It's opening night for new Penn State hockey arena

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When the sun sets outside of Pegula Ice Arena, the rays peek through glass on the west side of the building, refract and then reflect off the glass on the eastern side of the building onto the ice, creating a few speckles of glare.

Associate athletic director Joe Battista points this out on a tour of the facility.

Aside from this minor distraction, the $102 million Pegula Ice Arena is everything the price tag would suggest, a meticulously planned and executed palace of ice, luxury and a promised raucous atmosphere more befitting of a cosmopolitan coastal city than a college town in Central Pennsylvania. At 8 tonight, Penn State will play its first hockey game in the new arena, facing Army.

It was just three years ago that Pegula, an alumnus who had recently sold his East Resources oil and gas company for $4.7 billion, announced his gift to the university at a news conference, saying he wanted Penn State to be able to recruit its own Sidney Crosby.

Now everything is finished.

"This building we think is going to be the premier college hockey facility in North America," Battista said.

No person, aside from Pegula and his wife, Kim, has done more for this arena than Battista. He's a Penn State lifer, having played, graduated and coached here.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when interest rates were as inflated as the afro he had on his head, Penn State was supposed to build a 4,000-seat arena for what would become a Division I hockey team.

Because of increased borrowing expenses, the school instead had to settle for the 1,057-seat Greenberg Ice Pavilion.

The building is charming -- if you enjoy the smell of gym socks and believe life is supposed to imitate "Slap Shot."

On a whim in 2005, Pegula contacted Battista about what was necessary to start a Division I program. Eight-digit figures were discussed. Pegula was on board.

The deal was much more complicated, but that was the official start to the scene Battista walked into a few months ago. On one of his random trips to check on construction progress he saw the final piece of precast concrete being placed.

"We had a huge, yellow crane outside the building and it lifted it up over and down between the steel," he said. "They turned it and set it into place and, when it hit and they locked it into place, you could see the bowl.

"And it was really at that point that it was like, 'Wow, look at this, this place is going to be amazing.' "

When you walk in from the entrance on University Drive, Mount Nittany is at your back through paneled windows. In front of you is the ice, slick, fast and imprinted with a giant, navy Nittany Lion logo in the center.

Pegula told Battista he wanted his arena to be loud. So the place features the steepest student section available under building codes and a ceiling made entirely of metal. Sound will reverberate off the roof and rattle the ears of opponents.

"I am going to feel bad for the other goalie that comes in and has to turn around and see raging fans right behind him," Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff said.

Skoff and his teammates, along with the women's Division I hockey team, will enjoy plush team facilities. Whereas they had a snack bar at Greenberg, they now have leather recliners, a pingpong table, a Gatorade fountain and a hydrotherapy room.

The locker room looks as if it belongs in the NHL. A flat-screen TV can pipe in film from the game during intermissions, and a shiny Nittany Lion logo sits in the middle of the room, three feet under acrylic glass.

"We are very spoiled," Skoff said.

The entire allotment of 1,000 student tickets has been sold for the season and so have the great majority of other season tickets for the 6,000-seat arena. A number of individual tickets will be made available for each game.

Plenty of visitors, from administrators to former players to media, have seen the arena since it was completed earlier this fall. The Pegulas are the only glaring absence. They've helped with all the plans but haven't been to State College since last October.

"Every time I talk to him 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.

psusports

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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