UNIVERSITY PARK - A day after Penn State announced the first four recruits to its forthcoming NCAA men's ice hockey program, the Nittany Lions' women's program learned theirs will have a home.
Athletic director Tim Curley was joined by Robert DeGregoria, commissioner of College Hockey America, to announce Tuesday that CHA will be the conference for the women's team when it moves up from club play in the 2012-13 school year.
"We feel (this) is a great step for College Hockey America, and for Penn State. We were very excited when Penn State expressed interest in joining our league," DeGregorio said. "We feel that it is only going to help make not only College Hockey America but Penn State's program stronger. We look for great things."
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
Penn State women’s hockey coach Josh Brandwene, left, looks on as College Hockey America commissioner Robert DeGregorio speaks to reporters at Beaver Stadium Tuesday.
CHA is a women's-only league that includes Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, Niagara and Syracuse. Penn State's talks with the CHA started in March, when the conference had five members including Wayne State, which dropped women's ice hockey in May, citing reductions in state appropriations to higher education.
There is no Big Ten women's hockey conference. Besides Penn State, only three other schools with Big Ten ties have women's hockey - Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the 2011 NCAA champion.
DeGregorio said that he told Penn State president Graham Spanier his expectations for the Nittany Lions were high.
With a glance toward Penn State coach Josh Brandwene - quipping "No pressure, Josh" - DeGregorio said he told Spanier, "I think seventh or eighth game into the season you should be right in first place."
The commissioner predicted that another school will join the conference by Dec. 1, although he offered next year's league schedule as four games per school - two at home, two on the road.
"When we visited Penn State they gave us an earthquake while we were here. I don't know what the other school can do," he joked.
DeGregorio said six schools is a magic number for the conference, as it would give CHA an automatic qualifier in the tournament that determines the women's Frozen Four. He said Penn State's membership could be a boost in that regard.
"We have been doing our due diligence in recruiting, and we are also working with two other institutions." that may be able to join within two years, he said. "Ideally a league of eight to 10 would be a great position for us to be in."
Curley and Brandwene called this an important step in the process of transitioning from club hockey to NCAA Division I.
"It's been an exciting year for Penn State ice hockey and this is one more step toward trying to put our complete program together," Curley said. "We look forward to making women's ice hockey continue to grow and continue to make opportunities. I think we all share similar interests and similar values."
Brandwene said his players deserve a shot at the highest level of play, and that the CHA affiliation should offer that - while at the same time attracting more and better players to the program.
"I think this is an incredible exciting moment for us," he said. "We see that as a net positive and something that's going to accelerate the growth of our program both in the short term and in the long term."
Hockey is expanding at Penn State thanks to an $88-million donation in September 2010 by former energy company executive and Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim. They earmarked the largest private donation in Penn State history to fund a new multipurpose arena and upgrade the men's program. The school is funding and seeking donations for the women's program. A self-proclaimed hockey fanatic, Pegula bought the NHL's Buffalo Sabres in February.
The school announced Monday that four men's players transferred to Penn State to play on its Big Ten team. The squad moves from club status next year with conference play to start in 2013. The four will play on the Icers club team this winter and carry three years of eligibility into the inaugural season for the Nittany Lions.
Joining the Nittany Lions are forwards Taylor Holstrom, the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year last year, Bryce Johnson and Justin Kirchhevel, and defenseman Nate Jensen, son of U.S. Olympian David Jensen. Holstrom and Jensen came from Mercyhurst, Johnson from St. Cloud State and Kirchhevel from Alaska Anchorage.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.