Players raise sticks to fans

Members of Penn State's men's hockey raise their sticks to the cheering crowd in the student section after the midnight practice at Pegula Ice Arena on early Saturday morning, October 5, 2013.

When watching the NHL playoffs, one sees how big an impact a home-ice advantage can really be. The fans are loud and rowdy. The colors, all uniform, make it difficult for the opposition and can really throw them off.

Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks fans made the United Center in Chicago a terror for all of their opponents. Could The Roar Zone, Penn State’s student section, have a similar impact in the first season of the Pegula Ice Arena?

On Friday night, the Nittany Lions were able to see and hear — at least some — of their student section for the first time, as the team hosted Midnight Madness, their first NCAA approved practice with players and coaches present on the NCAA ice.

The student section was maybe two-thirds full, but the noise level and electricity that those present generated was surely promising for the Lions going forward.

"It sounded great and it’s just a practice at midnight with just the student section, so to see the entire thing filled with Penn State people [when the season begins], it’s going to be phenomenal,” Coach Guy Gadowsky said after the team’s practice concluded.

Seeing the collection of students in their designated section for the first time in the new facility had to be a big moment for Gadowsky and his team.

“When we we’re coming around and you see a wall of people, from the ice, it’s an awesome sight,” the third year head coach said.

The practice began at midnight exactly, and introduced each player on the team, along with all of the coaches.

One of the biggest ovations from the fans was toward sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff — one of the team’s bright spots last season.

Skoff, at last week’s media day, spoke about how excited he was for the student section.

“I’m going to feel bad for the other goalie that comes in and has to turn around and see raging fans right behind him,” the goaltender said, referring to how the student section will be right behind the opposing netminder during the first and third periods.

Coming into the program for the first time, freshman forward Dylan Richard said he is just as excited as everyone else to see what the student section can bring when the time comes to drop the puck for real.

“They’re going to blow the roof off this place. It’s going to be unbelievable,” he said following the practice.

Redshirt forward Taylor Holstrom, who scored three game winning goals last season, was overwhelmed with the excitement surrounding him.

Holstrom, while talking about his focus for this coming season, remarked how difficult it was to not get excited with all the electricity in the surrounding atmosphere on Friday night.

Student Max Greenberg (sophomore-bioengineering) said he attended six games last season and bought student season tickets for this season. Greenberg was one of many to come out to the team’s first real event of the season on Friday night.

“I’m excited for the season to start,” he said. “We’re in a good division and there are some good teams we’re going to play.”

The season, which — for now — will begin next Friday as the Lions host Army, will see if The Roar Zone can stand up to all that hype, and be as loud and electric as it seems they can be.

Gadowsky, who skated out to what was clearly the loudest ovation from the fans at the start of Friday’s practice, made sure the fans knew how much the team was depending on them.

“We really need you to be at your best,” he told the crowd. “Mr. Pegula, he built this for you, for The Roar Zone. He wants this to be the ‘rockingest’ arena in college hockey… So I hope you all have a blast, I hope you give him what he wants, and you have a fantastic time.”

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Evan Romano can be reached at ewr5110@psu.edu or at (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @EvanRomano.