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Penn State offers up a sneak peek inside Pegula Ice Arena
on September 25, 2013 at 3:58 PM, updated October 01, 2013 at 12:27 AM
STATE COLLEGE – Sitting inside a cramped office at the Greenberg Indoor Sports Complex two years ago, Joe Battista flipped through blueprints of Penn State’s proposed hockey arena.
“What we want to do,” Battista said at the time, “is make it the class of the college hockey world.”
Wednesday afternoon, Battista showed off gleaming new $90 million Pegula Ice Arena – a 6,000-seat facility located across University Drive from Bryce Jordan Center.
Gifts in excess of $100 million from Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim allowed Penn State to establish men’s and women’s varsity hockey programs and get the 228,000-square foot venue built.
“On behalf of a lot of other people who have dreamed this dream, I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s happened and couldn’t be more happier with the facility,” Battista said. “It is magnificent and when you see the looks on the men’s and women’s players as we moved in here on Sept. 9, it made it all worth it.”
Battista, Penn State’s associate athletic director for Pegula Ice Arena and ice hockey operations, played at the school in the late 1970s and coached the men’s club team from 1987 to 2006.
He guided the process along, helping turn the Pegula’s monetary gift into stunning glass-and-brick facility featuring the main arena – where the Nittany Lions’ two varsity teams will play – as well as a community rink, which serves youth hockey and figure skating programs.
The men’s team, coached by Guy Gadowsky, will play the first game at PIA on Oct. 11 against Army. It will be broadcast live on Big Ten Network as the sport makes its conference debut in 2013-14, featuring Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“This building is going to be THE premier college hockey facility in North America,” Battista said. “We have tried our best to learn from as many other college programs and other pro and minor-pro facilities throughout the country that we visited.
“[Terry and Kim Pegula told us] to build a state-of-the-art facility with all of the technical amenities, all the modern amenities that will make it both fan-friendly and able to attract the top student athletes from across North America and literally around the globe.”
And that’s what Battista said has been accomplished at PIA, which includes an expansive strength-training room, plush locker rooms for both varsity teams as well as 12 other changing rooms. By comparison, the Greenberg Indoor Sports Complex – which will soon have its ice permanently melted as it gets transformed into an Olympic sports training center – had just four locker rooms.
“What we had always believed was there was a significant number of hockey fans in this area, and it has come to pass,” Battista said. “I think, as of today, there are 22 [unsold] season tickets – single seats spread out throughout the whole lower bowl and that’s it.
“All 14 suites are sold. All 98 loge box seats are sold. All 525 club seats are sold. We will hold back 200 tickets for each game and there will be an announcement later this week talking about when those tickets will go on sale. We also have an additional 200 standing-room only that will go on sale.”
A massive center-hung HD video board towers above the ice, providing the game score, stats and video replays. An LED ribbon board wraps around the entire arena bowl between the first and second levels – something missing from Hershey’s Giant Center. It promises to offer out-of-town scores and upcoming event information.
The suites and club seats will be serviced by a large kitchen, providing food and beverage service. Two club lounges are available to luxury seat holders.
Battista said the steep, two-leveled student seating section in one end of the rink was modeled after the sloping seating at Hersheypark Arena.
As for the Pegulas, they haven’t been to the facility bearing their name in nearly a year.
“Every time I talk to [Terry] and plead with him to come see what we’ve built, he says, ‘Eh, why spoil it? I’ll wait for the wedding night,’” Battista said. “They’ve been involved, don’t get me wrong. With technology, we’ve been able to do everything remotely.”
Of course, the Pegulas’ gift isn’t the only monetary factor at play these days.
As Penn State and its athletic department experience financial struggles in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, Battista was asked if the hockey operation still planned on becoming self-sufficient someday.
“Absolutely, and obviously we’re off to a great start because we have no debt service on the building,” he said. “The original gift was $88 million and then they gave an additional $14 million to help us with scholarship costs. Since then we’ve added fully endowed scholarships and our goal is to get all 36 [for men and women]. We’re at 22.
“If we can get it up to 36, that certainly helps quite a bit. We’ve also done more fundraising. Our goal is to reach an additional $10 million and we’re closing in on that. We hope to have that done here soon, and that will go toward operating and enhancements for the programs and the buildings. Sponsorships have gone extremely well, as have the ticket sales.”
Gadowsky’s team will hold a midnight practice at PIA on Oct. 4. Fans can watch as gates to the new rink will open at 11 p.m. The official dedication ceremony is Oct. 11 at 1:30 p.m., with the Nittany Lions-Black Knights game to follow at 8 p.m.
All in all, it’s a very exciting time to be involved with the sport at Penn State.
“My ‘bold’ prediction: People are going to fall in love with this building,” Battista said. “They’re going to fall in love with hockey as a sport. They’re going to fall in love with the teams we’ve got out there. This thing is just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”
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