CHICAGO - Sabres owner Terry Pegula was on hand at United Center on Friday as the NHL announced it would be funding feasibility studies for NCAA Division I hockey programs, beginning with the University of Illinois.
Mathieu Schneider, Special Assistant to the Executive Director for the NHL Players Association, credited Pegula for laying the groundwork for such an initiative. Pegula donated $102 million in 2010 to fund the development of Pegula Ice Arena and the hockey program at Penn. State University.
The program at Penn. State quickly rose to national prominence, earning a No. 1 ranking last season and winning the Big 10 Tournament.
"Terry was a groundbreaker here," Schneider said. "Maybe if not for the great success of his program, we might not be having this conversation."
"Mr. Pegula, he is the name that pops up as the example and the illuminating, shining star of what can happen," Chicago Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough added.
Pegula told the story of Nate Jensen, a Penn. State alum who scored the first goal at Pegula Ice Arena, to illustrate how college hockey can aid growth on an individual level. Jensen ended up working for Pegula's oil company upon graduation.
"I find it interesting that the NCAA hockey road can lead to two places: hockey, or a career in business which is what Nate's doing now," Pegula said. "We in the NHL, we're all proud in support of NCAA hockey."
Perhaps of equal importance, the NHL believes that adding more D-I program will help grow the game itself.
"What we've found is where high-level hockey is established, what also happens is youth hockey and participation also follows as well," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "By expanding our footprint of hockey at all levels for elite programs we can inspire new players, new parents to join the hockey family."