BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - After three weeks of crisscrossing the Northeast to rally and re-assure the Nittany Lions faithful that all will be well in Happy Valley, Bill O'Brien still had fresh material when the Penn State coaching caravan reached its 18th and final stop.
The school's new football coach pulled off his sport coat, stepped to the podium and immediately fixed his attention on Terry Pegula seated in the front row among 150 alumni in a suburban Buffalo ballroom. O'Brien then proclaimed he had something important to get off his chest to Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres owner and a major Penn State benefactor.
"Let's get a few things off the table," O'Brien said, with a wink. "Everybody knows by now probably that I grew up in Boston. But, Mr. Pegula, I've been a Sabres fan since the day I came out of the womb."
The line got some nice applause.
It had been only two hours earlier that O'Brien shared with reporters the proud allegiance he has for the Boston Bruins, and how he will never forget Brad Park scoring in overtime of Game 7 to beat the Sabres to decide the 1983 Adams Division final series.
"I was at that game, baby," O'Brien said.
NHL loyalties aside, and as adept as O'Brien might be at working a room, he wasn't in town just to relive the past.
The purpose of this O'Brien-inspired goodwill tour was instead to begin mapping a post-Joe Paterno future at a school and in a fan-alumni community still shaken by the child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
There was no deviation from the message O'Brien delivered at every stop - from Richmond, Va., to New York City, Cleveland, and now Buffalo - when it came to upholding Paterno's legacy, how he's come to revere the tight-knit Penn State community, and how important it is for everyone to begin looking ahead.
"I didn't know how this would go," O'Brien said. "Now, after 18 stops, it's been pretty well received. And whether you agree with it or not, this is how I feel: It's time to move forward."
A larger and louder round of applause greeted such comments.
But wishing alone won't make the scandal go away, with Sandusky's Pennsylvania trial scheduled to begin next month. He faces 52 criminal counts for alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years, and his arrest led Paterno's firing, which was followed in January by the longtime coach's death from cancer.
O'Brien, the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator, is now five months into his tenure and three months from making his head-coaching debut on Sept. 1, when the Nittany Lions host Ohio.
And all eyes are on him, because of football's prominence at Penn State, and because he is replacing JoePa.
Every decision O'Brien's made has been under scrutiny, no matter how small.
Example: He's been questioned for breaking from tradition by allowing players to grow facial hair.
"To me, we disagree on that," O'Brien said, when the issue was raised in Buffalo. "It has nothing to do with winning in my opinion. It has nothing to do with being a great student. It's 2012, and these guys are going to have a little facial hair."
At the same time, he was praised for preserving the uniform, and that includes not having a player's name on the back of the jersey.
"I'm not touching that, no way," he said.
Long and winding as the caravan's journey has been, O'Brien has found it beneficial in selling both himself and his vision.
"Obviously, there was a legendary, iconic head coach here for 46 years named Joe Paterno who did so many things for this university, this football program, college football," O'Brien said. "So there's a new guy in town. And it was really important to get out and meet people and then at the same time to promote our athletic department."
O'Brien's message was welcomed by those in Buffalo, including Joshua Lincoln, a 2001 graduate. Lincoln, by chance, happened to be with friends visiting Penn State the day before the scandal began.
"We saw one of the last days of Penn State as it was," Lincoln said. "So I think this was important. This caravan as a whole is real important to get the alumni base back refocused to where we need to be. ... All the right things were said tonight. I think a lot of people are very satisfied."
More welcome was the presence of Pegula, who made his fortune in the natural gas drilling business. In September 2010, he donated $88 million to fund the construction of a new campus ice arena and establish men's and women's Division I hockey programs.
The hockey teams will begin playing this fall, and the arena - named after Pegula - is set to open in September 2013.
He's since added another $14 million into the pot, remaining steadfast in supporting his alma mater throughout the scandal.
O'Brien has met Pegula on several occasions, and credited him for playing a role in his hiring. The two chatted briefly in Buffalo, with O'Brien putting his arm across Pegula's shoulder.
"What Mr. Pegula has done for Penn State, I don't know if that will ever be matched," O'Brien said. "Obviously, it centers around hockey, but to make a contribution like that is to make a contribution to all of us."
Pegula declined comment, not wanting to draw attention from the caravan. And Pegula was on his way out of the hotel when he waved goodbye to O'Brien, who was about to board the bus for the four-hour ride home.
"It'll be good to get home and see my family. But this has been a good trip," O'Brien said. "Eighteen stops in 17 days, that's pretty impressive, and we did it.
''And it's been positive."