Penn State's Pegula hockey arena opens Friday

Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena, built with a $102 million donation from Buffalo Sabres owner and Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula, will open Friday when the Nittany Lions play Army. CHRIS WEDDLE / Centre Daily Times
Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena, built with a $102 million donation from Buffalo Sabres owner and Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula, will open Friday when the Nittany Lions play Army. CHRIS WEDDLE / Centre Daily Times
Posted: October 11, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - In the shadow of one of college football's oldest cathedrals now sits college hockey's newest, most decked-out freezer.

On Friday, Terry Pegula's $102 million donation to Penn State comes to fruition as the Pegula Ice Arena. The Penn State men's hockey team will christen the state-of-the-art facility when it plays Army at 8 p.m.

"This building, we think, is going to be the premier college hockey facility in North America," said Joe Battista, Penn State's associate athletic director for hockey development.

Pegula Ice Arena seats 5,782 spectators, including a student section behind Penn State's attacking zone in the first and third periods. Battista said the crowd noise will reverberate off the arena's metal ceiling, helping to raise the volume.

"I am going to feel bad for the other goalie that comes in and has to turn around and see raging fans right behind him," Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff said.

Added Battista: "Terry Pegula actually said, 'I want it to be so loud in there it sounds like a little child inside a tin can with a hammer.' "

Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, announced his nine-figure donation in 2010 to expand hockey's brand in Pennsylvania beyond the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh markets. The new facility will be the primary home of the Nittany Lions, but will also offer various amenities to the community of central Pennsylvania, including a public rink and a few eateries.

Groundbreaking was in 2012, and in less than two years the arena's glass windows reflected Beaver Stadium to passing cars on University Drive.

The men's hockey team will play the first competitive game in Pegula Ice Arena after some doubt had initially surrounded the opening contest. Army's travel plans were in jeopardy as a result of the federal government shutdown, but West Point confirmed Wednesday that the team will play.

Tickets are available on StubHub to the general public, but the cheapest available as of Wednesday were for $159. Student tickets for the season have sold out.

Penn State drops the puck on its second year as a Division I program - a promotion also courtesy of Pegula's donation. Before, Penn State hockey was played within a club scope in the antiquated Greenberg Ice Pavilion. Now, the Lions will welcome some of the best college teams in the country and maybe some future NHL players.

The team itself, as a relatively new program, will likely hit some bumps in the road throughout the season.

"I don't think anyone is going to say this is when we're going to arrive and be known as a power," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. "But certainly if you come to Penn State . . . you come to Penn State to be one of the top programs in the nation and to try to win national championships.

"If you don't have that in mind, then you're not coming to Penn State."

Nevertheless, the players reap some of the best student-athlete accommodations for ice hockey in the country. Battista said the ice is the "fastest" and the "hardest" in North America, and Skoff said the locker rooms spoil him and his teammates.

Pegula and Battista will both be present to witness the puck drop and see their vision finally become reality.

"It's been a 35-year . . . dream for me and it started back when I came here in 1978 as a freshman," Battista said. "I couldn't be more thrilled that it's happened and couldn't be happier with the facility."

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