STATE COLLEGE – The earliest the puck could drop on a potential outdoor hockey game at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium would be 2014.
Athletic director Dave Joyner said Monday he’s informally discussed the possibility of hosting a game at the home of the Nittany Lions with Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
Joyner characterized the preliminary talk as exploratory and high level. “A wouldn’t-it-be-kind-of-cool thing to do” type-talk, Joyner described in a phone interview.
“Nothing would happen until the very earliest until the end of the football season in 2014,” he said.
The idea of opening up Beaver Stadium to hockey has been thrown around at Penn State since the school announced plans to upgrade its club hockey program to Division I in 2010. The Big Ten is also starting a hockey league this fall, with the Nittany Lions one of the founding members.
Penn State hockey could also play outdoors, whether as an undercard to an NHL marquee matchup or as part of a collegiate event. Any outdoor game would likely pack the 106,000-plus capacity stadium – the second-largest in the country behind Michigan Stadium.
The possibility has picked up social media buzz of late, especially with Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien offering ringing endorsements in response to questions during last month’s coach’s caravan, and at a charity golf outing earlier a few weeks ago.
“To play a hockey game in Beaver Stadium would be great for this area,” O’Brien, who grew up in the hockey-savvy Boston suburbs, said then. “I love hockey.”
WJAC-TV reported last week that Penn State was “seriously considering the idea.” Luukko said he had spoken with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the league about an interest in the game, the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported last week.
Joyner said Monday school officials are discussing logistics that Penn State has never had to plan for since Beaver Stadium is usually shut down and “winterized” following the last football game of each season in November. The stadium typically isn’t used again until the following April, for the Blue-White spring football scrimmage.
Penn State could wait a few weeks to winterize, Joyner said, meaning a hockey game could be held in December.
Then there are parking concerns, and preparing for last-minute alternatives should a winter storm shut down grass fields surrounding the stadium. The school does have experience with that scenario from dealing with weather-related problems for football.
“There’s a lot of interest in doing this,” he said. “We just have to get through these logistical hurdles.”
The NHL is increasing its popular outdoor games, which in the past had been limited to on or around New Year’s Day. There are likely to be six next season, including two at Yankee Stadium in New York. Other games are scheduled for Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor; Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles; and Soldier Field in Chicago.
A Flyers-Penguins game would bring a blockbuster, all-Pennsylvania matchup to Beaver Stadium. The Buffalo Sabres could be a possibility as well – it was team owner Terry Pegula’s $102 million donation three years ago that enabled Penn State to upgrade its men’s program and build a state-of-the-art arena opening in October.
The school also has expressed an interest since Pegula’s donation in hosting an NHL or AHL training camp, or an exhibition game.
A hockey game on campus could rival the turnout for the “Big Chill” game held between Michigan and Michigan State in 2010 at Michigan Stadium. That game drew 104,173 fans, setting the world record for hockey attendance.
Joyner also said Monday that Penn State is still seriously looking into the possibility of playing a football game in Ireland in 2014.