As the students in the “Roar Zone” bellowed and the announcements reverberated around Pegula Ice Arena, two canvas covers were lifted in the building’s rafters.
Watching from the ice below, shoulder-to-shoulder along the blue line, every member of the Penn State men’s hockey team tapped his stick on the ice to celebrate the moment.
With so many of them having a part of program history last season, they got another nice reward for that success Thursday night.
The first banners were hoisted to the 5-year-old building’s rafters, celebrating a stunningly successful 2016-17 season that produced a Big Ten tournament title and NCAA appearance. The ceremony preceded the No. 11 Nittany Lions’ 7-5 victory over American International.
“I’d love to do that again,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of the ceremony, even if the fun and festive event, combined with the game being the home opener, may not have led to the cleanest of hockey games.
Assistant captain Chase Berger, who had a stellar night with three assists, thought the players handled the jumble of emotions well.
“It was awesome to see,” he said. “We really didn’t have to address it. We’ve got guys that have kind of been here a while, and we try not to look at any of that stuff.”
While buildings like Rec Hall, the White Building, Bryce Jordan Center and Multisport Building have had banners for years celebrating success, Thursday marked the first time Pegula Ice Arena, in just its fifth season, has hung a banner earned from team success. It was fitting, with so many other special “firsts” turned in by last season’s team.
For the players who returned from last season, it was a chance to take one last look back before returning their focus to the current season.
“We’re really looking to move forward,” Berger said. “Last season was awesome, but we’ve got a new team this year, it’s a new year. We’re not going to live in the past forever.”
While it may, in a way, “shut the door” on the previous season, Gadowsky doesn’t want everything from the past to be forgotten.
“Does it shut the door?” Gadowsky asked. “I don’t know. We learned a lot. Sometimes it’s good and valuable to go back and re-learn those lessons to emphasize what we learned in those situations.”
Even if they were not part of that success, the night was still special to the team’s freshmen, who got their first experience in front of the “Roar Zone,” adding to their energy.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cole Hults said of the student section. “It’s what they said it was.”
The defenseman scored his first collegiate goal Thursday, and playing a home exhibition game and four road games helped settle his nerves before he got to this night.
“I was a little nervous, but I played four games already,” he said. “It definitely helped coming into the home opener having those games under my belt. I wasn’t as nervous as I was (last weekend) in Minnesota.”
The mementos were earned in just the fifth season of Division I play, rocketing to the conference tournament title with double-overtime wins over Minnesota in the Big Ten semifinals and Wisconsin in the finals. The team went on to beat Union in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual national champion Denver in the regional finals.
With the reminders now permanently dangling from the rafters, Gadowsky is hoping the his team — which won Thursday but looked far from stellar — can put together more games like it had last season.
“Everybody looks forward to playing here,” Gadowsky said. “(They are) looking around a little bit. I hope we will feel a little more grounded tomorrow night.”