Interestingly, the first real conversation I had about the history of Penn State hockey was on a transatlantic flight. The conversation started in earnest. I, somewhat unsurprisingly, was wearing gear that prompted my neighbor on the plane to inquire about my knowledge of college hockey. After I acknowledged that my undergraduate years on East Hill had familiarized me with the best of college hockey, my neighbor asked if I had heard that Penn State was going to elevates its wildly successful ACHA club program to the NCAA Division I level. I indicated my knowledge. The conversation then took an interesting turn.
My neighbor, whose name disappointingly escapes me, confessed that he was one of the earliest members of the Penn State Icers, the proud moniker of teams from a great era in Penn State hockey history. The conversation continued with him asking if I knew that Cornell hockey was integral to the establishment of club hockey at the Pennsylvania State University. I had no clue. He retold the story of how in the seasons leading up to the first season of the Icers Era that future members of the Icers traveled to Ithaca, NY. Their host? If one trusts the informed narrative of the passenger, was none other than Ned Harkness.
The story unfolded with Harkness, Dryden, and other members of the team discussing the sport of college hockey with the Penn Staters and their faculty adviser. The Penn Staters departed East Hill not only with the experience of watching the Cornell hockey machine and the Lynah Faithful, but with what few provisions that Cornell's hockey staff could provide. I was determined to research further into the connections between Cornell and Penn State hockey. I would have to wait until I was back in North America as my work schedule would not abide my delving into deep historical research of either program.
When I returned home, I was shocked to discover how easily one could delve into the history of Penn State hockey. Kyle Rossi via Thank You Terry had chronicled large swaths of Penn State hockey history. His blog was an infectious read for anyone curious about the history of college-hockey programs and the different forms of college hockey. I discovered the rich history of ACHA college hockey and the roots of Penn State hockey.
College hockey, like college football, is defined by history. A program that has history possesses legitimacy that almost no amount of winning can equal. Success in college hockey must have a vintage. Rossi taught his readers and me that despite the talking points of higher profile media sources that Penn State hockey was not a new phenomenon.
The treatment of the ACHA as an afterthought or lesser brand of hockey began to grate on me. This is thanks to my regular reading of TYT. The ACHA in many ways is college hockey distilled to its essence. The fans that go care about the outcome of games and the players in them. TYT led me to these conclusions.
The readiest analogy is that the ACHA is an entire level of hockey filled with fans like those found in the ECAC and a few other programs throughout the college-hockey landscape, not the likes of fans who sit in ~10,000-seat arenas and cram around televisions in concourses and suites to watch a football or basketball game with a hockey game unfolding before them. Kyle Rossi was very much a part of this culture in the ACHA. And, in many ways, that may explain his retirement of TYT as the program he followed made the ultimate jump.
TYT covered Penn State's last run in the 2012 ACHA Division 1 National Tournament with the zeal that more regularized media cover the Frozen Four. The loss to Oakland University was heart-wrenching. Kyle Rossi began covering the Icers program as a student at Penn State and the loss signified the end of the era that drew him to Penn State hockey; an era that he loved. An era during which Penn State won five ACHA national championships.
Kyle Rossi became a friend of WAFT's contributors over that time. It was during the off-season before the 2012-13 season that he encouraged us to start WAFT. Rossi was a long-time fan of ECAC Hockey, two programs in particular, and believed that our voices could add to the college-hockey dialogue. Many stylistic and tonal elements of WAFT are influenced by TYT.
He taught us that there are fans who care about historical research and supported even our rougher efforts to find our voice. WAFT hoped to create reader-friendly narratives for Cornell fans, both new and old, with the living anecdotes of the fanbase and data that are available. TYT and its creator were supportive all along and for that we are personally grateful.
Penn State's first season in NCAA Division I hockey began in October 2012. The Nittany Lions fell to American International. TYT was there to provide historically informed and in-depth coverage of the momentous event. The first win for the Lions came the next day. However, as the season continued, tensions began to emerge between Rossi and members of the official Penn State Athletics Department. The cause could not properly be discerned at the time, but retrospect sheds possible light on the situation.
