A half-hour before the first official event at the new Pegula Ice Arena, State College resident Kate Cestone lined up her son, daughter and their friends for a group photo.
Behind them was the new ice rink, and a new era in Penn State athletics ready to begin.
“The arena’s beautiful,” said Cestone, who has season tickets with friends. “We’re really excited about watching the team.”
As the clock wound toward midnight, Cestone was on hand for a celebration and the opening of the new home for Penn State men’s and women’s ice hockey. The men’s team held a midnight practice Saturday — the first day the team can hold official practice, according to NCAA rules.
With only the 1,000-seat student section open, and about two-thirds of the seats filled along with some members of the Blue Band, the Nittany Lions were introduced one-by-one just after the clock struck midnight as loud music reverberated through the arena.
Fans young and old cheered each player as he skated onto the ice and marveled at the new $90 million ice palace.
Among those cheering were Chris Smith and his son Braden, 5, who drove up from Wells Tannery, not far from the Maryland border, to witness the scene.
“I go to Pittsburgh a couple times a year,” Smith said. “This is not far below the Consol (Energy Center).”
Despite his son’s young age, Smith, a season-ticket holder was not about to miss the event.
“He got a couple hours of sleep before,” Smith said. “We’re making a night of it.”
Just before practice opened, head coach Guy Gadowsky addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support, and telling them Terry Pegula “built this for you.”
The practice session began with the team skating through passing and shooting drills, and Gadowsky, wearing a wireless microphone while skating, described the drills the teams ran. The coach even took a few questions sent via Twitter from fans during the session, which was to end with a public skating session with the team.
The event brought out dedicated hockey fans, and the not so dedicated.
Meg Brown, a senior from Scranton, had seen a few minor league games in her hometown, but it was her friends who got her to the arena for the early hours of a Saturday.
“I’m new to hockey,” Brown said. “My friends are all big hockey fans, so they got me into it. The hype here is pretty big. It’s really exciting here on campus.”
Whatever the reason, they all liked what they saw from the newest building on campus.
“It’s a whole new era in Penn State hockey,” Cestone said. “So it’s cool.”