Penn State Hockey

How the NHL preseason game at Penn State displayed State College’s love for hockey

As the puck dropped to the ice in Pegula Ice Arena on Monday night, a “thank you, Terry” chant erupted from the Penn State student section.

A chant to thank the person who made the NHL preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins possible.

A chant to thank the person who made hockey what it is in State College possible — Sabres owner and Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula.

The Pegula family made a $102 million donation to Penn State, which allowed the arena to be built and for the Nittany Lions to make the jump from a club hockey program to the Division I level.

And even though Penn State wasn’t playing, the arena was still packed to watch hockey.

Pegula was packed Monday night, with an official attendance of 5,497 in the 6,014-seat arena.

And the game didn’t disappoint.

The Sabres ended up dominating the first two periods of the game, but a three-goal third period from the Penguins pushed the game into overtime.

In overtime, Jack Eichel found the puck on a breakaway and slotted it home to give the Sabres a 5-4 overtime victory.

Eichel also had the game-winning overtime goal against the Penguins when the two teams met in Pegula for a preseason game in 2017.

Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel skates ahead of Pittsburgh Penguin defenders during the preseason game at Pegula Ice Arena on Monday Sept. 16, 2019. Abby Drey

The result of this preseason game will quickly be forgotten though, in favor of what hosting these types of games means for Penn State.

It was the second time in the past three years that the Sabres and Penguins squared off in State College, and it was the third NHL preseason game to take place in the venue.

And so far, the donation that led to the arena being built and the growth of the Penn State hockey program has been nothing short of an amazing success.

Not only for the Penn State program, but for the game of hockey as a whole in State College.

“It was great,” Penguins forward Bryan Rust said. “It was like I was back in college hockey, which is awesome.

“The place was full and even some of the students were getting a little rowdy. I’m sure it gets quite a bit different during their actual games, but it was fun to see that.”

The lights that danced onto the ice during intermissions were blue and yellow for the Sabres, not the normal blue and white of Penn State shown during the season. But even though the teams were different, the same energy that Pegula Ice Arena has become famous for was still present.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres play a preseason game at Pegula Ice Arena on Monday Sept. 16, 2019. Abby Drey

Shortly after the opening puck drop, a “Let’s go Sabres” chant broke out for the “home” team in the game.

Seconds after it concluded though, the large majority of Pittsburgh Penguins fans responded with a booming “Let’s go Pens” chant.

“It’s awesome,” Rust said. “It’s nice to see the central Pennsylvanians kind of cheering for us and not the other side of the state, those who we will not mention. That’s a little joke, but no, it’s great anywhere we go we have a lot of support.”

This level of energy was brought to Pegula, from a town that still has a relatively new hockey program, in a game where Penn State wasn’t even playing.

And the big stars from the Penguins and Sabres weren’t even in attendance for this preseason matchup.

The fans were there to watch hockey.

“Awesome atmosphere,” Sabres forward Tage Thompson said. “I played college hockey for two years, so it’s kind of nice to get back in that atmosphere and what an unbelievable facility. The gym, the locker room is all state of the art.

“It was an awesome experience for sure.”

Buffalo Sabres’ Tage Thompson skates through Penguin defenders during the preseason game at Pegula Ice Arena on Monday Sept. 16, 2019. Abby Drey

One noticeable absence from the Penguins roster on Monday night was former Penn State player Chase Berger.

Last season, Berger was the captain for Penn State and immediately signed a deal with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, following the conclusion of the Nittany Lions’ season.

Berger wasn’t initially on the Penguins’ training camp roster, but was added late last week and led to speculation that he would be the first former Penn State player to return and play at Pegula Ice Arena in an NHL uniform.

But Berger was left off the Pittsburgh roster for the game in State College.

Even though Berger wasn’t able to make history on Monday, it does show how far the Nittany Lions as a program has come and it shows the love of hockey that has quickly been built in State College.

“College fans are crazy, you always see it in movies growing up, whether its a football movie or something,” Sabres forward Dylan Cozens said. “It’s something that I thought about playing in college that’s a huge part of playing in front of the fans like that all the time.

“So it was an unreal atmosphere and a great facility.”