|Joe Battista (right) patted Guy Gadowsky (center) on the back for his recruiting work so far. AD Tim Curley (left) stood within camera range and tried to take credit for it like usual.|
Joe Battista spent the last ten minutes of the afternoon drive show on ESPN 970 AM in Pittsburgh on Tuesday talking about the progress of the hockey program with co-host Mike Prisuta. While a lot of it was dumbed down for people that don't follow this stuff on a daily basis, JoeBa did drop a few interesting nuggets on us. Join me after the transcript for some quick thoughts.
Mike Prisuta: Let me give you a little background on our next guest now, because this guy's worth a story or two. He has traveled the world in hockey capacities, and on one such trip last year, in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I was attending the NCAA Frozen Four. And this gentlemen whom we're about to speak with was about town in his Penn State hockey attire - the golf shirts and the track jacket and everything else. But everywhere we went, people would ask 'boy, does Penn State have a hockey team?' and my man Joe Battista would say 'it does now!' Joe, welcome to the program.
Joe Battista: Thanks Mike, thanks Joe, good to be here.
MP: Joe, your official title is what, "associate AD in charge of...hockey and the rink?"
JB: Pretty much, the Pegula Ice Arena and the men's and women's varsity hockey programs, yes sir.
MP: I know this is a labor of love for you, as well as a very important job, one that's going to grow the game at the collegiate level, but catch us up, if you could Joe, on the timeline, where are we as far as the construction of the rink, and Penn State is still playing a club schedule this year - is that correct - and when do you go DI, when does the Big Ten start?
JB: We are still playing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, ACHA club level division 1 this year, and just came back from Illinois where we had a sweep, won 11-0 and 5-2, a good set of road wins for our new coach, Guy Gadowsky, who came over from Princeton University. We hired him back in April and he's done a phenomenal job.
As far as the arena is concerned, we are still in our final stages of design. We will break ground in the new year. Before we can get the ice rink...the new location we have, we have to relocate a lacrosse field, which is currently being built right next door to our indoor track, that project's well underway and things look very good. So we're going to be open with the new Pegula Ice Arena in September of 2013, which means next year when we play our first official season as a varsity team since 1946 - because Mike, a lot of people don't know that Penn State did have varsity hockey here from 1940 to '46 - so...
|"It's 1947, you whippersnapper!" - Ghost of Jim O'Hora|
MP: Were you coaching it then, Joe?
JB: No, that was the other Joe Battista in those years...maybe Joe Paterno...
MP: I was going to say! [laughter]
JB: ...so it's actually been a lot of fun. You know, the former players are very excited, we've had a club program here now since 1971, and the alums are all fired up about it. We've kept in touch with a great many of them, between Twitter and Facebook and all those other things somebody always has to show me how to work, we're really keeping everybody informed, and having a lot of fun with it.
We'll play in a resurrected varsity season, first one as an independent beginning next year. But we'll have 20-plus games against the likes of your Michigan State Spartans and the Wisconsin Badgers and we'll be playing in a tournament at Consol Energy Center with Robert Morris and some other teams, and we'll be playing down at Wells Fargo Center and the Giant Center. We'll be playing up at the Wilkes-Barre arena. You know, our job next year is to get the team and the program around the state and get everybody fired up about Penn State hockey.
MP: And then the first year of Big Ten play will be '13-'14, is that correct?
JB: Yes, it will. And you know with the Big Ten Network, we're going to reach close to 100 million homes, not only in the United States but in Canada and in terms of recruiting, that's a real big bonus for us. We're excited about it, and we're also excited, quite honestly, about Notre Dame joining Hockey East and bringing the NBC Sports network to the college hockey world, and it's just going to increase the exposure of the great game of college hockey to a lot of people that have never had the opportunity to really experience it.
As you know, it is a just exciting brand of hockey. The fans are passionate, they're rabid, anywhere you go in the country, you'll find traditions. Some of the rinks that are out there are some of the oldest college venues going, but you also have brand new facilities like the ones at Miami of Ohio, Notre Dame's is about to open up this week, and of course ours will be open in just two years.
MP: Talk about the rink a little bit. I know you guys are very excited about it, and Terry Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres - his donation to Penn State was before he took over Buffalo, correct?
