UNIVERSITY PARK — It may not be the most scintillating of ice arenas — especially compared to the new building being erected up the street — but the Greenberg Ice Pavilion is still filled with plenty of memories and more than served its purpose.
The arena will host Penn State ice hockey for the final time this weekend, with a mix of elation, anticipation and sadness among the many emotions stewing through those in attendance.
The Nittany Lion men will face club program Oklahoma in the home finales, dropping the puck at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s a little bittersweet to play my last two games here,” senior forward George Saad said. “It’s kind of cool to play two club games going out. It’s how I came in. It’s definitely going to send a message for the younger guys, for years to come, to go out with a bang and get the last two wins for the building.”
The building opened in 1981 and hosted the Icers club program, the women’s club team and so much more in the years since. The Icers were especially successful, winning six ACHA national championships while under the guidance of 19-year coach Joe Battista.
Battista is now associate athletic director for ice arena and hockey development, spearheading the drive to move the program to Division I varsity status and getting the new Pegula Ice Arena built, with an $88 million gift from Terry and Kim Pegula making the leap possible.
Now, the building is down to its final months, and this weekend will bring on a little nostalgia.
“They have a lot of pride in what was accomplished here in this building,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They have a lot of pride in what’s going to happen across the street.”
Along with Senior Night, it also will be Alumni Weekend, with close to 100 former Icers in attendance to give the building a proper sendoff. Among the scheduled events are a pair of alumni games, one for the over-40 crowd at 11 a.m. Saturday and the one for the younger set at around noon. The past and present also will get together for a banquet Saturday night.
Having so many former players in the bleachers will add something extra to the weekend’s games — and a little pressure.
“When you see guys you know and they come back, you always want to get the wins for them so they don’t hassle you,” Saad said. “They’ve been through it as well and it’s good to get the win and give them what they came for.”
Director of operations and video coach Bill Downey, who is also an Icers alumnus, is eager to enjoy the weekend festivities.
“I don’t know if it’s so much the building, but just seeing the familiar faces in the building will make it pretty special,” Downey said. “With what’s coming, it’s tough to get too sentimental.”
The building itself is pretty basic, with a set of bleachers along one side of the rink along with a small collection of locker rooms, a small lobby and concession area and a few other rooms. For the needs of the university and community, it served its purpose just short of 24 hours a day nearly every day of the year.
“They squeeze every little bit of value out of this rink as they can,” Gadowsky said. “… I’m very impressed, I’ve been pretty much since Day 1, of how committed the staff at Greenberg is. I will absolutely miss that. They’re tremendous and they set really high standards and I expect the same thing at Pegula.”
The building also holds a special place in the hearts of the alumni.
“It’s served its purpose,” Downey said. “It was great for me. I loved playing hockey here in front of the fans which made it extra special.”
The women’s team has already played its final home games, falling to Lindenwood twice last weekend. The Ice Lions club program is also done with its home slate after posting an impressive 23-4-1 record in ACHA Division 2 and a perfect 10-0 record in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association. That team skates in the MACHA tournament this weekend and then will head to the ACHA tournament in March.
The ice will not be melted Sunday morning, however. The State College Area High School team still has two home games on its regular-season schedule, plus there are youth and adult games, open skates, figure skating sessions, sports camps and other activities still on the docket in the coming months.
Battista said the building’s future is still undecided. It will still stand, but the ice will be removed.
For the seniors who will have their own sendoff Saturday, the night also will have extra-special meaning. When they chose to come to Penn State four years ago, a varsity program was not on the horizon.
“I was happy just to be on the club team here,” said defenseman Rich O’Brien, one of six seniors on the roster.
He, like many of his teammates, survived the transition with some extra pressure added to last season to earn some extra respect.
“They had to go through, basically, a year-long tryout,” Gadowsky said. “(They had to) prove how good they were in the weight room, the classroom, as representative on the ice as a teammate, they were put through the rigors. Everybody that’s here on this team now, they deserve it.”
But the seniors also know they are part of the foundation of a construction site that soon will be a gleaming structure of glass, brick and steel.
They built a lot more than just a historic first season of Division I ice hockey.
“I’ve definitely grown fond of Greenberg the last four years and sad to see it go,” O’Brien said. “But they’re going to be moving into a greater place next year. It will be exciting to see that.”