Prior to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft Friday night, the league announced plans to sponsor feasibility studies into potential new Division I college hockey programs.
Penn State alum and Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula spoke at the press conference, citing the university’s hockey team as an example of tremendous success in just five years.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 23, 2017
Pegula, whose $88 million donation to build a hockey arena on Penn State’s campus, was credited with being one of the main inspirations for this new initiative.
“Mr. Pegula…is the name that pops up as the example and the illuminating, shining star of what can happen,” John McDonough, President and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, said.
“Terry was a groundbreaker here,” Mathieu Schneider, Special Assistant to the Executive Director for the NHLPA, added. “Maybe if not for the great success of his program, we might not be having this conversation.”
Pegula himself used Nate Jensen, a former Penn State defenseman who scored 52 points in 114 games as a Nittany Lion, as an example of how college hockey can help an individual develop on and off the ice. Jensen, who scored the first goal in the history of Pegula Ice Arena, worked for Pegula’s oil company after graduating in 2015.
The University of Illinois will be the first studied as part of this new initiative, and the popularity of hockey in Illinois and the success of the Illini’s club hockey team make it a logical spot for the Big Ten’s eighth team. Pegula’s Sabres selected University of Minnesota commit Casey Mittelstadt with the No. 8 overall pick in Friday’s draft.
As for the Nittany Lions, they have two recruits and an active roster member of their own available during day two, including center Evan Barratt, who will join the team next season. Rising sophomore winger Denis Smirnov led Penn State in scoring with 47 points in 39 games during a stellar debut campaign.