David Thompson grew up in Glen Mills, Pa. His home is technically on the Delaware County side of the county line, but his school district was in the West Chester area (Bayard Rustin), which is on the Chester County side.
“It’s kind of confusing to a lot of people,” Thompson said.
One thing that wasn’t confusing though for Thompson when growing up was where allegiances lie.
Delco or Chesco, you rooted for the Flyers. Delco or Chesco, you rooted for Penn State.
So, when Penn State started a Division I hockey program, Thompson, a die-hard Flyers fan and a talented defenseman who was the captain of the Chilliwack Chiefs in the British Columbia Hockey League for one year, decided it was time to fulfill his dream and become a Nittany Lion.
Thompson, 20, is now a freshman at Penn State. And while he’s excited to finally be matriculating collegiately in Happy Valley, there is one day that he is looking forward to more than any other this school year:
No, it’s not his birthday. Instead, it’ll be the biggest hockey game of his life – because it will be at home.
Once again Penn State is hooking up with the University of Vermont for the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff at the Wells Fargo Center.
|Penn State and Vermont packed the house at the Wells Fargo Center last year and there's no reason to believe they won't do it again. |
In what is certainly a tune up for the Philadelphia market for what to anticipate with the Frozen Four in April, the Catamounts and the Nittany Lions will pack ’em into the Wells Fargo Center for a spirited contest in front of a massive crowd in an NHL building.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said Thompson, who wasn’t part of the game last season between the two squads in the inaugural game won by Penn State. “It’s a dream come true for me. I always went to Flyers games growing up and loved being a part of the experience at the Wells Fargo Center as a fan, but now I’m going to get to experience it from the opposite side and get to see it from a player’s perspective. I can’t wait to experience that and be a part of the Philly atmosphere as a player.”
In just their second season as a Division I program, Penn State is already making a name for itself as a tough, gritty, competitive team.
They were a respectable 13-14 in their first season and went 3-2 against teams that they will play in the newly formed Big 10 ice hockey conference this season.
And their opponents took notice of the way they play.
“They did kind of sneak up on us last year and had a really good season afterwards,” said Kyle Mountain, a junior winger for Vermont who scored his lone goal last season against Penn State. “They were solid all around. They’re a well-coached team and they play with grit and character.”
Mountain, who is from Bryn Mawr, Pa., felt that his Catamounts got to caught up in the euphoria surrounding the event in Philly last year, and played a little tight against Penn State, but he feels this time around, their approach will be different.
“For us, going into it this year, the butterflies won’t be there as much because we’ve been there before,” Mountain said. “Last year we might have been a bit nervous and overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the game itself, so we’ll have to use that to our advantage. But because they’re a hard-working, gritty team, we’re going to have to exceed that this time around if we want to get a win from them.”
The experience of major collegiate hockey is one that shouldn’t be missed. It’s different from the experience of an NHL game much in the same way a college basketball game is different from an NBA game.
“It’s very different,” Mountain said. “They’re two different crowds. When you jump on the ice, you hear bands playing and that’s something unique to college hockey that you don’t get at an NHL game. Then there are chants and the fight songs – things like that are missing from the NHL. It was really cool to have that, but in an NHL building. It made for an exciting atmosphere and it’s part of what makes college hockey so much fun.”
And playing the game in an NHL building, with a crowd nearly triple the size of what college teams are used to, is what makes this now annual contest so appealing for fans and players alike.
“To be able to have family and friends come to the game and play in an NHL rink was an unbelievable experience,” said Penn State sophomore defenseman Connor Varley, who is from Lansdale, Pa. “Especially being part of the first Penn State team to play there…. That made it really special.”
College hockey is starting to catch on in the Philadelphia market, which is why this game was created, as well as why the city was awarded the Frozen Four.
The primary reason for the growth of the interest in collegiate hockey locally is because of the excellent youth programs that have cropped up in the market in recent years.
|Nick Luukko is a product of the improve youth programs in the Philadelphia market that have produced more Division One college players in recent seasons. |
“Over the last 10 years, more kids are going to the next level for hockey, whether it’s going to prep schools, or juniors or getting college scholarships, it’s even getting to a point of kids getting drafted into the NHL,” said Nick Luukko, a junior defenseman at Vermont and a sixth round draft choice in the 2010 draft by the Flyers. “A lot of the credit has to go to the Flyers for being such a good team most years, it’s the reason why hockey is growing in that area. Now Penn State’s around and leagues are growing where kids don’t have to leave the Philadelphia area in high school to get noticed or to get that college scholarship. It’s really good for people from our area.”
Luukko is from West Chester, Pa. Along with he and Mountain, Vermont has four players from the Philadelphia market. The others are Chris McCarthy (Collegeville, Pa.) and Colin Markison (Princeton, N.J.)
Penn State has five players from the Philly area. Aside from Thompson and Varley there’s Eamon McAdam (Perkasie, Pa.), Ricky DeRosa (Aston, Pa.) and Peter Sweetland (Newtown, Pa.)
Tickets for the game are still available and start as low as $10. They can be purchased online at comcasttix.com.
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