Rossi would goad the official accounts of Penn State for its obvious and insulting white-wash of the history of the Penn State Icers. Why the athletic accounts had such thin skins over such corrections, one may never know. As stated above, college-hockey programs are their history. Reduction of more than four decades of hockey history to a couple of sentences is insulting to the contributions of generations of players, coaches, and fans who made the transformation from the Icers to the Nittany Lions possible.
Cornell fans, imagine for a moment if someone tried to rewrite Cornell hockey history as beginning with the arrival of Ned Harkness in 1963. Would that go uncorrected? It is comical to even ask that question. To do such would erase the Beebe-Lake Era of Cornell hockey as well as the career of the longest tenured Cornell hockey coach in Nicky Bawlf. No dedicated fan would tolerate such an omission. However, such corrections in the case of Penn State caused tension.
While Penn State began to woo favorable coverage from higher profile college-hockey sites and other media, they began to reduce Rossi's media access. It became obvious that those governing Penn State hockey cared not for the fanbase that TYT and others had maintained when it was the Icers, not the NCAA-sanctioned Nittany Lions, that made crowds of blue and white roar.
The current season of Penn State hockey began with the above conjecture becoming more apparent. Unceremoniously, Penn State hockey did not renew the contract of Steve Penstone. Penstone had served as the play-by-play caller for the Icers for several years.
Penstone and his wife were tireless in their efforts to broadcast all Penn State Icers game, both home and away, via ustream. If there was a voice of Penn State Icers hockey, it was that of Penstone. He had an apparent love for hockey and the Pennsylvania State University. The solely business-minded juggernaut behind Penn State hockey did not care. It coldly did not renew Steve Penstone's contract. Penn State may not have suitably thanked them, but I would like to thank them. They served Penn State hockey and college hockey admirably.
Can anyone imagine Cornell doing the same to Arthur Mintz? Or Minnesota acting similarly to Wally Shaver? Steve Penstone was no less integral to the unique experience that was a Penn State Icers hockey game.
It was probably at this time that Rossi began to become critically disheartened with those who manage Penn State hockey. It is around this time that it began to raise eyebrows from even passersby. Kyle Rossi continued to insist that Penn State Athletics not neglect the long and tortured history of hockey at Penn State. He offered at various times his sizable work product to official Penn State Athletics representatives. All signs indicate that the offer was rejected.
Rossi's research indicates that Penn State hockey is one of the oldest programs in the country. It is the 11th-oldest program in the history of college hockey. The first skaters to represent Penn State did so at venues like Duquesne Gardens in Pittsburgh as early as 1909. The official narrative of Penn State hockey neglects those skaters. The program was discontinued.
Histories from TYT continue that varsity hockey returned in the late-1930s and mid-1940s. It was during this era that Cornell squared off with Penn State. Cornell and Penn State, the land-grant universities of New York and Pennsylvania, had tried for several seasons to play one another. The uncertain ice conditions of Beebe Lake and the lack of a home rink for the Penn Staters resulted in many cancellations. The Bawlfmen of Cornell would defeat the Penn Staters in the one meeting in the series in 1944. Penn State hockey has since eliminated Penn State's pre-NCAA contests against Army, so one can conclude that the Cornell-Penn State series is equally zeroed.
Official Penn State narratives indicate that Penn State did have hockey in the 1930s and 1940s. They state that those were the first Penn State hockey teams. A clear falsity. John Dufford was a phenomenal player for Penn State hockey in that era. There is no doubt. However, despite the best efforts of official sources to change history, he was neither the first nor only Penn State hockey player before October 2012.
The Icers era is treated as a footnote in all official sources now. It is worth mentioning that since Pegula Ice Arena has opened, there have been no reports that Penn State's ACHA banners hang from the rafters. There were promises made to such effect during the transition. The sum total indicates that the party-line tale of Penn State hockey is that Penn State sponsored varsity hockey briefly in the 1930s and 1940s then Terry Pegula decided to create a program from the ground up for no reason in particular (ignoring the fact that Pegula's children attended Penn State's summer hockey camps when the Icers program managed them, a fact I learned from TYT).
There is definite irony in the fact that those who serve a program that represents the Pennsylvania State University place such a peculiar emphasis upon NCAA endorsement. Official accounts continue to refer to collegiate hockey as "NCAA hockey" and not the more common "college hockey."
