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Since Pegula has taken over the team, the Sabres have been on a roll, except for last night’s clunker against Pittsburgh. But we are not going be talking about Pegula and the Sabres today, but more about Pegula and Penn State hockey with the help of Kyle Rossi from the Thank You Terry blog.
How did Terry get involved with Penn State hockey?
When you first asked me about doing this, even before I knew the questions, I had planned on dropping this story, because it’s actually a great illustration of Terry’s love for hockey. I think most people probably assume that Joe Battista (former coach of the club team, now an associate AD basically in charge of the hockey teams and the arena), who’s made Penn State hockey’s elevation his lifelong quest, saw some guy get a few billion dollars from Shell and started calling him for a handout. Not at all the case.
Terry, of course, is a PSU alumnus (class of 1973) and his son Michael had actually attended some PSU hockey camps in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the fall of 2005, and pretty much out of the blue from what I can tell, Terry approached Battista and asked him why, with everything Penn State has going for it - name brand university in the northeast, devoted following, successful club program - no NCAA program existed. They met for dinner shortly after and Battista explained to him that NCAA programs are expensive - especially in our case, as the Bryce Jordan Center, the basketball arena, was built without ice-making capabilities, so an entirely new facility would be needed. Not only that, but we’d need a women’s program too for Title IX purposes. Terry said that he might be able to help and that he’d talk to Tim Curley (athletic director) to get the ball rolling. Battista had to stifle laughter. Trust me, as someone who’s had to answer that “why are you just club” question a few times myself to outsiders and who never thought anything like this would ever happen, it gets old pretty quickly.
So anyway, Battista goes home, Googles him, and finds out he’s loaded, even back then. They kept in touch despite some setbacks like the 2008 market crash. Battista quit coaching after the 2005-2006 season to move into a fundraising position at the university, which hardly seems like a coincidence now, and Terry’s windfall with Shell in early 2010 put the process into overdrive. But that’s something that will always stick with me - Terry contacted us, basically asking to give money. He may not have known that $88 million would be the ultimate number, but he had to know that it would be well into the eight-figure range, because even I knew that. The common thought was closer to about $50 million, so to go almost double that without even blinking says a lot about Terry as well.
All Buffalo Sabres fans are dying to know, is he a hands on guy or does he stay in the shadows?
Terry’s been pretty hands-on through the early stages of the process, but at the same time, not in an overbearing way. I know that he, Battista, the Pegula Ice Arena architects and construction team have been meeting pretty frequently as that project continues to move forward, and Battista referenced Terry and Kim’s vision for the place in [a recent] article. In fact, back in late November when Ken Campbell [from The Hockey News] was reporting that Terry had signed an agreement to purchase the Sabres, Battista dismissed it saying something like “he was sitting right next to me in a meeting when he was supposed to have been signing that agreement.”
But at the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever heard or seen his name mentioned on the hockey operations side of things, which right now more or less boils down to the coaching search. My impression is that everyone’s on the same page with what we want in a coach, and I’m sure Terry will have to sign off on the hire ($88 million buys you that right). But for the most part, it seems like he’s let Battista and his committee do their thing on that front, which seems to mirror the deference he’s given Darcy [Regier] and Lindy [Ruff] on your side of things, at least so far.
How is the program coming along?
Funny that you ask [that], because we just had developments on [the coaching and recruiting fronts].
First off, Andy Baggot from the Wisconsin State Journal reported that PSU has asked Wisconsin permission to speak with Mark Johnson. This is really the first “actual” news that has leaked out on the coaching search, although Johnson’s been a popular rumor subject since about 12 seconds after our press conference back on September 17th. He’s got the pedigree obviously, name recognition even to non-hockey fans, and he’s had a ridiculous amount of success with the Badger women, so it makes sense on a lot of levels. He’s a splash that would draw interest, he wins, and he can recruit without even opening his mouth. Other guys who have been kicked around (without any substantiation) are Denver’s George Gwozdecky, who’s in the middle of a contract dispute, and Minnesota’s Don Lucia if he gets fired after this season. I like both of those guys too. They’ve both won national championships, and both have experience building up new and/or struggling programs, Gwoz at Miami and Lucia at Colorado College. Derek Schooley at Robert Morris is a personal favorite - he’s charismatic, knows the recruiting area, and he started their program a few years back and has done a good job getting them up to speed. He's probably a longshot, but who really knows what they're thinking? All we really know is that Mark Johnson is somewhere on the list.
Battista has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to disrupt anyone’s season, so the earliest a hire will be made is after the Frozen Four in late April or May. If an NHL assistant deep in the playoffs makes the short list, it could go longer obviously.
Recruiting-wise, news broke of our first two verbal commitments recruited specifically with the NCAA program in mind on Tuesday. Their names are Jake Friedman (a center) and Tim Carr (a goalie), and both are currently in the Tier III Easter Junior Hockey League, whose playoffs are just underway. I did a post that more or less contains everything I know about them - trust me, this ain’t like doing intel on Brad Boyes, that afternoon made me wish I blogged about the Sabres instead. I’m new to college hockey recruiting since there’s really nothing to follow at the club level, and I can already tell that trying to get decent info on recruits is going to be my least favorite thing ever.
Anyway, both Friedman and Carr will play for the club team in 2011-2012, which they can apparently do without losing a year of NCAA eligibility, and then will at least be considered as available players for the NCAA team when we get started in 2012-2013. We’re planning on only having about five scholarship players that first year, but I’m sure they’ll be considered for two of them, depending on who else might be coming and what we might have to promise to get them.
Questions like “why would anyone commit without knowing the coach,” “are these guys worthy of playing for the NCAA program” and “even if they are, won’t the coach want his own guys playing” are being debated as we speak. As to the second one, Carr shares time almost 50-50 with a guy committed to Boston College on his EJHL team and was being recruited by schools like Clarkson, Union and Northeastern (not exactly BC, Michigan and North Dakota, but still). I don’t know who else recruited Friedman, but he’s a top player in a league that’s not the best source for NCAA players but is certainly a viable one. They probably aren’t future Hobey Baker finalists, but they probably could be solid depth in most programs and stars in a new one.
Another thing that often gets debated is whether any of the current club players will be involved with or are capable of playing on the NCAA team. I don't think anyone, even the people on the inside, really knows that yet, but there a couple guys who are certainly candidates, most notably (in my amateur opinion) George Saad, who will be an academic senior in 2012-2013. You might know his brother Brandon, who is currently with the Saginaw Spirit and is a projected first-rounder in the entry draft coming up. In general, we have a pretty solid group of underclassman right now and I'm sure at least a couple can make the jump.
Would like to thank Kyle Rossi for your time and all of you should check out Thank You Terry for updates on Penn State hockey and college hockey in general. It’s a good read.