Updated Thu, Jan 31, 2013 6:42 pm
For years, Ohio University and Penn State had one of the bitterest rivalries in club hockey. After all, being the two winningest teams in ACHA history, some bad blood is bound to develop among tough competitors. The two programs would schedule home-and-home series annually, and those games would draw gigantic crowds in both Athens and Happy Valley.
Now, after a monumental monetary injection from billionaire Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Penn State is enjoying its first year playing NCAA Division I hockey and has been shedding its ties with most of the collegiate club hockey scene. But not with Ohio.
The two schools will continue their competitive rivalry this weekend, as the Bobcats will travel to the heart of the Keystone State for two games against the Nittany Lions’ NCAA squad, one in Hershey, the other in Happy Valley. Despite the fact that the two teams are no longer battling each other for positioning in the ACHA, there is little loved lost between these two teams as both teams’ players are itching to get back on the ice with one another.
“We have always had a good rivalry with them during the four years I’ve been here. We have always played them tough,” senior Ohio forward Jay Mazzarella said. “Last year, they had some guys come in that were already committed for their NCAA team, so they got the better of us last year. Now, we’re hoping we can get them this year.”
Mazzarella and the rest of the Bobcats’ upperclassmen have familiarized themselves with Penn State’s playing style over the past few years and are not intimidated by the D-I varsity talent they will be up against. Head Coach Dan Morris is very keen on what the Nittany Lions have been doing on the ice and feels he has his players prepared for it.
“Even though they’re bringing in that level of talent, as a young program they’re still not as talented as some of the opponents they’re playing,” Morris said. “So they play in a way to compensate for that. They don’t play in a high-end, run and gun style. They try to grind it out and keep the score low. We’re not facing a team that’s going to change its philosophy just because we’re walking in the door. We’ve got to respond to one-on-one battles, and we’re ready to do that.”
While Morris and his coaching staff have been preparing all week for the match-up against their old rivals, the staff at Hershey’s Giant Center has been working in preparation of a packed house for Friday night’s game. Close to 10,000 tickets have already been sold to this point, and with more likely to purchase seats before puck drop, the popularity of this event speaks volumes to what this rivalry was and what it can still be today.
Penn State is a little more used to playing for large audiences since it has moved up to the NCAA, but for the Bobcats, they cannot wait to seize the unique moment this rivalry has presented.
“Personally speaking, I have never played in front of that many people, ever. I think the same goes for a lot of guys in our locker room,” said Mazzerella with a smirk, “Everyone’s excited to get out there and play the best game that we can in front of 10,000-plus people.”
At the end of the day, this series is not an absolutely vital one to Ohio’s success of the year, but the team recognizes the history behind this rivalry and how valuable of a learning experience this could be.
“Their fan base knows us well, obviously our fan base knows them well, so I think it’s going to be a great experience for our players to play in that kind of environment and see that level of play, and it’s even an opportunity for our players to go in there and showcase their abilities, too.”
Friday night’s tilt at the Giant Center, home of the Hershey Bears, begins at 7:00. Both teams will then make a quick trip to University Park where they will face-off again Saturday night at 7:30 in the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.