UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State University received the largest private gift in its history Friday -- $88 million -- to build a hockey arena and establish NCAA Division I men's and women's hockey programs.
Alumnus Terry Pegula, a native of Carbondale, in northeastern Pennsylvania, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and his wife, Kim, donated the money for the multipurpose arena.
"One of these days in these hills in Pennsylvania, maybe we can find a Pennsylvania [Sidney] Crosby," Mr. Pegula said, referring to the Penguins' superstar. "Hopefully, he'll like our facility and he'll play hockey for Penn State. I think that would be awesome."
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said the unnamed arena was expected to open for the 2014-15 season or earlier. It will have two rinks and is expected to seat 5,000 to 6,000.
Mr. Pegula is the founder and former president, CEO and principal shareholder of East Resources Inc., a privately held independent exploration and development company based in Marshall.
He earned a Penn State bachelor's degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering in 1973, started East Resources Inc. in 1983 and built it into one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.
The company, which drills for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, was sold in May to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $4.7 billion.
Mr. Pegula credited two men from Pittsburgh with arranging the donation to Penn State: Cliff Benson, who retired this year as a partner with Deloitte & Touche, and Joe Battista, a Penn Hills High School graduate and a former player and coach for Penn State's club hockey team. He is director for major gifts in PSU's Smeal College of Business.
"Without those two guys, this thing would have never gotten done," Mr. Pegula said.
Mr. Battista, who is expected to have a significant role in overseeing the new hockey programs, coached the Penn State men's club team for 19 years. He led the Icers to six American Collegiate Hockey Association national championships.
"When I first met with Terry five years ago and we had our first conversation about Division I hockey, I never thought this day would ever come," Mr. Battista said. "Somebody needs to pinch me. I still can't believe what has happened."
Penn State, which has 31 varsity sports, plans to play hockey as an independent for two years, beginning with the 2012-13 season.
"This gift will allow us to take [hockey] to a completely new level at Penn State," Mr. Curley said.
The men's program will have 18 scholarships, and the women's will have 20.
The university had a men's varsity team from 1939 to '46. It has had a men's club hockey team since 1971. That team will continue to play at the 1,500-seat Ice Pavilion on campus until the new building is completed.
Penn State has had a women's club hockey team, the Lady Icers, since 1996-97.
The new arena, which will be built at Curtin Road and University Drive, just west of the Bryce Jordan Center, will be used for purposes other than hockey, including public skating, figure skating and community activities.
Penn State president Graham Spanier said he hoped the new building also could host American Hockey League and National Hockey League exhibition games.
"I think it's a great day for college hockey and Penn State," said former Penguins general manager Craig Patrick, who attended the news conference announcing the donation at the Nittany Lion Inn. "I think it's just super." His two sons and nephew played club hockey at Penn State.
"I am sure Penn State will be able to get quite a few Western Pennsylvania players to come here now to play hockey since this is going to be a Division I program," he said.
Mr. Pegula, who used to be an assistant coach at the youth hockey level, attended the Penguins' Summer Sticks tournament Thursday with Mr. Benson at the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley Heights.
He was surprised by the reception he received.
"[Mr. Benson] introduced me to everybody from Mario [Lemieux] on down to the assistant coaches, and I couldn't believe how excited these guys were about Penn State hockey," Mr. Pegula said.
"While he was signing one of his own jerseys, a kid named Sidney Crosby said, 'Mr. Pegula, this is a great thing you're doing for hockey.' And I thought that was pretty cool."
Ron Musselman: email@example.com .