terms of tracking your training and the different tools available blew me away.

Our seats for the weekend series of games were rinkside along the boards, so my friend took us up to the last row of the student section – now called “The Roar Zone” – to check out the view.  (In my day, the student section was simply called “Section E”, named after the seating section where the students sat.)  The Roar Zone was designed so it has the steepest incline allowable by building codes, making it very imposing to the visiting goaltender that guards that net in the 1st & 3rd periods of each game.  It also means the acoustics help the student chants and taunts rain down even harder on the guest netminder.  (Well done!)

The steepness is no joke, but once we got up there, the view was just something I wanted to soak in.  Since it was a non-gameday afternoon, the rink was empty.  It gave me a chance to get a little beauty shot of an empty arena (though I wasn’t able to get the shot with a freshly-zamboni’d surface to make it look shiny and new).  Can’t complain though!

Imposing Student Section

There’s a bunch of great displays around the concourse of the arena featuring all kinds of PSU hockey history.  There’s a display showing every guy and gal who wore every number for the PSU teams during both the club and varsity eras.  There’s a bunch of interactive displays were folks can dive into the team histories in more detail.  And of course there’s other memorabilia exhibits along the way featuring sticks, skates, sweaters, moments in program history, and so on.

My favorite display might be the one I have a teensy personal connection to – the rink board that a bunch of the hockey family signed to commemorate the elevation to varsity and the dawn of the new era for Penn State hockey.  I was lucky enough to sign that board years ago, so there’s a little piece of me in the new building even when I can’t be there in person.

Signed It

The last stop of the tour involved seeing some hardware… the B1G Conference Championship trophy we won in 2017.  Our first!  (That conference championship was a bit of a surprise/upset win t’boot.)  I never thought I’d live to see our hockey teams be elevated to varsity status, so seeing the trophy was another one of those little surreal moments for me.

Hardware

I wanted to get more pictures of the trophy, but that photo session was interrupted because the men’s head coach happened to come down the hall and my friend introduced us to him.  It was very cool to finally meet the coach after all of these years.  For having just met someone with a connection to PSU hockey’s history (little though it may have been), he was great with us.  In those few minutes we chatted with him, I could easily see how the guys on the team would skate through a wall for him and why he’s been able to make the men’s program such a success so quickly.

Getting that tour was more than we ever could have asked for on this trip!  (Thanks again to my friend – you know who you are!)  It was an absolutely fabulous way to start our hockey weekend, and the games were yet to come!

The weekend slate of games were set for Friday and Saturday night.  I didn’t take too many pictures during the games since I was too busy cheering and going wild.  And naturally, our seats were “terrible”.  (Sarcasm fully intended.)  It’s been a long time since I got to get that excited in-person at a PSU hockey game, and I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it!

Terrible Seats for the Game

Penn State won one game and lost the other one in overtime, so a good result in spite of us being in the building.  (Whenever we attend games of teams that we love, we’re usually a huge jinx and they lose when we’re in the building.)  We even saw one of the most amazing goals I’ve ever seen in person at a game – so good it made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays that night and was ultimately their #2 play for all of November!!

I’d say our hockey-centric Penn State trip was a roaring success!!  (Pun intended?  Yeah, at least this time anyway.)

We Are!!

– JC

 

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