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Pens' former college players excited for NCAA atmosphere

by Jeff Carpenter @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will begin their exhibition schedule with a 7 p.m. contest against the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Pegula Ice Arena on the campus of Penn State University. 

The game will serve as the second NHL preseason game in the history of Pegula Ice Arena, which saw Minnesota top the Sabres, 2-1, last September. The arena, which opened in the fall of 2013 with a capacity of 5,782 for hockey, is host to the Nittany Lions men's and women's ice hockey teams.

It'll provide a memory to a lot of Pens players returning to a huge part of their development, which took place in an NCAA setting. The team's lineup includes 11 former college players: Josh Archibald, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Thomas Di Pauli, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Freddie Tiffels. Kevin Czuczman, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel and Casey DeSmith.

The collegiate landscape, filled with 60 Division I men's ice hockey programs, is often heralded for the quick pace, joyous student sections, and intimate arenas. The opportunity to return to a collegiate arena, and play an NHL game there, is something that excites a lot of Pens players.

"I'm excited. I heard a lot of really good things about the rink," Rust said. "The rink looks beautiful, and being a college hockey guy it's always fun to go back and play at those rinks."

Rust, who played four seasons with Notre Dame from 2010-14, also explained how the atmosphere of the NCAA game compares to that of an NHL one.

"It's different," he said. "The college atmosphere is a little bit more rowdy, especially the student sections at certain schools. Hopefully it'll be a pretty good atmosphere tonight. I'm hoping the band is there, that the student section is there, the whole works."

Hunwick, a Michigan native who played for the Wolverines from 2003 to 2007, echoed Rust's sentiment on the atmosphere of a college arena.

"Certainly, the size of the arena goes a long way, but just the enthusiasm of the fans and the students," he said. "Playing at Michigan, it was a very unique environment. Teams really enjoyed coming in and playing there, it's a fun experience. To have the interaction with the fan base as strong as it is with a lot of these colleges, that's what really makes it special."

Di Pauli, a Notre Dame product, is the lone Penguins player to have skated at Pegula Ice Arena before, notching a goal and an assist in a pair of games in 2015-16, his senior year. Now, he's looking to score a goal as a member of the Penguins with some friends in the stands watching.

"I have a couple buddies that go there, they're going to the game," he said. "It's going to be exciting to be at a college rink again."


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