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Penguins to open preseason against Sabres at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, June 19, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
The Penguins' Conor Sheary (l) and Nick Bonino celebrates with Jake Guentzel after Guentzel's goal against the Sabres in the third period to tie the game Sunday, March 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Conor Sheary (l) and Nick Bonino celebrates with Jake Guentzel after Guentzel's goal against the Sabres in the third period to tie the game Sunday, March 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
A view of the ice from the southeast corner of Pegula Ice Arena taken during a tour Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
A view of the ice from the southeast corner of Pegula Ice Arena taken during a tour Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in University Park.
The Penn State student section cheers behind Army goaltender Rob Tadazak during the 1st period of the inaugural game at Pegula Ice Arena between Penn State and Army on Oct. 11, 2013, in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
The Penn State student section cheers behind Army goaltender Rob Tadazak during the 1st period of the inaugural game at Pegula Ice Arena between Penn State and Army on Oct. 11, 2013, in University Park.
Penn State players take the ice for their inaugural game at Pegula Ice Arena between Penn State and Army on Oct. 11, 2013, in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State players take the ice for their inaugural game at Pegula Ice Arena between Penn State and Army on Oct. 11, 2013, in University Park.

The Penguins will begin defense of their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in Hockey Valley.

They will face the Buffalo Sabres in their preseason opener Sept. 19 at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena — exactly 100 days after they clinched the franchise's fifth title June 11 in Nashville.

Other highlights of the preseason schedule include a game against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 24 at Rostraver Ice Garden as part of the Kraft Hockeyville celebration, a visit Sept. 25, to the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and the annual free matinee for kids against Columbus on Sept. 30.

The exhibition opener ended up at Penn State because of Terry Pegula, the billionaire businessman who owns the Sabres and donated $102 million to the construction of the rink in University Park.

Technically, it will be a Sabres home game.

Last year, the Sabres hosted the Minnesota Wild in an exhibition game in the building. This year, there figures to be a little more excitement surrounding the game because it involves the Penguins, a team with a significant following on campus.

“Coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, there will be some heightened interest, and it will allow people who can't make it to Pittsburgh on a regular basis to see a team they obviously have a strong affinity for,” Penn State associate athletic director Michael Cross said. “That's not every fan here, obviously. We have some Flyers fans, we have some Sabres fans, other teams, but if you asked me to take a sampling and give an anecdotal answer, from an NHL jersey standpoint, I see more Pittsburgh jerseys in our building than any other team.”

The exhibition game will allow Penn State to showcase its hockey environment to a slightly different audience. The 5,782-seat building is known in college hockey circles as a raucous place to play. Cross compared it to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

“It's a loud building. It's an energetic building. Our marketing staff does an incredible job with game presentation,” Cross said. “When you couple all those factors together and surround it with, in the case of our teams, a great Penn State loyalty, or in the case of the NHL, those who have loyalty to the Sabres or Pittsburgh, and bring that into a building that has really been designed for that type of atmosphere, you have an opportunity for a special event.”

The most special hockey event Penn State could host, of course, would be an outdoor game at the 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium, the rumored venue for a game between the Penguins and Flyers in the past.

Cross said Penn State's athletic department regularly is involved in discussions to bring high-profile events to the stadium, from concerts to international soccer or rugby matches to NFL preseason games.

“We just have to think about them and make sure they work from a facility availability standpoint and an economic standpoint and they make sense for Penn State,” Cross said. “Whether or not it actually happens, we'll continue to have discussion about it.

“It's certainly possible. Don't expect any imminent announcements. I'm not aware of anything. But stranger things have happened.”

Cross said hosting NHL exhibition games could be the first step down a road toward a Winter Classic.

“The extent to which we do this type of event well and show we've got the capacity to put on high-level sporting events to the professional franchises involved, it's helpful in the long term to potentially do something like that,” he said.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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