The NCAA did not create college hockey. It was not even its first formalized sponsor. Organized college hockey tournaments date back to 1899. People no less influential than Jack Parker have stated that the NCAA does not understand the culture and needs of college hockey to the detriment of the sport. Yet, Penn State, a university that presently has many qualms about the NCAA, insists on impliedly making the NCAA the end all be all of college hockey. Penn State hockey does this to the disrespect of players from at least three distinct eras of its hockey history.
This understandably upset Kyle Rossi. It is difficult to understand these choices even for outsiders let alone someone so passionate about his alma mater and its hockey program. Officials behind the scenes at Penn State hockey have forsaken the roots of their program. The moment that Penn State announced Terry Pegula's gift provides yet another wrinkle of irony.
The $88-million gift that Pegula gave Penn State was the largest in the history of the University. Terry and Kim Pegula would increase their gift's size to $102 million to ensure that the Nittany Lions could compete with their opponents in the Big Ten Hockey Conference. The cameras were directed at Joseph Battista during the first formal announcement of the gift. The former coach of the Icers remarked that "the Icer family is celebrating today."
Steve Penstone and Kyle Rossi were among the most public members of the said Icers family. Yet, their dedication and passion have been ignored, if not shunned. It appears as though modern Penn State hockey cares little for "the Icer family" that made championships, NCAA Division I hockey, and Pegula Ice Arena possible.
The most financially successful program at Penn State is without question its football program. When recruits are asked why they chose Penn State over programs like Alabama, Michigan, or Ohio State, what do they answer commonly? Because Penn State football has preserved the family atmosphere of its program and feels neither professionalized nor commercialized. For some reason, those governing the hockey program in Central Pennsylvania think an antithetical approach will produce success. The organic Icer family has been forsaken in the hopes of building a broad, albeit less passionate, fanbase. For what has a program profited, if it has gained scholarships and a new building, and lost its altruistic and loyal essence?
This is truly a sad turn of events. Perhaps fans of Cornell hockey should relish when the Big Red rose to prominence. The early rise of Cornell hockey may have insulated Cornell from the forces of commercial interest. The family-like feeling of games, shared appreciation for history, and loyalty of the fans became institutionalized before money-making desires could adulterate them. Lynah Rink was renovated to preserve the family atmosphere of the experience for fans as well as for teams within the locker room. The Lynah Faithful are family.
Penn State hockey could become a great program at the NCAA Division I level, but a college-hockey program that ignores its history can never be great. It is a contradiction in terms. Kyle Rossi cultivated a wider fanbase before the behemoth of Penn State athletics public relations kicked into full force. Thank You Terry had avid readers whose experience of Penn State hockey was enriched with nearly every post. He suffered and covered the emotional ups and downs before high-profile college-hockey figures could tell you when puck drop was at Greenberg Ice Pavilion. That is why the institution of Penn State hockey should be grateful. Rossi cared when there was no financial incentive to do so and it was not kitsch yet. His coverage and passion were real.
His social media tactics may have at times been polemical, but they were almost without exception to good effect for his audience and his University. Kyle Rossi and the medium of TYT represented Penn State and Penn State hockey well. He never embarrassed his alma mater in his work. He was unabashedly proud of his University and the student-athletes who represented it. For that, Penn State hockey and Penn Staters should be grateful.
The work of TYT may be unappreciated by some, but the contributors of WAFT appreciate its service. TYT and its creator provided advice and support while WAFT found surer footing. For this, we at WAFT are very appreciative. The work of Kyle Rossi preserves the legacy of innumerable players, coaches, and fans that would be otherwise neglected. TYT provides diehard Penn State hockey fans, both those who exist and who have not yet found their passion, with the ability to learn the full and actual history of their beloved program.
Fans will discover it. Like works of art after the deaths of their creators, it may take time for the true value of the research behind TYT to be appreciated fully by the desired audience. Kyle Rossi provided an informed and learned voice for a once-fringe program at a major university. He added to the dialogue and diversity of college hockey. For this, the college-hockey community should be appreciative. We must say thank you for Thank You Terry. Thank you, Kyle.