Pegula Ice Arena progressing towards completion

This is a special guest submission from Kyle Rossi who runs the blog Thank You Terry. His blog is all about Penn State hockey – both club and NCAA – and is full of phenomenal information. I highly recommend reading it on a regular basis. Kyle was kind enough to offer some insight to the progress being made on the Pegula Ice Arena down in State College. Given the Sabres recent victory regarding the Webster Block, I thought there would be no one better to provide some insight on the scope of a Pegula funded project such as the PIA or the HARBORcenter. Enjoy.

Hey Sabres fans! My name is Kyle Rossi, and I write Thank You Terry, a blog covering the soon-to-be four hockey teams representing Penn State (men’s and women’s NCAA, men’s and women’s ACHA). As I’m sure you know, you and I both share a debt of gratitude to one rather wealthy man: Terry Pegula.

The rendering of what the finished Pegula Ice Arena will look like.

Our stories are actually somewhat parallel. While Buffalo was wandering through a purgatory characterized by an always-competitive team that never saw a free agent it couldn’t lose (or a scouting department it couldn’t slash) and therefore couldn’t take the final couple of steps, Penn State was dealing with its own sort of limbo. Our non-varsity teams, known as the Icers and Lady Icers, had been considered candidates to make the jump to the big time, NCAA Division I, for decades – if only the school could find some money for a DI-caliber hockey arena. Despite PSU’s glut of success in the ACHA (including seven national championships), the program’s rabid supporters were always just one “hey, when are you guys going DI?” from an outsider away from a feeling of hopelessness.

Suddenly, in swoops this billionaire nobody had ever heard of to write large checks and save the day. In the Sabres’ case, I suppose he wasn’t a complete unknown, but there still had to be a “wait…this guy’s a Sabres fan…and he wants to buy the team?!?” moment for you guys.

Anyway, Chris invited me to write this post to update you on the progress of something possibly of interest of you, the arena bearing Pegula’s name on Penn State’s campus.

You might be familiar with some of the widely-reported basics. There will be two NHL-sized sheets, one in what’s being called the Community Rink, which will have 300 seats, the other in the main arena, which will seat 6,000. Five thousand of those seats will be arranged in a single-level horseshoe, with a ring of suites above the open concourse that will be at the top of the “regular person” seating. The final thousand seats will be the student section, to be located behind the net Penn State will attack twice. It will be as steep as code allows, helping to meet the one major directive Pegula has given on the project, that the building “sound like a hockey game inside of a garbage can” on game days.

“It should sound like a hockey game inside a garbage can.” Terry Pegula

The price tag – $89 million – is absolutely staggering for a college hockey facility of its size. For context on that, one only needs to consider some of the venues toured by a Penn State contingent (including Pegula) in 2010 to generate design ideas. Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, which opened last season, cost about $50 million. Miami’s Goggin Ice Center cost $35 million (in 2006). Minnesota-Duluth’s AMSOIL Arena opened in late 2010 at a cost of $38 million, while RIT’s proposed Gene Polisseni Center, the most likely candidate to replace the Pegula Ice Arena as the newest in college hockey, is estimated to cost around $35 million. Basically, if Penn State gets anything approaching dollar-for-dollar value on this project, it will instantly become the crown jewel of college hockey.

For all of that money, the amenities that will be included are quite spectacular, as one might expect. The centerpiece will undoubtedly be the 5,000-square-foot weight room for the exclusive use of the hockey teams (PSU strength coach Robert McLean, who has his name on the Cup with the 1996 Avalanche, claims that the facilities will be the nicest in hockey for the first three to five years they exist). In addition, there will be a steam room, a shooting range, a hydrotherapy room, and plenty of other goodies. The underbelly of the arena will contain all of the offices for the men’s and women’s coaching staffs as well as for the administrators, and of course locker rooms for the men’s, women’s and ACHA teams, team lounges, media facilities, an auditorium and video review rooms. For the fans, there will be a full service Tim Horton’s in the building.

The Community Rink, while it will undoubtedly be nice and also essential with a growing ice time crunch in Central Pennsylvania, is mostly standard rink fare – seven locker rooms (not counting the officials’ quarters), a party room, a large lobby with benches, a pro shop, a concession stand and a skate rental. It’s connected to the other rink of course, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem as if there will be an easy trip from one rink to the other. For all intents and purposes, from the public’s point of view, it seems like it will be a separate facility that happens to have an NCAA arena next door.

There was a somewhat cheesy “groundbreaking” ceremony (think PSU bigwigs in hockey helmets wielding shovels with stick blades on the butt end digging into sandboxes a few hundred feet removed from the actual site) on April 20th, but excavation blasting actually began in February and wrapped up a couple weeks prior to that groundbreaking. The first piece of steel was put into place on June 6th, and you can see where we are today, less than three months later. The basic framework of the arena is largely complete, and some of the finer details are starting to emerge, including the tunnel where the visiting team will take the ice to a chorus of boos and the main staircase in the main lobby. It really has been fantastic to follow the rapid progression of what was once a pipe dream so closely.

As fast as things have moved to this point, it seems as if they’ll move even faster between now and the arena’s opening for the 2013-14 season. Within a month, according to a preliminary construction schedule, the main arena’s bowl steel structure will be closed, most of the concrete seating sections will be installed, the community rink will be under cover, and a significant part of the building’s façade will be in place. Around early December, the entire facility will be under cover to allow interior work to continue through the winter, including the signature glass-enclosed lobby. By the end of January, it will be nearly impossible to tell that the building is still under construction without stepping inside. And of course, one year from now, it will be ready for hockey.

I hope you’re as excited by all of this as I am – after all, the stated plan is for the Pegula Ice Arena to host some combination of Sabres’ development camps, training camps and preseason games once it’s completed. When that happens, I hope to see you in Hockey Valley following your team, which many Penn Staters have adopted as well!

PS. Congratulations on Pegula’s recently winning the bid for the Webster Block – I’m really looking forward to tracking the development there. There can never be too many ice rinks in Hockey Heaven!

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