Were he here, you can be certain that Chris Cuzzola’s face would light up with glee upon viewing the half-million-dollar renovation of the Mercyhurst University Ice Center. Growing up, Chris excelled as an ice hockey player in travel and club programs in Erie and Buffalo. A Mercyhurst alumnus, he is credited both as a founder and team captain of Mercyhurst’s first men’s hockey team in 1986.
Sadly, Chris did not get a chance to see the upgrades to the ice arena, dying unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2016, at the age of 50. But Mercyhurst will remember his life and legacy on Saturday, Feb. 25, as part of events surrounding the Lakers’ last home game of the regular season.
Men’s hockey coach Rick Gotkin, who began his tenure at Mercyhurst in 1987, remembers Cuzzola well as a player, a family man and an impeccable individual.
“His daughter Gabby was his life; he was very family-oriented; as good a guy as you could ever meet,” Gotkin said.
But his keenest memory of Cuzzola was in his role as a Mercyhurst alum.
“A lot of people love Mercyhurst; I hear it all the time,” Gotkin said. “But Chris Cuzzola took that love to a whole other stratosphere. He bled green and blue, and that kind of love and commitment you don’t soon forget.”
So, Saturday, they’ll remember. Beginning at 6 p.m., a private reception for donors and friends who made the renovation project a reality will be held at the center. Guests will be treated to a tour of the renovated ice center space.
Approximately 20 minutes before the 7:05 p.m. face-off vs. RIT, Mercyhurst President Michael Victor will take the ice to dedicate the evening’s game in Cuzzola’s honor, name the newly renovated VIP section after him and present Cuzzola’s family with a framed replica of his #28 Mercyhurst hockey jersey. Victor will also announce the Christopher J. Cuzzola Memorial Scholarship, designated by Mercyhurst Trustee Chair Rich Lanzillo and his wife, Jo-Ann, and the Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett law firm.
Cuzzola’s father Joseph, daughter Gabby, sister Amy Cuzzola-Kern, and her husband Scott Kern, a Mercyhurst trustee, along with their daughters, Francesca and Mary Olivia, are expected to attend the event.
“Chris was the kind of guy who made you feel good just talking to him,” said Mercyhurst President Michael Victor. “He had an infectious smile and was willing to give generously of his time. Little wonder that while he was a student at Mercyhurst he received the Sister Carolyn Herrmann Service Award, which honors the graduating senior who gave unselfishly of time, energy, loyalty and talent. That was signature Chris.”
Meanwhile, all are invited to attend the game. Senior Night will also be observed, during which seniors Kyle Dutra, Stephen Hrehoriak and Philippe Drouin will be recognized.
ABOUT THE RENOVATIONS
The renovations include the redesign and expansion of the men’s and women’s locker rooms, new custom-built wooden lockers in both the locker rooms and changing rooms, an upgraded ventilation system and an updated equipment room. There are even a few bells and whistles, key among them frosted glass insets between the locker tops and ceiling that house LED strip lighting, which can be set to different colors. Fresh paint within the center proper, the addition of new office space on the mezzanine and updates to the VIP area on the second floor completed the project.
All told, the renovations cost $500,000, which was funded entirely by private donations. The latest round of renovations focused on player facilities; future fundraising is planned for improvements designed to elevate the fan experience.