Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Ballot

The Icers have announced the 2012 Hall of Fame class, and quite simply, it's a great one. Here are the official bios on each, along with my thoughts (in italics).

Scott Balboni - Assistant Coach (1997-1999, 2002-2006), Head Coach (2006-2011)

Scott Balboni played four-years at Providence College and was part of the 1996 Hockey East Championship team in his senior year before graduating with a degree in Business Management. The next season, he joined the Penn State coaching staff as an assistant to then Head Coach Joe Battista and was an integral part of building the teams that won 5 of 6 ACHA National Championships from 1998 to 2003. He earned the Jerry Fry Service Award in 1998 before taking a brief hiatus from being an assistant in 1999. He returned to the team in 2002 and then succeeded Battista as the 11th Head Coach of the Icers in 2006. As head coach, he amassed a record of 150 wins and 34 losses, was named ACHA Coach of the Year in 2007, and ESCHL Coach of the Year in both 2009 and 2010. Balboni was also an assistant coach for Team USA at the World University games in 2009 and 2011 and will be the Head Coach next year in Slovenia.

He currently resides in the State College area and is Co-Owner and President of Hat Trick Group, Incorporated and an Insurance Consultant at Frost and Conn.

I'm not sure that Coach Balboni's role in Penn State hockey history will ever be fully appreciated, but induction is a nice start. Hindsight might call his role in his time as head coach that of a caretaker while Joe Battista was off raising a bunch of money, but that's not fair. The two had nearly identical winning percentages, which shouldn't really be all that surprising considering Balboni's vital role in the most successful stretch the Icers have ever seen.

He also once dropped one of the five funniest jokes I've ever heard, but I can't publish it, sorry.

Dick Merkel - Forward (1971-72)

Dick Merkel, along with Jim Hodgson, was the first captain in Icers’ history in the 1971-72 season. “Merk”, as he was called, was a team leader on the ice netting 18 goals and assisting on 10 more in the team’s 19 games and off the ice as an Assistant Coach all while a member of the Geophysics Faculty. Despite the pleading of then Head Coach Larry Hendry, “Merk” played just one season for the nascent hockey program as he left Penn State to begin his career in the oil and natural gas industry in 1972. He was the first Icer to have previously played Division 1 hockey as he played at Saint Lawrence University before graduating with a degree in Physics in 1964. He went on to play semi-pro hockey for the Lake Placid Roamers before coming to Penn State to pursue a post-graduate degree. He completed his Masters and Doctorate in Geophysics in 1967 and 1970, respectively.

He is currently the Petrophysical Advisor for Newfield Exploration located in Denver, Colorado. He and his wife Judy have four children: Pete, Leslie, Chris and Trish.

I don't have the pleasure of being familiar with Merkel on any kind of firsthand basis. In the course of doing this blog though, I've come to have a renewed appreciation for the struggles of Penn State hockey's pioneers - both in the 1930s and 40s as well as those who founded the club program in the 70s. In order to write this blurb, I re-read a couple of old Collegian articles, and just from that you can get a sense of the hard work that went into getting the program on its feet - equipment, as one example, had to be acquired from places like Ithaca, NY and Pittsburgh. Merkel, as a former DI player and a star performer, helped lend instant credibility to the organization.

Scott Curry - Defenseman (1998-2002)

A native of Burlington, Massachusetts, Scott Curry came to Penn State in 1998 and made an immediate impact as a hard-hitting defenseman earning Rookie of the Year honors in his freshman year. He continued his steady performance the following season earning the Joe Battista Award for Defensive Player of the year and an ACHA All-Tournament Honorable Mention during the Icers’ “Magic City Miracle” Championship run in Minot, North Dakota. In 2001, Scott was selected as an Assistant Captain on Team USA at the World University Games in Poland – the first time players from the ACHA were selected for this honor. Also beginning that season, Scott became one of only a handful of Icers to wear the captain’s “C” for two seasons, sharing it with Alon Eizenman during his Junior year and Kyle Jordan during his senior year. During those two seasons, he was also an ACHA Academic All-American while pursuing a degree in Communications with an emphasis in Advertising. He capped his Penn State career with yet another All-Tournament Honorable Mention, ACHA All-American Third Team designation and his third ACHA Championship ring in 2002.

