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Hockey: Elite program deserves stellar free-standing rink

Matt Gamber | Monday, February 16, 2009

I never did get to write that angry column.

All year it seems like my fellow beat writers and I have been alluding to the hockey program’s desperate need for a facility upgrade, and we each promised – in prior columns, blog entries and casual conversations – to write a piece detailing the condition of the team’s current rink and the status of a potential renovation.

But, as associate athletic director Tom Nevala said Thursday, “It’s like that old proverb – good things come to those who wait.”

Thursday’s announcement that the University will begin construction on a free-standing ice arena next spring might be a few years overdue, but the important thing is the administration finally got it right. No college hockey program has won more games than Notre Dame since the start of the 2006-07 season, and the best deserve the best.

In that angry column, I would have explained how, despite the fact that “hockey has arrived at Notre Dame,” as coach Jeff Jackson proclaimed Thursday, the Irish continue to play in the conference’s – and potentially the nation’s – worst facility.

I would have bemoaned the fact that, despite the presence of funds donated specifically for a rink renovation project, several other Irish athletic programs (deserving in their own rights, of course) received major facility upgrades.

And I would have expressed my concern that, despite the program’s remarkable progress in Jackson’s first four years, Notre Dame could lose college hockey’s best coach to a school that showed a greater financial commitment to its program’s development.

Thursday was one of the biggest days in Irish hockey history, right up there with the days Notre Dame hired Jackson in 2005 and when the Irish beat Michigan in last year’s Frozen Four. There was a palpable buzz from both the players and the increased media presence at Thursday’s practice, and the general feeling seemed to be one of triumph – that, with this announcement, the hockey program had truly arrived.

No longer will players have to squeeze into an undersized locker room with no space for relaxation or study. No longer will the team have to jockey for time to train in the overcrowded Guglielmino Athletic Complex or in the undersized Joyce Center weight room.

No longer will coaches have to remove their skates in a closet-like space half the size of a double in Morrissey. No longer will team meetings have to be held in a second-floor conference room or in the visitors’ locker rooms.

No longer will the team’s managers work in “caves,” as Jackson not-so-fondly called the dungeon-like offices beneath the Joyce Center ice rink’s bleachers. No longer will those offices have to be emptied each off-season to avoid the flooding that occurs when the ice is melted.

No longer will the pep band be forced into a few small rows of corner bleachers. No longer will some of the students responsible for making the Joyce Center a tough place to play for opponents be turned away because of limited student seating.

And no longer will I have to search for the right time to write that angry column.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Gamber at mgamber@nd.edu