Meet the Pegulas: Parents of Penn State Hockey
What became a hockey conference started with a generous donation, and what became a generous donation started with a humble family.
The Pegula Ice Arena, approaching its third birthday, has become a springboard for the growing popularity of college hockey. Penn State is currently in its second season in the newly formed Big Ten Hockey Conference, facing off against traditional hockey powerhouses and long-time rivals like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
But if these teams have had rivalries for such a long time, why didn’t they play in the same league? The schools’ other athletic teams are mostly all in the Big Ten, so why weren’t their hockey teams? The simplest answer is, there weren’t enough teams. With five potential teams in the league, there wouldn’t be enough interest to create a new Big Ten conference.
Enter Terry and Kim Pegula.
In the fall of 2010, the Pegulas decided to make a donation of $88 million to Terry’s alma mater, Penn State, in order to build a state-of-the-art hockey rink on campus. Soon after their announcement, the Nittany Lions announced their decision to move to NCAA Division-1 play. Later in the construction process, another $14 million would be donated by the family, bringing the grand total to $102 million.
The male protagonist of our story, Terry Pegula, was born into a humble family in 1951 in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He spent his high school years at Scranton Prep, then made the decision to pursue an education at Penn State. There, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering.
After being molded by Dear Old State, he worked for a few different oil companies before utilizing his new knowledge and experience to found an oil and gas production company by the name of East Resources, Inc. Pegula’s time in the industry was a huge success. He owned and operated East Resources from 1983 to 2010 when he sold it to Shell for $4.7 billion. After his retirement from the oil and gas industry, Terry pursued a new career, now in a long-time passion of his, sports, with his wife.
Kim Pegula, on the other hand, had a very, very different upbringing than her husband. The odds were stacked against her from a very young age.
“We’re thrilled, given the fact that Kim is adopted, she was actually found on a street corner in Seoul, Korea,” Ralph Kerr, her adopted father, told WIVB. “I think it’s just a testament to only in America, can someone come from a really, really sparse beginning and then share with other people.”
She was adopted from South Korea and raised in western New York, then attended Houghton College. Always having a good business mind, she met her husband Terry and they simultaneously formed their business and romantic relationships.
When the two sold their multi-billion dollar family business, they moved on to the world of sports.
It started with buying Terry’s Alma Mater a beautiful new place to play hockey. After dipping their feet in the sports culture, the family dove deeper the next year and bought Kim’s hometown team, playing Terry’s favorite sport: the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
After their meteoric rise in sports business, the family is now full of athletic icons – their daughter, Jessie, holds a career singles record of 87-61 and was ranked as high as 123rd playing professional tennis.
Finally, in early 2014, amidst rumors that the Buffalo Bills could be on the move to another city, the Pegulas bought the team, beating out two other potential ownership groups led by Jon Bon Jovi and Donald Trump. The family is now a formidable name in the sports industry, and they’ve done it humbly. Even occasions that call for celebration are handled nonchalantly in the family:
Still, the Pegulas have shown that they aren’t afraid to open up their wallets when the situation calls for it. Penn State’s new hockey arena serves as a reminder to how they operate, and is a representation of the family in more ways than just its name.
Pegula Ice Arena, in addition to seating 5,782 fans and being home to the Nittany Lions’ men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, provides one of the more unique environments in college sports. In addition to its beautiful ice for students to skate on, awesome Subway restaurant, and events like teaching youth hockey and curling lessons, the arena contains innovative architecture, including but not limited to, the Roar Zone. The bleachers behind the away team’s net were designed to be the steepest allowed by code in order to create a wall of sound during games.
“We’re a wall of 1,000 students hovering over the opposing goalie for two periods. Hockey fans at Penn State are excited to have a Division-1 program here, and the noise they make during the games shows that,” said Kyle Hoke, president of the Roar Zone.
The Pegulas’ vision for the Penn State hockey experience goes beyond what happens during games, however. The main entrance to the arena also serves as a window to the main rink. When the curtains are pulled aside, visitors get an immensely warm welcome and a breathtaking view.
Terry and Kim, as a conscious portrayal of their symbiotic relationship, made sure the behind-the-scenes parts of the building were symmetrical as well. The men’s and women’s locker rooms, film rooms, lounges, and everything else were designed and built to be exactly the same.
Beyond that, the teams share a gym and shot monitor. The two facilities are super high-tech, and the teams get a lot of use out of them. Members from both teams can be found in the gym at almost any time, and the shot monitor is one of the coolest and most high-tech devices at the arena. It measures the velocity and accuracy of the shooter, and compares his or her stats to those in its database, which includes other college and NHL players.
Another awesome facet of the arena is that it gives priority to the teams that call it home.
“What’s great about the rink is that it’s the teams’,” said Special Assistant of Operations and former men’s head coach, Dr. Morris Kurtz. “The [Pittsburgh] Penguins don’t own CONSOL [Energy Center], so when other events are around, scheduling can be tough. But this arena is for our teams.”
Long before Pegula Ice Arena was under construction, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin were already all competing in D-1 hockey at a high level, and a groundwork for a new conference was in place. The Pegulas’ generous donation that allowed the Nittany Lions’ hockey team to move from its former Greenberg Ice Pavilion home to “The Peg” gave the program the resources it needed to expand. With the rink in place and Penn State Hockey gaining popularity, talks began regarding creating a new conference.
In March 2011, less than a year after the announcement of Penn State’s moving to NCAA Division-1 play thanks to the Pegulas’ donation, the Big Ten made the decision to sponsor a hockey conference.
“I am glad to see that the conference formation came together so quickly,” said Terry Pegula after the Big Ten’s announcement. “One of the main reasons I decided to make the gift to Penn State was to see the great sport of college hockey evolve. Congratulations to the Big Ten Conference for making this leap of faith, and I hope it can serve as a catalyst for the growth and exposure for the game of hockey in North America.”
Fast forward to the 2013-14 season, and Penn State Hockey had arrived. Its inaugural season at Pegula saw an 8-26-2 record (4-12-2 at home), and featured an upset of Michigan in the Big Ten tournament to reach the semifinals. Now, nearing the halfway mark of its second season, Penn State has already improved to 7-4-2 (and a 5-0-1 record at the Peg). The awesome venue isn’t lost on the team, of course.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s indescribable, you just have to come to a game,” said team captain Patrick Koudys. “To see all the fans bumping in the student section with all the lights on, it’s the best place I’ve ever played in.”
With recruiting classes beginning to featuring more and more quality players, rivalries growing, and budding national recognition, Penn State Hockey is making a name for itself. Thanks for everything, Terry and Kim Pegula.
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