He is currently Director of Core Marketing for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, California, where he resides with his wife, Lisa and daughter Sienna with a second daughter expected in May.

I really can't say enough about what a first-class guy Curry is. He was a two-year captain, but he was just one of those guys who exuded "leader," with or without a letter. I can't really explain that quality with great specificity, but I can illustrate it. After he was named to that first ACHA World University Games team, my friend Tim approached him with a USA Hockey puck. He signed it (using the number 14 that he wore in the WUG), then without being asked, tracked down the other Icers picked for the team (Mike Blevins, Josh Mandel and Greg Held) and got them to sign too. A simple gesture on some level, but still a high-character move.

Curtiss Patrick - Defenseman (2000-2004)

One of three players from the Patrick family to don a Penn State jersey, Curtiss patrolled the Icers’ blue line aggressively and exhibited a very physical style of play in all of his four years. The Shavertown native began his career in the 2000-01 and was second on the team in plus/minus at plus-31. Also during that season, he began a trend that would continue his whole Penn State career in leading the team in penalty minutes. He currently is the all-time leader in that category with 325. Curtiss scored the game-winning goal against Illinois in the 2002 ACHA National Championship Game and during the tournament, was not on the ice for a single, even-strength goal against. During his Junior season, he was named an Assistant Captain and garnered several awards including the Norm Hutchinson, Players’ Player Award, ACHA All-Tournament First Team designation, ACHA Academic All-American and ACHA First Team All-American. He also represented Team USA at the World University Games in Italy with Head Coach Joe Battista. Curtiss was named team captain for his senior season and earned the Defensive Player of the Year award and his second ACHA First-Team All-American designation. He signed with the Johnstown Chiefs after the 2004 ACHA National Tournament and was invited to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tryout Camp the next season. Curtiss went on to play professional hockey for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.

He completed his degree in Communications/Advertising in 2008 and is currently a web designer and interactive developer for Quest Fore based in Pittsburgh. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife Erica and two sons, Connor and Ethan.

The entire Patrick family was really a source of tremendous pride for all of us, a connection to one of the legendary names in hockey history. But far from riding on coattails, Curtiss carved out his own niche as a fantastic d-man and one of the great characters on the team. Here's a story that proves he was more than just his family's legacy, published in the May 11, 2009 Hockey News: "Last season my family and I drove the four hours to Hershey to watch the AHL Penguins battle the Bears. After the game my two sons persuaded my wife and I to take them to the Pens bus. We informed the boys the players would probably want to be left alone after losing the game, but to my surprise we were met by an enthusiastic Penguins player named Curtiss Patrick, of the same Patrick family famous for its tremendous hockey achievements. Curtiss was more than happy to corral his teammates over to autograph pucks and talk hockey for a few minutes. The Patrick family is to hockey what the royal family is to England. My sons will never forget meeting one of the game's true ambassadors."

Bill Downey - Forward (2000-2004), Assistant Coach (2009-10), Director of Hockey Operations (2011-Present)

Bill Downey began his Penn State career with a bang scoring four goals in his first game of ACHA competition against Villanova and finished his freshman year fourth on the team in scoring. Bill continued to light the lamp with three hat tricks in his sophomore season. His 2 goals and 2 assists at nationals garnered him an ACHA All-Tournament Honorable Mention. He also received the Tammy Smith, Unsung Hero Award that season – an award he would also gather the following year. In his Junior season, he reached the 100 point mark as an Icer, a second ACHA All-Tournament Honorable Mention, the Cecil and Trudy Smith Improvement Award and was a member of Team USA at the 2003 World University Games in Italy along with Curtiss Patrick and Head Coach Joe Battista. As team captain in his senior year, he received the Norm Hutchinson, Players’ Player Award, an ACHA All-Tournament Second-Team and Third-Team All-American designation. Bill completed his Penn State career – as a player – with 57 goals and 102 assists in 134 games played never missing a game due to injury. Immediately following the 2004 ACHA National Tournament, Bill signed his first pro contract with the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL, scoring the game-winning goal in his first game. After graduating with a degree in Economics, he was invited to the 2004 Pittsburgh Penguins Training Camp and ultimately went on to play 2 seasons between the ECHL and UHL. In 2008, he returned to Penn State as an assistant coach and earned the Jerry Fry Service award in 2009 and the Vance McCullough Award of Excellence in 2010. After two seasons, Bill took the position of Director of Hockey Operations at Harvard but was brought back to Penn State to fill that same position last summer.

