It was Penn State that first contacted Nick Carriere about the Nittany Lions coming to Buffalo State for a men’s hockey game.
And Carriere jumped on the opportunity.
The Bengals host Penn State at 7 tonight in the Ice Arena. It will be the season opener for Buffalo State, while the Nittany Lions are 1-1 after splitting last weekend with American International.
“We do our schedule a year in advance and Penn State reached out to us,” Carriere said. “It was definitely something we wanted to do and was happening right around the time of the [Terry] Pegula announcement. I had a pretty confident feeling that this would be a first-class experience and a great opportunity for the guys to play a Division I school.”
Penn State, whose hockey program was one of the most successful club-level teams in the country, is beginning a new era. Elevated to varsity status this season, Penn State will join the Big Ten Hockey League next season. Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, figured into the Penn State hockey story when he donated $102 million to the school to upgrade the program and facilities.
But before they join the tradition of Division I hockey, the team will play a mixed schedule including games against Division I and Division III schools, along with a few club teams. So bring on the Bengals.
“For us it’s a little bit of throwing guys right into the frying pan,” Carriere said. “Penn State has already played a couple of games and that means a lot to get those nerves out of your system. We’ve only had a few practices so we’ve been cramming a lot. But at the same token, we don’t have a tremendous amount of youth in our lineup. We have a lot of returning guys with a lot of experience.”
The Bengals are coming off their best season in program history. They set a school record with 13 wins and went to the State University of New York Athletic Conference semifinals for the first time, losing to eventual champion Plattsburgh in triple overtime.
“Some guys still have salt in the wounds over the way last year ended,” Carriere said. “Some games we let slip away from us and that influenced national attention and our chance for an at-large bid [to the NCAA Tournament]. We just need to find consistency. We didn’t sweep a weekend series last year. A more consistent effort throughout our entire season will set us up for success regardless of the outcome in SUNYACs.”
The Bengals return eight of their top 10 scorers from last year, including Trevor McKinney (16 goals, 30 points) and Lancaster native Drew Klin (13 goals, 25 points). Also back is junior goaltender Kevin Carr, a two-time All-SUNYAC selection. He had a 2.95 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage last year.
Tickets for Friday’s game are $5 at the door.
The Bengals get the opportunity to play in Happy Valley in two weeks with a return game at Penn State on Nov. 3.
The Bengals open SUNYAC play at home on Oct. 26.