Penn State hockey right on schedule
Program will play this year in ACHA, move to Big Ten in 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- New transfers are settling in at Penn State, while school administrators are putting the finishing touches on plans for the new on-campus ice arena.
There’s even a new brand of coffee being served at the fledgling Penn State hockey team’s current home, a brew appropriately enough from Canadian doughnut chain, Tim Hortons.
The Nittany Lions are right on schedule a year out from moving up to Division I status, and two years away from the start of the anticipated Big Ten hockey conference.
“It’s going to be a real fun time, especially with the big powerhouses Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said one of Penn State’s four transfers with Division I experience, Bryce Johnson. “It’s going to be nice to know that every weekend we go out to play, it’s going to be a bloodbath.”
Good thing Penn State has one more year left to work out the kinks as a club level team with a roster in flux.
The final season in the ACHA begins Friday. The Nittany Lions will play as a Division I independent in 2012-13 before Big Ten hockey begins the following season.
Finally, coach Guy Gadowsky gets a chance to see what his team can do on the ice, nearly six months after taking over at Penn State.
“The goal is to have a very successful season this year in the ACHA while at the same time setting a foundation, building the right values that will make us successful moving forward,” Gadowsky said. “The two (goals) mesh together very well.”
Penn State’s move to Division I, first announced in September 2010, helped set off a chain reaction of events that have changed the landscape of college hockey.
Former energy company executive and Penn State alum Terry Pegula donated $88 million—the largest private donation in school history—to upgrade the program and fund a new multipurpose arena. A self-proclaimed hockey fanatic, Pegula bought the NHL’s Sabres in February.
Penn State’s move increased the number of Big Ten teams with hockey to six— enough for the conference to start its own league in 2013. Minnesota and Wisconsin are moving from the 50-year-old WCHA, with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State leaving the CCHA.
“It’s the buzz, I understand a lot of schools are scrambling, moving conferences. The Big Ten conference is certainly poised to be the premier (hockey) conference,” said associate athletic director for hockey Joe Battista.
The league also could increase the popularity of college hockey through its television network, which Battista noted could also be viewed in parts of Canada.
“Now, how competitive we are remains to be seen,” Battista said, smiling.
Battista, Gadowsky and other Penn State administrators returned Wednesday from a trip to Notre Dame, where they got a tour of the Fighting Irish’s new $50 million Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame later Wednesday announced it was leaving the CCHA for Hockey East beginning with the 2013-14 season, plus a TV deal with NBC.
At least 18 of the 58 teams currently playing NCAA Division I hockey -- 31 percent -- will change conferences by 2013.
Things will look different, too, when Penn State starts Big Ten play in two years. Ground is expected to be broken in February on the Nittany Lions’ new arena.
“College hockey is going to have the biggest platform that it’s ever had,” Gadowsky said about the Big Ten. “It’s going to be more visible.”
Gadowsky promises to deliver a crowd-pleasing offensive style of hockey with “a lot of team speed.” Johnson, a 5-foot-10 forward, is considered Penn State’s fastest skater. He played three games at St. Cloud State before getting eight goals and 16 assists in 37 games last season with Omaha in the USHL.