He and his wife Amy are expecting their first child this summer.

As great of a player and a coach as Downey was, it's pretty fun to think that his biggest contributions to Penn State hockey might still be ahead of us. He was obviously an integral part of putting the Citizens Bank Park game on January 3rd together, and every indication is that awesome will be the norm during his time as director of hockey ops. Along with all other Icers who played professionally, I took a lot of pride in having a guy from our humble little club program make a mark in the pros first as a player, then as an ECHL assistant in 2007-2008.

I posted this once before, but since it was well before anyone read TYT, I'd now like to brag about how I own Downey's Wheeling Nailers jersey.

Linda Jordan - Icers Booster Club (1998-Present)

Even with two sons having played for the Icers, Linda Jordan has been more than just your typical "Hockey Mom". After moving to the area from Minnesota, she immediately became a member of the Icers Booster Club when her oldest son, Kyle, was in his rookie season. At the request of Coach Battista, Linda began working with Ruth Markle and another Hall of Famer Maxine Schollenberger on the day-to-day operations of the Booster Club - particularly in merchandising. She served as Merchandise Chairperson overseeing sales at home games, online and at the hockey camps for a decade. She has also served as Booster Club Vice President for nearly five years. In 2003, one year before her youngest son Keith joined the team, she was awarded the Jerry Fry Service award. Linda's other contributions included Alumni Weekend organization, updating team history and contacts, Booster Club liaison to the Hockey Management Association, and basically anything else that Coach Battista, Coach Balboni or their staff needed. In 2007 she received the Vance McCullough Award of Excellence and the Icers Booster Club "7th Man" Award for her continued dedication to Penn State Hockey.

Linda divides her time between State College and their house in Saint Petersburg, Florida where she continues to work on stained glass creations - one of which was presented as a gift to Terry and Kim Pegula.

In observing programs around the ACHA, I've found that identifying the class of the group goes well beyond wins and losses on the ice - although Jordan certainly helped in that regard with fantastic playing progeny. But really the mark of an elite program, to a large extent, lies in the peripherals and the Icers recognize this through the Hall of Fame. Fellow 2012 inductee Steve Penstone puts out a first-rate broadcast, 2007 inductee Rodney Martin puts out a first-rate website, and Jordan obviously meets that same standard in terms of merchandising and the booster club. Having a top program, especially when an athletic department isn't running everything, is a "total package" situation, and Jordan has been a huge part of that.

As a guy who occasionally had to man the merchandise stand during games, I maybe didn't have a full appreciation for that aspect of things at the time (it's really hard to see the game from there), but we've always had lots of nice stuff.

Steve Penstone - Play-by-Play Announcer (2002-Present)

Toronto native Steve Penstone called his first game for the Penn State Icers on October 25th, 2002. For the past 10 years, he has been the voice of Penn State Hockey on the web and the radio. Steve was a recipient of the Icers Booster Club’s “7th Man” Award for his tireless efforts in promoting Penn State Hockey and bringing the games live to the fans. For the past two seasons, he has included video webcasting of the games with the help of his “executive producer” – his wife, Barb. Despite having to overcome a litany of technical issues and non-ideal broadcast conditions, Steve has been a consummate professional in providing some of the best broadcasting in the ACHA.

Steve currently resides in Centre Hall and is employed part-time at the All-Sports Museum and Penn State Golf Course.

As often as I can, I try to point out that while I probably could do this blog without Steve, it wouldn't be nearly as good. Watching the games (and listening to them before I started TYT) is vital to my understanding how the team is doing and without that, I'd be copy/pasting Collegian articles and box scores. Of course, it's not just the fact of the broadcast itself - as someone who has watched most of the teams out there doing broadcasts, I can promise you the quality far surpasses anyone else. I've always had the utmost respect for his ability to pull off a broadcast by any means necessary, but didn't fully appreciate what he goes through on a weekly basis until I tried covering games in person myself (and that was just for a laptop/internet connection, I can't even imagine the rest).

No comments:

Post a Comment