Chris Whittemore began to lace his skates when he was about 6 years old.
It didn’t take long for the Boston native to fall in love with hockey, whether or not there was a crowd to cheer his team on.
Whittemore, now the Pegula Ice Arena’s rink manager, still enjoys getting onto the ice, but he’s charged with a more time-consuming task — getting it ready for hockey players, figure skaters and ice skaters.
“When we have a game, I make sure it’s all running efficiently,” he said. “I might catch a few minutes here and there, though. It can get really exciting here, especially when you get 6,000 people in the seats.”
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Q: The arena opened in October 2013. How have those first 18 months gone?
A : Fast, challenging and long. Overall, it has gone pretty smoothly. We have had a few hiccups along the way, and there is definitely a learning curve with a building like this, but there were also a lot of exciting moments, and people really seem to enjoy and be awed by this place.
Q: What do you feel this arena has meant to the Penn State and local community?
A: This place is more than just brick, mortar and steel, but a blessing from a special family to give the Penn State and the Centre County communities a world-class facility so that everyone can enjoy it and feel a part of this legacy.
Q: Have you seen an increase in interest in youth hockey and other ice sports since the arena opened?
A: Yes. Our learn-to-play hockey program has definitely seen a lot of new participants as well as our skating classes. I think a lot of people want to be a part of this place and like what we are doing here, so that is a big plus. We want more and more people to come to the facility and experience a game or one of our public sessions.
Q: You were the Greenberg Ice Pavilion manager for 13 years and are now the Pegula Ice Arena’s manager. Is running Pegula at all different from running the Greenberg ice rink?
A: Because of how high profile this place is and the size of the facility, there are a lot of differences. But, really, we are doing the same thing as we did at Greenberg — giving our customers a great experience and making sure they are safe. Just because this place is bigger and there is a lot more at stake doesn’t mean our focus is different, and that focus is on the fans and customers that use the facility.
Q: The facility was outfitted with 26 miles of piping to maintain 1.5-inch ice sheets. What all goes in the daily venture of making and maintaining quality ice?
A: We try to make sure we have a safe and high quality ice sheet. There are many factors that we have to take in account to make that happen. We need to make sure the ice plant is working efficiently; the water quality is where it needs to be with our reverse osmosis system; the ice resurfacers, Zambonis, are working properly; and that the moisture and temperature in the air is at the right level to help with the process. That’s just to name a few. We have a great crew of drivers and operators that take pride in making sure the ice is in prime condition.
Q: Is it different preparing the ice for a hockey game compared to preparing it for figure skaters or other activities?
A: There are some differences. Hockey likes the ice hard and fast so that the puck doesn’t bounce around as much and that the game will seem faster. Figure skating likes the ice a little softer so that the ice is a little giving when they land their jumps and the ice won’t “explode” when they plant their toe picks in the ice for a jump.
Q: Is business usually better when it’s cold out?
A: Believe it or not, yes. I can’t figure it out. Our coldest days we can pull in some of our biggest public skating session numbers. I think a lot of it has to do with perception. It’s cold out, so let’s go skating. Skating is a winter sport, they think, but we are open 360 days a year. You would think that in the middle of summer when people want to get out of the heat we would have big numbers, but people aren’t thinking about skating in the middle of summer.
Q: That being said, it’s remained unbearably cold out, and warmer weather isn’t on the horizon, according to forecasts. Does the cold weather, even in March, keep people coming back to the arena?
A: We usually start to slow down when the weather breaks. As long as it’s cold outside, we see big numbers. So starting in the middle of March our numbers start to go down, but we will have a big session every once in a while during the spring.
Q: It’s been long rumored that Beaver Stadium could be in line to host an outdoor NHL game. If that ever came to fruition, would you be a part of the planning, and how cool would it be to have a game in Beaver Stadium?
A: I would like to be a part of that process, but that’s a decision for someone above me to make. There are companies out there that put rinks in stadiums and ballparks all the time, so they would probably hire one of them, but it would be an awesome event to be a part of.