PITTSBURGH — When Ohio State assistant coach Casey Jones received a call from the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins last year, he was more than happy to pass the offer he received along to head coach John Markell.
It didn’t take long for Markell to think about it, either, and the Buckeyes scheduled a home game for Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena for the 2002-03 season. After all, Ohio State had five players on last year’s roster from the Pittsburgh area. This season, the number of Pittsburgh natives is four, including junior goaltender Mike Betz, sophomore forward J.B. Bittner, freshman defenseman Nate Guenin, and junior center R.J. Umberger.
“We didn’t have any problem with setting up the game, as long as the time was good and the opponent was fine,” Markell said.
Ohio State, currently 12-4-1 and 9-2-1 in the CCHA, will face the Princeton Tigers from the ECAC, on Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. The Tigers have struggled to a 1-13 start to the 2002-03 season and a 1-9 conference mark but are one of the oldest programs in the country.
“Princeton is a quality Division I hockey program that I’m sure will be extra motivated to win that game,” Markell added. “We’re looking forward to going there.”
— Dave Shuttleworth, Dir. of Operations
The Buckeyes mentioned Princeton as a possible opponent and Mark Shuttleworth, Director of Operations for Lemieux Hockey Development, was happy to get the game organized. It will be part of a doubleheader with three-time returning Division I club champion Penn State taking on Washington & Jefferson, a relative newcomer to the Division I club ranks, at 8 p.m.
Originally, the OSU-Princeton game was to be at 8 p.m. but the Buckeyes’ football team will be playing for a national championship that evening in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the hockey contest was moved up so that Ohio State fans could watch both.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking for restaurants and lounges they can rent out to watch the game that evening after attending the hockey game at the Mellon Arena,” Shuttleworth said.
But why Pittsburgh?
“Ohio State has been a magnet for a lot of our local players which is great for this area,” Shuttleworth said. “When kids from the high schools in this area are getting scholarships to play Division I hockey, we want the whole city to know that.”
Mellon Arena, formerly known as the Civic Arena, is the oldest building in the NHL and there are plans to build a new arena for the Penguins in the next several years.
“If a new facility is built, we want a Division I hockey team in town to share it with the Penguins so that we have more than just 41 hockey games played there every year,” Shuttleworth said. “Obviously, having the University of Pittsburgh or Duquesne or Robert Morris would be an attractive offer.”
There has been speculation that Robert Morris will be adding a men’s hockey team in the near future, as reported in the Pittsburgh Business Times, but nothing is guaranteed. Pittsburgh also has plans to bid for the 2007 or 2008 NCAA Frozen Four, to be held at the Penguins’ new building, if constructed.
“Our closest Division I teams right now are Ohio State and Mercyhurst and one of those teams could host the Frozen Four,” Shuttleworth explained. “It certainly would sell out as it does every year, even though there are no college hockey teams in the area. It would be a wonderful showcase for the colleges in the city to see what they are missing.”
“It [Pittsburgh] certainly is a recruiting hotbed for us and it’s a great hockey town,” Markell said.
Ticket sales for the event are going well as Shuttleworth has reported a sale of 3,500 consignment tickets for hockey groups. All tickets are $10 for the event but groups are encouraged to charge $7 and use the remaining money for their own hockey programs or pass the savings on to the families, according to Shuttleworth.
“That’s exciting to have so many consignment tickets sold at this juncture,” Shuttleworth said. “We also gave two tickets to each of the Penguins’ season ticket holders and the two club teams’ alumni have bought blocks of tickets as well.”
Shuttleworth said the Penguins would be thrilled to get as many as 10,000 people for the two games, saying that’s “an off-the-map number that would be above anyone’s expectations.” More realistically, a number between 5,000 and 7,000 would make Shuttleworth “ecstatic.”
“This is the first Division I hockey game to be played in Pittsburgh and we’re hoping it’s a good measuring stick,” Shuttleworth said. “If this works as planned, we would love to have Mercyhurst or Ohio State host a two-day tournament and eventually bring the Frozen Four to the city.”
The $10 admission is good for both games and tickets can be purchased by calling the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ticket office at 1-800-642-7367 or 412-642-7367 or by logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.