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It’s Officially Official: Penn State Hockey Goes D-1

Submitted by on September 17, 20106 Comments

It had been something of an open secret, spoken of in hushed tones and met with tempered excitement.  But in the last few days, those murmurs have gotten louder and louder.  Now, well, it’s official.

The wait is over. Penn State is getting Division 1 hockey

In a press conference earlier today, the Penn State athletic department announced that a major donation had been secured, allowing Penn State not only to build a new hockey arena, which will hold between 5000 and 6000 fans, but to fund scholarships moving forward, for both men‘s and women‘s (thanks, Title IX!) varsity hockey teams.  The arena, which will be situated on the corner of Curtin Road and University Drive directly west of the Bryce Jordan Center, will house not just a rink to play on, but also a practice rink, where, presumably, the community will be allowed to skate, just as they have at the current facility. The new, state of the art. $75 million arena, is expected to be completed by 2013 and funded exclusively by private donations.

It will include two ice sheets and other features that will allow it to be used for a broad range of campus and community activities, from commencement ceremonies to kinesiology classes to public skating sessions and camps for youth. The facility will provide new training and performance opportunities for Penn State’s popular and successful figure skating club and for the University’s women’s ice hockey team. It also will offer ice time to recreational and high school hockey programs, as well as intramural and local speed skating and broomball clubs. The state-of-the-art arena will be able to host events such as professional ice shows and National Hockey League and American Hockey League exhibition games, generating tourism and other economic impacts in the region.

Funding has been the one thing holding back Penn State from adding a varsity team.  For two decades now, the athletic department has looked to move up to the Division-1 level in hockey.  But the tremendous amount of capital required, not just to build and maintain a new stadium, but to pay for scholarships in two sports made that simply impossible.

The exciting development has been made possible by Penn State alum and crazy-rich gas tycoon Terry Pegula, who came into some money over the summer when he sold his natural gas company to Royal Dutch Shell for an unfathomable $4.7 billion.  Good thing he’s a hockey fan and good thing he connected with Joe Battista, the longtime Icers coach and current director of “major gifts”.  And I’d say this $88 million donation qualifies as a pretty major gift. In fact, it marks the largest private gift in the University’s history. It will not only fund the construction of the arena, but an endowment that funds 18 scholarships for the men, and 20 for the womens’ teams.

The idea for the switch to Division I began as early as 2006 when Pegula approached the coach of Penn State’s club team inquiring as to why Penn State did not compete at the top level. The wheels were set in motion almost immediately afterwards. It wasn’t until reports of Battista and Pegula scouting hockey facilities at Minnesota and Notre Dame’s brand new on-campus ice arena this past summer were leaked that the rumors started percolating among fans. Both men were then seen together during the Big Ten Football Kickoff meetings in August further substantiating what many already believed to be true.

In a somewhat brilliant move, Penn State hockey will make the switch to the varsity level in 2012-13, long before the new arena is completed.  Penn State will compete temporarily as an independent for the first 2 seasons. This will ensure that the team has their skates beneath them, rather than being overmatched in a league filled with consistent contenders. This also provides ample time for Penn State to confer with the other 5 Big Ten hockey programs along with the Big Ten Network as to the best  possible course of action whether it be the formation of a Big Ten league or to join an existing conference. And for a fledgling program, I’d expect to see Penn State move beyond current club coach Steve Balboni, in favor of a name with more experience and cache, to help get the team off the ground running. Curley has announced that a coaching search for each team will begin in the next year.

The timing couldn’t be more ideal for the addition of a Division I hockey team at Penn State. Passion for the sport has hit an all time high with the success of the Penguins to the West and Flyers to the East. The NCAA even awarded both the 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours to the Keystone State. The 2013 Frozen Four will be played at Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2014 Frozen Four will be hosted by Wachovia Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers.

For years, Penn State has had hockey teams at the club level, competing in and dominating the ACHA to the tune of 6 championships and 7 second-place finishes in the 20 year history of the league.  But now, they’ll become the second largest school with a varsity hockey team, trailing just Ohio State in that regard.

The Icers success has not only been on the ice, but in the stands. Penn State students have consistently packed the tiny and outdated Greenberg Penn State Ice Pavilion, even when “big games” have come against Delaware, URI, and Robert Morris.  I’m not going out on a limb when I say Penn State students are just itching for big-time hockey on campus. Just walk around Happy Valley during the winter and you’ll see plenty of Penguins and Flyers jerseys.  Maybe even a few Devils, or Rangers sweaters.  And me, in my Islanders shirt.  We’re excited to add “Penn State” to the repertoire.

Under the yellow-tinged lights, we’ve watched tremendous athletes who aren’t even getting a scholarship for all their hard work.  Now, we’ll be able to compete even more with our adversaries, in Columbus, in East Lansing, and in Ann Arbor.

You see, the implications go far beyond State College.  By adding varsity hockey, Penn State will become the 6th team from the Big Ten to offer the sport along with Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the aforementioned Buckeyes which will allow the conference to sponsor hockey and have its champion receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This will almost certainly occur sometime in the future although there are no immediate plans in place at the moment.

“We will work closely with Big Ten and Big Ten hockey programs to determine best course of action, in regards to conference play”- Tim Curley

Penn State will be gathering with the 5 fellow Big Ten institutions that offer college hockey concerning conference affiliations. The Big Ten Network would love to be able to add airtime of college hockey, likely the third most popular NCAA sport.

However, that doesn’t bode so well for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association or the Western Collegiate Hockey Association who would be losing 5 of their biggest draws, between the two.

But for now, let’s not worry about that.  Let’s look forward until 2012 when Penn State varsity hockey takes to the ice for the first time, and 2013 when we can sit inside the new Ice Facility and cheer on the Nittany Lions.  I, for one, can’t wait.

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  • Charlie

    WOOOOO!!! It’s nice to finally have a hockey team to root for. The Kings just don’t cut it out here.

  • Charlie

    WOOOOO!!! It’s nice to finally have a hockey team to root for. The Kings just don’t cut it out here.

  • Charlie

    WOOOOO!!! It’s nice to finally have a hockey team to root for. The Kings just don’t cut it out here.

  • Charlie

    WOOOOO!!! It’s nice to finally have a hockey team to root for. The Kings just don’t cut it out here.

  • Azamp100
  • Paul Tatting

    A Big Ten hockey conference would be terrible, terrible for the WCHA. The high-light of the season is the tournament at the Xcel Center. Sure the Gophers and Badgers could still play their WCHA rivals during the year, but winning the best conference tournament in the toughest league is truly meaningful. Yes, I’m biased but I’ve been watching WCHA hockey for over 30 years and I don’t want to see it tarnished.