One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Pegula Ice Arena - Home of the Penn State Nittany Lions
November 9, 2019 - State College, Pennsylvania
Penn State is one of the most iconic schools in college sports. Athletics have not only been a source of pride and success over the years, but have also led to the campus culture which seemingly puts sports success above all else. For decades the school has been a football powerhouse. Now Penn State is known as Hockey Valley. We didn't say it, the school declares it with signage through their arena. Pegula Ice Arena opened in 2013, and a move from the ACHA up to NCAA Division 1 was made thanks to a sizeable donation from Buffalo Sabres owner and oil company entrepreneur Terry Pegula. Pegula Ice Arena sits across the street from Beaver Stadium and the school's basketball arena, the Bryce Jordan Center. The arena has a modern industrial look, with a large glass facade and flat roof. The exterior walls are brick and fit in nicely with nearby campus buildings. Pegula Ice Arena is built into a hill, with the entrance elevated at the level of the main concourse, and much of the seating bowl is below ground level, making the building look a bit small from the outside. A large lawn separates the building from the street. Parking for the arena is at the large lot near Beaver Stadium and costs $5 per car. In addition to the main arena the building houses a second ice pad, which serves as a recreational rink but also hosts the occasional ACHA game as well. Penn State's hockey success at the ACHA level was prolific, as the Penn State Icers claimed 7 national ACHA titles over the years. With the opening of this new arena the school was able to immediately have an impact at the NCAA level, and the arena, which holds just over 6000 fans, is a solid venue and stacks up nicely against many of the recently opened NCAA arenas. The team has drawn well since hockey became a big time sport here, but we were able to get a ticket through the school's online ticket exchange for $16 plus fees, not a bad price in our opinion.
Fans entering Pegula Ice Arena through the main entrance will find themselves on the wide main concourse which runs above the lower seating bowl. Polished concrete runs throughout the concourse, and on 2 sides there are large glass walls which provide a look at the nearby campus buildings. A single team store sits on the concourse. Attention to detail and the team's hockey history is evident throughout displays on the concourse, including a timeline of the arena construction as well as a listing of every single player who has played for the men's and women's teams dating back to the school's ACHA days. Multiple food concession stands sit throughout the concourse, and there is a seating area overlooking the recreational rink. Suites are on the upper level of the arena, and the main seating bowl is comprised of 15 rows of blue plastic seats. A steeply pitched section at one end of the arena houses the student section, known as the "Roar Zone". Seating on the student end is made up of aluminum bench seating and the pitch of the seats on that end is remarkably steep. The flat tin ceiling has open duct work, and overall the place has a rather sterile look. A large video board sits above center ice, and there are ribbon boards between the upper and lower levels. Sight lines are good here, and the layout of the arena is a well thought out one. Pegula Ice Arena is exactly what you would expect from a newer arena at the Big Ten level. Hockey has quickly become one of the most popular sports at Penn State, and on this Saturday afternoon the basketball game taking place a few hundred yards away found a small crowd, and there was quite a bit of buzz in the parking lots and across campus before this matchup against Michigan State.
The game day presentation at Pegula Ice Arena for Penn State hockey is polished and professional. A pregame pump up video is played over the video board, and the light show during intros is on point. An in-crowd announcer is utilized for fan interaction and giveaways during stoppages. Intermission is filled with games such as musical chairs between fans and the ever popular t-shirt slingshot. The arena itself does a good job in honoring the history of Penn State hockey, as limited as that history may be at the NCAA level. The student section attempts to drive the atmosphere and crowd, and the band does a good job keeping things lively on the student section end of the rink. Chants and cheers originate from the student section, and this game had a good turnout of students ready to yell and chant. Sadly, the overall presentation relies too much on a football style crowd interaction with the Lion Roar sound effect being played way too often throughout the game, and the well known "We Are" chant popping up several times each period. References to Hockey Valley are frequent on the video board, and the claim of Penn State having "the best student section in college hockey" are shared over the video board as well. These statements seem a bit over the top and were clearly made by someone from the athletic department who has never seen a game at Cornell, or Western Michigan, or RIT. The fans also seem new to hockey, although quite a few Flyers and Penguins jerseys can be seen throughout the crowd. Misplaced yells by fans not understanding offsides and icing rules certainly make the schools claims about being a true hockey town an easy-to-see-through marketing scheme, but the hometown fans seem to revel in the fact that they are thought of as an amazing and knowledgeable fanbase. The Penn State hockey program has done its part, having on ice success, as the team has been nationally ranked in the top ten all season long. The Lions took the win over Michigan State by a score of 6-4, although the game was entertaining, and close enough to come down to an empty-net goal to clinch the win. Pegula Ice Arena is an excellent college hockey venue, and the overall experience of watching a game here is a solid one. Games can be best enjoyed here in the future by ignoring the brash PR claims generated by the school and letting the student and fan sections grow organically rather than in the forced manner that they are now. .