JB: Yes. You know, at that time, they didn't really have him on the radar screen. Actually, you know, a fellow Penn State alum and a Pittsburgh native Cliff Benson was really instrumental both in helping us to finish off the agreement here with their record gift to Penn State of $88 million for us to build this double sheet facility that's going to hold 6,000 people. It will have 14 suites, 600 club seats, 100 loge box seats, it's going to have - the student section Mike is going to be unbelievable, the steepest rate that we're allowed to have by code and it will be at the end of course that we're shooting twice. So we're not going to have the biggest arena in the Big Ten or in the country, but our objective is to make it the nicest and one of the most unhospitable places for the opponent to play in.
|Yep, that student section on the far end is pretty steep.|
MP: And how is Guy Gadowsky proceeding as far as incorporating scholarship players? Have you awarded any yet, or are any of those guys playing now - and what do you think the team will look like along those lines when you go DI in '12-'13?
JB: Well, we've got a number of verbal commitments right now. The National Letter of Intent day is coming up at the beginning of November, and at that point we'll be able to actually get names out there, but we're doing great. We had a first class of recruits that came in this year that was not able to accept any scholarship money, they had to be full-pays for this year. But already, a number of them are making a big impact, including Eddie Olczyk's son Tommy Olczyk who's a freshman...
MP: No kidding.
JB: ...and just had a hat trick. Yep, Tommy O's here, and we were just in Chicago. Eddie arranged for the team to be able to go see the Blackhawks play the Winnipeg Jets on a Thursday evening prior to our weekend games with Illinois. Tommy's whole family was there and he had a hat trick and a couple of assists. He's playing with some teammates, Justin Kirchhevel and Taylor Holstrom that are transfers from Division I programs. We had four transfers, and we've got a great mix of kids - very, very impressed with Guy Gadowsky and his staff. And we've got one of our own, Penn State alum and a Pittsburgh native as well, Bill Downey, as our director of hockey operations. We're having a ball. It's a lot of fun being able to design the building, to build the schedule, and we've already signed - well, verbal commitments, from two Pennsylvania kids, including one young man from Pittsburgh. We're excited about the possibilities, and we had a young man who's been drafted, an NHL draft pick, we're pretty close on getting him all squared away as well.
MP: Sounds great, I gotta cut you off, we're about out of time. But I really appreciate your time, and wish you, as you know, all the luck in the world with this program. I can't wait for Big Ten hockey, and I will see you at the Pegula Ice Arena.
JB: You bet, thanks Mike.
First off, if you figure out the NHL draft pick Battista referenced, I'll send you $100 and name the "Current Commitments" page after you. Even if I'm not influential enough to pull that off, it's still nice to know that come November 9th, when the early signing period opens, we'll see some of these guys we've been following become officially official (and who knows, maybe we'll find out about one who slipped under the radar).
Other than that bit of intrigue, the scheduling details were the most compelling item in there. Battista has now confirmed series with Michigan State and Wisconsin. We'll play the Badgers at the Kohl Center, and the location of the MSU games is unknown (hopefully, they'll take place in one of the larger arenas around PA Battista mentioned). Toss in the known RIT game on October 20th, and the previously-confirmed four games with the USNTDP, and one can see the schedule start to shape up.
|The MSU games could feature a goaltending matchup of former junior teammates Matt Skoff and Will Yanakeff.|
PSU will also be in a tournament with Robert Morris at Consol Energy Center. RMU's annual showcase event usually takes place just before New Year's and is a single-day triple header with their men's, women's and ACHA teams (this year those teams, respectively, play Ohio State, Bemidji State and Pitt on December 30th). However, Battista's "some other teams" makes it sound like they're expanding it, possibly to a four-team/two-day tournament for men's teams. Connecticut, Holy Cross, Army, Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville (assuming they're still around), Princeton and Cornell have also been mentioned as possible 2012-2013 opponents.
Battista also said that PSU will play "20-plus" games against the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan State, which I'll take to mean Division I teams. There's a decent amount of space between that and the 34-game limit. So will the difference be...the NTDP (yes, in part)? DIII schools? CIS schools? ACHA schools? Other? Nothing? As usual, I can't wait to find out.