PSU looking to extend hockey fan base into area

Last fall Penn State University embarked on its first varsity hockey season as a part of the NCAA, after spending more than 40 years as a club team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

During their time as a club program the Penn State Icers compiled a record of 956-295-52, while capturing 7 ACHA national titles. The school’s Associate Athletic Director, Joe Battista, played a huge part of the club’s success as head coach for its final 19 years.

Battista remains a vital part of the men’s and women’s PSU hockey program, helping to raise the funds necessary for team scholarships, equipment and stadium facilities. He played an influential role in securing a $102 million donation from Terry and Kim Pegula, the single largest donation in the school’s history, which is being used to pay for team facilities as well as 18 full scholarships for future players.

After playing all of last season on the road and at neutral game locations, Penn State is set to unveil its new facility, the Pegula Ice Arena, this fall. This state of the art facility will hold over 6,000 fans, and has been designed for optimal hockey viewing.

“One thing you will notice about Pegula Ice Arena is the steepness of the seats,” Battista said. “There is not a bad seat in the arena.”

Along with the Pegula Ice Arena, the school has raised money to help build a new community ice rink which can seat up to 400 people. It plans on hosting public events at both locations, making them the only team facilities at Penn State which will regularly do so.

The implementation of the school’s varsity program has not come easy or cheap, which is why Battista continues to search for private donors. Aside from the monetary gift provided from the Pegulas, Battista said that they have raised an additional $10 million in private donations.

On Thursday he attended a meeting of the Williamsport Nittany Lions Booster Club at the Duboistown VFW, hoping to garner the interest of Penn State alumni in this area.

“Our goal is to have the building and the programs be completely self-sufficient, so they aren’t taking away from any of the other programs at Penn State,” Battista said before his speech to the Nittany Lions Booster Club.

In accomplishing his goal of raising more funds for the team, Battista feels that he has to help those in this area become familiar with the sport, because college hockey doesn’t get a lot of attention here.

“We want to introduce people to the game, and educate those who haven’t gotten to know college hockey well,” he said. “This area loves college football and college wrestling, and if you put those together on ice you have college hockey.”

Battista feels that once Penn State supporters in our area become exposed to hockey on the collegiate level they will fall in love with its physicality and non-stop action.

If last season’s attendance is any indication, Battista should have little trouble filling Pegula Arena this coming year. The school enjoyed great attendance numbers in their inaugural season, despite playing all of its games on the road. It even set a record for regular season college hockey attendance at an NHL venue when 19,590 fans showed up to watch PSU play Vermont at the Wells Fargo arena in Philadelphia last January.

Just weeks after they began marketing the 2013 season, the school has already sold 3,000 of 5,000 season tickets. With only a few thousand season tickets available Penn State has now turned to our area to help fill these seats.

“We hope to make people in the Williamsport and Lock Haven area season ticket holders some day soon.”