Penn State to play Division I hockey

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Major college hockey is coming to Penn State.

Ending years of rumors and speculation, university leaders at a trustees meeting formally announced Friday the establishment of Division I men's and women's ice hockey programs to begin play in the 2012-13 season.

Happy Valley hockey fans can thank Terry and Kim Pegula after the couple donated $88 million -- the largest private gift in Penn State history -- to finance a new multipurpose arena to be built near the Jordan Center and help establish the men's program.

Pegula is the founder and former president of the energy company East Resources Inc., a major player in the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation sold to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $4.7 billion earlier this year.

"So maybe some day in these hills of Pennsylvania, we're going to find a Pennsylvania [Sidney] Crosby," Pegula said at the trustees' meeting in announcing his donation, referring to the Pittsburgh Penguins' star. "Hopefully, he'll play hockey for Penn State, and I think that's awesome."

Penn State has had a club hockey team, the Icers, since 1971. The team plays at the campus' 1,500-seat Ice Pavilion and is considered one of the top club teams in the country. The Icers have won seven American Collegiate Hockey Association national titles.

The school also had a men's varsity team from 1939 to 1946. Penn State has had a women's club hockey team, the Lady Icers, since 1996-97.

"This is the fulfillment of a dream for many that have been longtime advocates and supporters of Penn State hockey," athletic director Tim Curley said in a statement. "As with all of our programs, we will expect both the men's and women's teams to compete for championships and achieve at a high level."

Five other Big Ten schools play Division I hockey, but there is no Big Ten hockey league.

Minnesota and Wisconsin play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Big Ten, which is scheduled to expand its membership to 12 when Nebraska joins in the 2011-12 school year, now could decide to begin its own hockey league.

That could create a domino effect for college hockey throughout the Midwest.

Both the CCHA and WCHA have expressed interest in adding Penn State.

"They are a very attractive choice -- very attractive," CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said earlier this month, according to the Detroit News. "They're in a different market than we're in, more and more U.S. players are on college rosters, and there's tremendous growth of the sport in Pennsylvania."

The addition of men's and women's ice hockey will increase the number of sports at Penn State to 31, one of the largest athletic programs in the country among BCS schools.

Curley said the new hockey facility is scheduled to be built by spring 2014, just west of the Jordan Center, home to the university's basketball teams. The arena will include two ice sheets, and university leaders hope to attract NHL and minor-league exhibition hockey games.

It's more good news for Pennsylvania college hockey fans, with the state already hosting back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours at mid-decade. The Division I men's hockey championships will be played in Pittsburgh in 2013 and Philadelphia in 2014.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN The Magazine senior writer E.J. Hradek was used in this report.