Pennsylvania State University announced Friday a record private gift of $88 million that will fund a new ice hockey arena and establish an NCAA Division I men's hockey program.

The gift from Terrence M. and Kim Pegula - the largest private gift in the university's history - also will help lead to a Division I women's ice hockey program, officials said.

In May, East Resources Inc., the company founded by Pegula, was acquired by Royal Dutch/Shell Group for a reported $4.9 billion. East Resources is based near Pittsburgh and holds substantial development rights to Marcellus Shale natural gas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.

In 1973, Pegula earned a bachelor's degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Penn State. He formed his company 10 years later. Pegula was born and raised in Carbondale, Pa., and now lives with his wife in Boca Raton, Fla.

"We want to share our success with the people of Pennsylvania and with the very institution that helped me obtain the tools to launch my career in the oil and natural gas industry," Pegula said in a statement.

Pegula announced the gift at the meeting of the school's board of trustees Friday. University president Graham Spanier donned a hockey sweater in Nittany Lions blue. The university is in the middle of a $2 billion fund-raising campaign.

"The Pegulas' unparalleled generosity will make it possible for Penn State to serve our region and our student-athletes in exciting new ways," Spanier said in a statement. "This arena will be an invaluable year-round asset for members of the university community as well as for children, youth, and families throughout central Pennsylvania, and it will be an engine for economic growth and development."

The $88 million will help pay for a multipurpose arena west of the Bryce Jordan Center and is expected to open in December 2013. The arena will be funded entirely by private money, officials said.

University officials said they wanted the arena - which will have two ice sheets - to host exhibition games for the National and American Hockey Leagues as well as professional ice shows.

It also would be used for various campus activities, including figure skating, speedskating, broomball clubs, and commencement ceremonies. It would be available for recreational and high school hockey programs.

The Pegulas' gift creates an endowment for an NCAA Division I men's hockey program, and that a team will compete starting in the 2012-13 season. The women's team also will begin competing in 2012. Division I teams are allowed to award 18 full scholarships in men's and women's ice hockey.

Penn State fielded varsity men's squads from 1939 to 1946. Hockey reemerged in 1971 as a club program with a team called the Icers. The women Icers started a club program in 1996.

Five other Big Ten schools play Division I hockey, though not yet under the auspices of the conference, because league rules require that six schools must compete in a sport to conduct a championship. The Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which also includes the Universities of North Dakota, Alaska Anchorage, and Denver. Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State Universities play in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which also includes Miami University and the University of Notre Dame.

Fifty-eight schools played Division I hockey during the 2009-10 season. Six of the eight Ivy League schools play in Division I, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University being the exceptions. Last spring, Boston College beat Wisconsin for the NCAA title at the Frozen Four, the hockey equivalent of the basketball Final Four. The Frozen Four will be held in Pittsburgh in 2013 and in Philadelphia in 2014. Frozen Four games are often sold out months in advance.

At a news conference, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley called Friday "a banner day in the history of our . . . university, our athletic program, college hockey," according to the Associated Press.

Curley said Penn State would play as an independent during its first two seasons while assessing possible conference affiliations. The Big Ten will soon have the requisite six schools for conference competition, and it has a young but thriving TV network that might benefit from hockey during the winter.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.