STATE COLLEGE – Dan Simmons takes pride in the fact that he’s not only a University of Pittsburgh alumnus but also a fervent fan of all things Panthers.
Simmons’ devotion to his alma mater is only topped by his passion for the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is what brought him to rival Penn State’s campus on Monday evening.
Buffalo defeated Pittsburgh, 5-4, in National Hockey League exhibition action at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena.
With eight seconds remaining in overtime, Buffalo forward Jack Eichel collected the puck on the assist from forward Conor Sheary and glided toward the goal. Eichel flipped the puck into the net to secure the win.
Although the Penguins faltered, Simmons was grateful for the opportunity to experience the moment with his wife, Nancy, and family friend, John Yingling.
“The Penguins are here,” Simmons, 70, said. “(I) used to go to the Penguins games at the old Civic Arena before Mario Lemieux. It’s hard to get to (Pittsburgh) now. It’s a long drive.”
Pegula Ice Arena, named after Penn State alumnus and Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills owner, Terry Pegula, opened in 2013. The 6,014-seat area is home to the men’s and women’s Nittany Lions hockey programs.
A banner that read “Welcome back to Hockey Valley” lined the glass behind one of the goals. Behind it, scores of cheering young fans crammed into the student section. At one point, they collectively cheered, “Thank you, Terry!” in a nod to the arena’s namesake.
Pittsburgh forward Andrew Agozzino scored on an assist from forward Nathan Legare to lift the Penguins to a 1-0 lead just over four minutes into the first period.
Pittsburgh’s lead didn’t hold for long, as Buffalo defender John Gilmour smacked a goal 1:44 later to knot the score at 1. Eichel and Jimmy Vesey assisted Gilmour’s goal.
Buffalo grabbed the 2-1 lead in the 18th minute on a goal by Sheary off the assist from defender Rasmus Dahlin.
The Sabres outshot the Penguins 18-2 in the first period and continued their offensive barrage in the second.
Buffalo added two more goals late in the second period courtesy of defenseman Henry Jokiharju (11:40) and forward Tage Thompson (15:58). Sheary and Gilmour combined to assist Jokiharju, while Dahlin and forward Jeff Skinner provided the help on Thompson’s goal to extend the Sabres’ lead to 4-1 at the end of the second period.
Pittsburgh forward Sam Lafferty broke the Penguins’ scoring drought with a goal just 51 seconds into the third period on an assist from defenseman John Marino.
The goal injected a sense of urgency into the home-state team.
Adam Johnson (forward) added the Penguins’ third goal following a one-on-one situation that pitted him against Buffalo goalie Jonas Johansson 6:24 into the third period.
Jack Johnson passed an assist to Pittsburgh forward Ryan Haggerty to knot the score at 4 just two-and-a-half minutes following Adam’s Johnson’s goal.
Monday’s game served as a reunion of sorts for Pittsburgh’s Jack Johnson. The defenseman’s younger brother, Kenny Johnson, is a freshman defenseman on the Nittany Lions’ hockey team.
Former Johnstown Tomahawk player and current Buffalo Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson returned to Pennsylvania for the preseason contest. Nelson played for the Tomahawks in 2012-13.
“Any time you can be back where you’ve played before is pretty cool,” Nelson said. “It almost brings you back to college a little bit. I played here a couple years ago. It’s a cool barn, and it definitely gets rowdy in there. It’s all-around awesome.”
Heather Baumgarten wasn’t difficult to miss. The State College resident and Buffalo, New York, native sported a Sabres shirt and counted among the outnumbered Buffalo fans in attendance.
Baumgarten attended the Pittsburgh-Buffalo preseason contest in 2017. Her Buffalo Bills earrings bounced up and down as she nodded her head trying to remember the outcome of that game. Buffalo won 4-3 in overtime. The Sabres are now 2-0 in overtime contest in State College when Baumgarten’s present at Pegula Ice Arena.
“It’s kind of a novelty being here with Pittsburgh fans and being from Buffalo,” Baumgarten, 57, said. “It just makes me feel closer to home, for one thing, but I’m really appreciative of the opportunity. We don’t get these opportunities, so when they become available, we really want to support the effort. It’s great to have the community effort, people coming out and supporting all the teams and becoming unified. It really brings people together.”
While Simmons isn’t likely to make the trek back to Penn State’s campus again unless the Penguins or Panthers are playing, he did say he was impressed by the facilities and atmosphere at Pegula Ice arena.
“It’s clean, it’s bright and it’s easy to get into,” Simmons said. “It’s great. We can see really well.”
When asked if he’ll make the trip next season should Penn State again host the Penguins in annother exhibition contest, without as much of a though, Simmons replied, “Most certainly! We’ll come every year.”