By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fathers and sons, brothers and sisters or mothers and daughters playing for Penn State is nothing new.
It almost seems as if every athlete on the Penn State campus has a family member who once donned the blue and white proudly.
It's part of the tradition here at Penn State and it's something every Nittany Lion is proud of. It's a story every fan loves to hear and every journalist loves to write. We see athletic and academic legacies all over this campus.
We see them on the football field, the volleyball court or basketball courts and, yes, now in the hockey rink.
Zach Saar is a freshman forward on the men's ice hockey team. His young career is off to a solid start for the Nittany Lions. The forward has already notched three assists and he's taken seven shots. He knows his role on the ice and his coaches are proud of the progress the young man is making in practice and on campus.
Saar, however, is not the only Penn State athlete in his family.
His father, Brad, was a linebacker for Penn State's 1982 national championship team.
So when the Richland, Mich., native committed to Hockey Valley, his father couldn't have been more proud.
"He was really excited for me. He said that the two years he played football were the most fun of his life," Zach said. "He has a ton of respect for the university, but he definitely didn't try to push me one way or the other.
"He let me choose as I wanted to and make that choice for my future. But, naturally, when I committed to Penn State, he was very happy and proud, which was nice."
And just like that, another Saar would don the Nittany Lion uniform.
Although being able to play hockey for Penn State was incredibly ideal to the freshman, his father reminded him why so many athletes pick Penn State.
"[My dad] said it's a top-notch university. It's a Big Ten university with an awesome athletic department," Saar said. "But, he reminded me that It's an awesome educational opportunity, as well, which was really important to us. He thought it would be a really exciting opportunity to be a part of the inaugural Big Ten season here at Penn State."
That experience is about to become reality, with Big Ten play scheduled to get underway on Dec. 6-7 in Madison, Wis. against the No. 12 Badgers.
Being a part of a new program was something Saar was excited about, as well, and he has worked hard to help lay the foundation for the program that he has come to love in his short time on campus.
"I couldn't be happier with my choice," said Saar, "I love it here and knew I would when I committed to coach Gadowksy and Penn State. I'm really blessed and lucky to be at Penn State and to be able to play hockey. The arena is beyond what I could have ever imagined and the fan support is amazing."
Brad is all too familiar with the Penn State experience. He knows about the student body's passion for Penn State and how they treat their athletes on game day. He has seen a packed Beaver Stadium and has had the chance to experience firsthand Nittany Lion fans cheering him on.
Now, Zach has experienced that atmosphere firsthand inside Pegula Ice Arena - which is located just a short walk from the Beaver Stadium South Tunnel which his father once charged through as a linebacker. From the "S Zone" inside the football stadium to the Roar Zone at Pegula Ice Arena, they both agree the students make the game day experience second to none.
"He thought the Roar Zone was incredible," Zach said. "There is not much more you can say. You walk in the building and you can feel [the energy]. The game atmosphere is incredible.
"The student support is amazing. The support has been better than any of us could have dreamed of and we need them. The first game versus Army was probably one of the most emotional experiences of my life. It was overpowering."
Although his parents are over 500 miles away, that doesn't stop them from traveling to watch their son begin his college hockey career.
With the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey under way, Brad and Rene Saar will get several opportunities to see their son play when the team travels to Michigan. Of course, the proud parents do sneak out to Hockey Valley from time to time, as well.
"Once the Big Ten schedule picks up, I'll get to see them at Michigan State and Michigan, because that's where I'm from," Saar said. "It's awesome. They also like to come to Happy Valley whenever they get the opportunity. They love to make up an excuse and come out."
Zach and Brad, however, are not the only athletes in the Saar family. Zach's sister is a volleyball player at Georgetown University. So the Michigan-based family has two good reasons to travel to the East Coast.
The Nittany Lions are back in action after a two week break. They welcome No. 17 Union on Saturday, Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec. 1. It is also the last game before the team heads to Madison to take on their first Big Ten rival in Wisconsin.