Penn State hockey fans have been rewarded greatly for their support of the team.
The Nittany Lions have made exceptional progress since joining Division I hockey in 2013. After accomplishing a series of ‘firsts’ in 2014 and 2015, the team is expected to take a step forward toward Big Ten title contention and a possible NCAA Tournament berth this season.
On Monday the fans got the chance to thank the family that made this success possible.
Midway through the opening period of Pegula Ice Arena’s first NHL game, a video thanking the Pegulas showed on the scoreboard hanging over center ice.
Players, coaches, and administrators, including Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, expressed their appreciation to the family that donated $102 million to get the program up and running.
As the video concluded, Terry and Kim Pegula were shown on screen in their box seats overlooking the Roar Zone, Penn State hockey’s student section.
Those in attendance rose to their feet to give the couple a standing ovation.
Shortly thereafter, Zemgus Girgensons hammered a shot past Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock, giving his Buffalo Sabres a 1-0 lead. This brought the crowd right back to its feet.
While most fans in attendance allegiances were divided between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, there was overwhelming support for the Sabres inside the Pegula Ice Arena during their 2-1 loss to the Wild on Monday night.
“It’s always better to play at home,” Girgensons said following the game. “This felt like a home game.”
The support for the Sabres was not unanimous, however. The Wild had their share of cheers. After Kurtis Gabriel tied the game midway through the second period a concentrated group inside of the Peg went wild in support of the team from Minnesota.
When Jason Zucker scored the game-winning goal with 4.6 seconds left these same fans and more jumped from their seats in celebration while many Sabres fans made their way to the building’s exits.
While the final score left something to be desired, several Sabres players voiced their praise of the fans and the facility.
“Everyone said it was going to be a nice facility but it exceeded all my expectations,” goalie Anders Nilsson said while admiring the weight room. “The guys that play here and the fans are really fortunate to have a great building and great facility like this.”
Nilsson played the first two periods, allowing one goal on 27 shots. Linus Ullmark played the third period for the Sabres, facing only four shots but allowing the game-deciding goal while shorthanded.
Having coached youth hockey games at Pegula in the past, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma is familiar with the facility. In following Penn State’s performance since joining the Sabres, he is aware of how electric the atmosphere can become.
Following the game Bylsma was more concerned with his team’s play.
“We had opportunities we didn’t capitalize on. We had a couple of two-on-ones and a three-on-one that we didn’t get any shots on net on,” he said. “Their goalie made 42, 43 saves, had some rebounds that maybe we could’ve put back on him. In the end we don’t get them and they come up with a power play in the end to win it.”