STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – When Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky arrived on campus five years ago, his team played in a brick building that would fit in with any office park. Inside, it was no different than the rinks you might find in Wheatfield or Cheektowaga.
He arrived at work Monday in a $102 million palace with a glass facade, sat down in a leather lounge chair in his corner suite and prepared to watch an NHL game with 4,000 other fans. He can attest to what Western New Yorkers know:
When it comes to building a hockey complex, Terry and Kim Pegula know how to make a splash.
“When it was finally done and we saw how beautiful it was and how great it was for the student-athletes, it was awesome,” Gadowsky said in Pegula Ice Arena. “It’s a great place to watch a hockey game, and it’s a tremendous place for student-athletes to develop.”
The arena, which opened in 2013, took an additional step Monday when the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild kicked off their preseason schedule on the Penn State campus. It was the first NHL game in the arena, and the school hopes it’s just the start.
“The opportunity to have something like this in the building is fantastic,” said Michael Cross, an assistant athletic director at Penn State and native of Hamburg. “I love what the Sabres are doing. I grew up watching the French Connection and that whole era of players, so it’s special to have them come here. It’s really great the Pegulas are supportive of the concept.”
It was a no-brainer that the first NHL game at Penn State would feature the Pegula-owned Sabres. The team arrived in central Pennsylvania to find an arena that would shine in any hockey hotbed.
Like the Pegula-funded HarborCenter, the Penn State arena is a dual-rink complex. The main rink seats 6,014 and has luxury boxes, a state-of-the-art scoreboard, two levels and a student section called the “Roar Zone.” The practice rink is available to the residents of Happy Valley – dubbed “Hockey Valley” when fans step inside one of the houses that Terry built. (More pictures are available by clicking here.)
“They’ve been tremendous partners and supporters of our whole program” Gadowsky said. “They’ve been extremely generous and gracious. They touch base once in a while, but if there’s ever anything we need, they’re always there for us.”
Penn State had just a club team when the coach took over in 2011, but the funding from the Pegulas was already in place. Together, they built the Division I program from scratch. There’s also a Division I women’s team.
“It’s such a beautiful building, but the student body makes it an amazing atmosphere,” Gadowsky said. “It’s a really fun place to watch a game.”
It’s easy to remember who funded the programs. In addition to the Pegula name being on the outside of the building, it’s written with pucks above the window to the practice rink. One section of the concourse commemorates the Pegulas and their donation.
“On September 17, 2010, Terry and Kim Pegula made an unparalleled commitment to the university and this region,” a plaque reads. “Their historic multimillion dollar gift created Pegula ice Arena and helped start NCAA Division I ice hockey at Penn State.”
The stunning nature of the arena and its usefulness as a recruiting tool has already allowed Penn State to build a winner. The men’s team went 21-13-4 last season, just its fourth at college’s top level.
“The investments that have been made here for the success of our hockey programs is really exceptional,” said Cross, who graduated from St. Francis High School and the University at Buffalo. “The building is beautiful. The support the Pegulas have provided is incredible, but the key is it allows you to attract good people that ultimately can build a championship culture.”
Pegula Ice Arena is nestled into Penn State’s sporting corridor. Bryce Jordan Center, the school’s basketball arena, is across the street. Beaver Stadium, home to the football team, is visible from the all-glass front. The close proximity of the sports complexes is reminiscent of Canalside, where the Pegulas have also left their mark.
“They’ve obviously made some significant investments in all the things they touch,” Cross said, “and it’s the betterment of our world and to the betterment of Western New York, which is fantastic.”