By Patrick Anglin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's well known that the Penn State Women's Hockey team works hard on the ice, but they also make an extra effort in their community to make a difference. From community service events to trick-or-treating with local kids to postgame skates with their fans, these women go the extra mile to bridge the gap between players and fans.
After the second game of each home series so far this season, the athletes have hang around the rink for a little extra fun. They've just finished an entire weekend of hard work, and yet they are still smiling and eager for one last event. Postgame skates, a popular event where community members can rent complementary skates and join the players on the ice, are just as fun for the players as they are for the fans. Senior forward Aly Hardy boasted a wide smile when asked about the event.
"For us, it's so much fun," Hardy said. "Seeing little kids, college kids, parents, and grandparents all come out, and whether if they know how to skate or not, it's so fun to skate around and see everyone having a great time."
The team believes that the skates provide not just an opportunity to wind down after an eventful weekend, but also interact to with their biggest supporters. They use the opportunity to talk with the fans and make genuine connections with them.
"I think it's a big deal for us and them," Hardy said. "It gives [the fans] an opportunity to interact with us and get to know us as people."
Hardy acknowledges the fact that the team loves their fans, and that they help keep them motivated at times. As a fresh program barely six years old, the team is still growing a fan base. For the players, they are taking the time to enjoy the moment and appreciate every person who comes to watch them play.
"We recognize the people that come out to most of our games, it's really cool to see people who are supporting us," Hardy said. "We are a new program... so it's really cool to see that more and more people are coming and realizing that we're up and coming."
The team's community efforts don't stop there though, as Hardy mentioned that she makes a serious effort to get the team involved in many other ways.
"I'm the vice president for the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), so that gives us a lot of opportunities to get involved in the community," Hardy said. "I oversee the special events committee, which oversees community service events, so it's really important personally to try and out go out in the community and get those people involved in hockey and athletics in general."
Hardy uses her position to organize community service events for all Penn State athletes to get out and give back to those who have given them so much.
For head coach Jeff Kampersal, life at Penn State is about so much more than just hockey; it's about building a strong foundation and connection between the team and the people of the community. Kampersal was born and raised in New Jersey, but has recently moved to the State College area after taking the head coaching job this year.
"Growing up I had never been a part of a community," Kampersal said. "But here it actually feels like a family."
Since taking the job, Kampersal has gotten much closer with his players, staff, and friendly neighbors. To him, the things that his players do with the community are both inspiring and a source of great pride for Penn State athletics. An example of the love that his players have for the community came just recently on Halloween night.
"My son and daughter were trick or treating... and three-quarters of the team had shown up by the end of it," Kampersal said. "Some of them in bunny costumes, some of them dwarves. They went all out and they walked with helped my kids and the other kids in the area."
Kampersal knows just how important it is for the team to get out in the community and try to make a positive impact. He's not only proud of his team, but also proud of the support that the fans show in return.
"By the tunnel during games, we have a bunch of kids hi-fiving our players," Kampersal said. "It's awesome to see... we're starting to see new kids and that's even better."
As the team has said all year, they are determined to establish a strong winning culture at Penn State. However, they also want to utilize that same mindset off the ice. They know they have the means and opportunity to build a strong community around them, and they simply want to do what they can to give back to the fans. Whether it be through trick-or-treating in bunny suits or holding hands as they teach kids to skate, these student-athletes are always willing to help those who love them the most.