UNIVERSITY PARK — Almost 6,000 fans rose to their feet and chanted “Terry” when Terry Pegula made an appearance and dropped the ceremonial first puck at Pegula Ice Arena for the Penn State hockey team’s first game in the new center.
And the team didn’t disappoint, allowing the crowd to go home happy, defeating the Black Knights from Army 4-1
Two hours before the 8 p.m. men’s ice hockey game began, a line was looped around the entrance of the arena.
“I’m just glad the game is on,” said Jason Fish, a State College resident and 30-year season ticket holder.
Rob Clemente brought his 8-year-old son, Troy, to the game Friday night. Clemente, originally from Bangor, Maine, said growing up near the University of Maine in Orono, hockey was his life.
He now works in the construction industry in Centre County after moving to State College five years ago, where he said the local attention to hockey is lacking.
“Growing up, hockey was everything to us and I wanted to pass that down to my sons,” Clemente said. “When we got here, it wasn’t that big especially with Penn State football, but now that they got a team going, I think the sport is really gaining popularity.”
Two Harrisburg men, Mack MacDonald and friend Louis Sword drove up Friday afternoon for the game after Sword won tickets and an overnight stay through a contest at Weis Markets.
Calling Harrisburg “a hockey town” with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears nearby, MacDonald said it’s nice to see hockey making its way to other areas of central Pennsylvania.
“This is great. They’ve come a long way in terms of hockey here,” MacDonald said. “We’re big fans and hoping for the best.”
Students and other fans said they were hoping for the best.
“It’s a new program only in its second year and I think everyone from Penn State is hoping for a successful first game and season,” said Eric Washburn.
A large portion of the crowd was in “Time To Go B1G” T-shirts that represented both Penn State hockey and the Big Ten Conference. Others wore “Hockey Valley” shirts. And others were in blue and white Penn State hockey jerseys and a section of the arena was designated to opposing fans.
Luke Wasserham had a white “Happy Valley” T-shirt on that he customized with a black permanent marker. He crossed out “Happy” and replaced it with a handwritten “Hockey.”
“When you go to Penn State, football here is the gusto, it’s the best. Wrestling might be a close second, but I think hockey is creeping right up,” Wasserham said.
Wasserham and a group of friends briefly made an appearance at the Penn State homecoming parade that began the same time as the doors to the Pegula Ice Arena opened.
As a senior, Lisa Deffenbaugh said she experienced the parade for the last three years and felt it was acceptable to miss this year if she was replacing it with another Penn State event.
“Whether it’s football or another sport, when you go to Penn State, you’re just a diehard Nittany Lion fan of everything,” she said. “I saw the parade a few times before. I’m not going to miss something new like the opening of the Pegula (Ice) Arena to see something that I already saw last year and the year before that.”
Other fans said they were just happy hockey season was back.
“The town is so stuck on football that it’s nice to have a change in sports scenery once in a while,” Jim Studman added.
The banging of the glass around the ice echoed throughout arena during the game as big plays were made.
The student section, also known as the “Roar Zone,” housed 1,000 students.
“Win or lose we’re going to take it a game at a time. It’s a new program and we all hope for the best,” said junior Nathan Polidoris. “I’d like to see us make new traditions here. We have the Roar Zone, but once the season gets going I’m sure there will be something new that will help make this place a more intimidating atmosphere.”
Some students said they were glad the marching band was a part of the game experience.
Sophomore hockey player Mark Yanis said he was confident in his team this year despite being in a new arena and new conference.
“I think we just need to keep focus and take it one game at a time,” he said before the game started. “With the new arena, this is the kind of place you’re really proud to play in.”
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @M11azzo.