The fan experience at the Lowell and Penn State hockey game on Thursday night was a mixed bag. The stadium was not completely full and many of the fans watched as though they were waiting for PSU to score so that they could finally cheer. That completes the downside of the experience. The upside includes watching a PSU team fight to the very last second of the game while losing 4-0, taking their first loss at Pegula Ice Arena.
With 6.3 seconds remaining in the game, a Lowell player centered the puck to a team mate who was about to take a point blank shot from 20 feet away from the goalie. Penn States' leading scorer, sophomore defenseman Luke Juha, skated between the Lowell player and the goalie, and allowed the puck to hit him in a spot that is not well padded, the side of the knee. Juha went to the ice and play was stopped as he rolled around holding his knee. The fans that remained at the game stood up and watched as he struggled to his feet. The crowed cheered as Juha made it to the bench, in clear pain, on his own power. He could have avoided the puck and no one would have faulted him for it at that point. That's the type of grit this PSU team played with all night.
PSU had many penalties while trying to hang with this very talented Lowell team. For most of the game Lowell had an extra skater while PSU had a man in the penalty box, or as it may be renamed, the Bailey box after Casey Bailey, sophomore forward for PSU. Bailey spent so much time in the box that I began to wonder if he was hiding a sandwich over there or something. Early in the game there was a scuffle behind PSU's net and freshman first-line forward Zach Saar, the 6-4 236 pound behemoth, stepped in to aid one of his team mates who had been getting pushed around after the whistle by a Lowell player. Saar took his defense of the team mate too far and ended up in the box for 4 minutes. That play, however, showed that PSU was not going to allow Lowell to push them around all night. That is one thing that Lowell, one of the most talented teams in the country, did not do last night...out tough or cower this PSU team.
My seat was in section 110 row d, seat 9. This seat is about as close as you can get to the Lowell bench, and that was by design. To watch the coaching staff of UMass-Lowell was as entertaining as the play on the ice was to watch. It was the basketball equivalent of sitting behind the bench if Duke or Florida or North Carolina were visiting State College. The only seats between my seat and the bench were taken by a pair of likely season ticket holders, a man and a woman in their 60‘s. Their seats are the closest that you can get to the visiting teams' bench, row c seats 10 and 11. The lady was acting like a little girl in anticipation of the hockey game. She was giddy, cheering with the students and other fans as they clapped and yelled, "We Are". She later revealed that the eye drops that were regularly being applied were for her glaucoma. During the second period, a PSU player attempted to clear the puck, but it struck the glass at the Lowell bench and dropped out of play onto the floor on the bench. All of us in the vicinity ducked when the loud noise happened just a few feet from where we sat. Moments later Lowell senior forward from Foxboro, Massachusetts, Derek Arnold, noticed the puck laying on the bench floor, and picked it up. He turned around, made eye contact with the lady sitting on the other side of the glass, and tossed it to her.
She grabbed the puck, complete with flakes of ice from the skating surface and became overcome with joy. She was holding it, showing it to her husband, and then placed it in the cup holder in front of her because it was so cold. I watched as she took pictures of it on her smart phone, texting to at least 3 or 4 people, saying, ‘look what I got at the hockey game!' It made her day and maybe then some, the thoughtful gesture by Derek Arnold. A couple of shifts later, Arnold skated off the ice and sat down directly on the other side of the glass from that lady. During a lull in the action she pounded on the glass and yelled ‘Arnold' a few times. I've been to many hockey games where if a fan is yelling a players' name and banging on the glass behind them, it is not a good thing. Lowell Massachusetts is a tough place, and many arenas where their hockey team plays are not kind to visiting players. But Arnold turned around and looked the lady in the eye. She held the puck up and said, ‘thank you so much'. He smiled and nodded in acknowledgment to her then turned back to the action on the ice.
Later in the game a family of three sitting a couple of rows behind me and to the right began to attempt to entertain what looked to be their 10 year old son. He appeared to be getting a little bored, but being a good sport about it. When the PSU fans would groan after a tough play, the boy would mock the fans, not knowing why they made the sound but only that it was in unison and seemed funny to him. He would groan a few seconds after the fans did. Then a puck from the game ended up on the Lowell bench once again. An assistant coach grabbed the puck and tossed it to the fans sitting in front of the family with the young boy. The lady who caught the puck was caught off guard, and she passed the puck around to the group of people that she was at the game with. They all took a turn holding it and looking at the puck. Then the mother of the child behind them tapped the lady on the shoulder and asked if she could hold the puck. The lady obliged, handing it to her. She then tapped her boy on the shoulder, who was looking to the right toward the student section, and he turned and saw the puck. Again, still covered with shavings of the skating surface ice, the boy took the puck into his hand. His eyes became wide and for the moment were as big as two hockey pucks. He held the puck in this right hand, looking that the PSU logo, then flipped it over to see the big ten logo. His hand got cold, so he switched hands and shook the cold out of the other hand. His mother had him hold the puck up as she took a picture of his smiling face. For the final ten minutes of the game after that, the child was no longer losing interest.
One of the tickets that I got for the games says right on the front ‘Pucks may fly into stands' likely as a warning to remind the fans to watch out. Sometimes pucks get tossed into the stands, too. I've been to over 100 college hockey games and never seen a spectacle like the Peg. Cheerleaders at a hockey game? That's cool. A student section like none I have ever seen. The music is loud, but in a complete and deep way and by no means over-bearing. The PSU fans may take a few years to come up to speed in terms of having 4000 of the 6000 fans inside being fully knowledgeable about what they are watching. That is something that patience will cure. For now, this arena is unmatched in college hockey for its' magnificence and beauty. I've never had a better experience at a college hockey game. I suggest that anyone interested in hockey or PSU sports to find a way to get to the Peg this season. The weekend of February 14th-16th should be a great time with hockey against Michigan State on Friday night, PSU hoops vs Iowa at 1pm on Saturday, and at 3:30 on Saturday the second hockey game against Michigan State. And for those who enjoy wrestling, their is a meet against Oklahoma State on Sunday.