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Hockey: New arena to boost program

Chris Masoud | Monday, April 19, 2010

Recruiting, training and community support — all three are fundamental to the success of an athletic program, and all three will receive a significant boost with the opening of the new Notre Dame ice arena.

Following the announcement of the arena’s construction in February, the Office of the University Architect released the designs and plans for the Charles W. “Lefty” Smith Jr. Rink Friday.

“I’ve said all along this is kind of the final piece to the puzzle for our program as far as creating long term stability for this program,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Obviously it will be instrumental to our recruiting, but more importantly I think it’s going to be something where our players will have a sense of pride in the building they play in.”

Located just north of Angela Blvd., the new facility features a number of improvements over the Joyce Center, the current home of the hockey program.

The new arena will have a maximum capacity of 4,900 spread over the ground, concourse and balcony levels. The student section will be doubled and positioned in the heart of the visitor’s section.

Years in the making, the commitment to upgrade the hockey facilities was taken to the next level upon athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s arrival on campus. Instead of going forward with an original renovation plan, Swarbrick and Jackson opted for a $53 million investment in the new arena.

“I give Jack a lot of credit for having that kind of vision,” Jackson said. “The toughest thing for me is there’s a number of kids in that locker room that were promised to play in a new building, and that never happened.”

From a technical standpoint, the state-of-the-art arena features a number of hockey-specific amenities that should give the Irish every opportunity to excel on the ice. The arena will contain an additional Olympic-size rink, a recovery facility, a practice shooting range and four separate locker rooms.

Additional weight training facilities will be expected to take pressure off the Guglielmino Complex.

“The weight room will be specifically designed for the development of hockey players, although we are willing to see the baseball or the track team with the congestion that’s going on right now in the weight facilities with varsity sports,” Jackson said.

The arena’s development is the third hockey facility construction Jackson has taken a part of. Jackson said he has played an active role in the design of the new arena, including the positioning of team benches on opposite ends of the rink.

“It’s a closer trip to the penalty box for our bench, but really it’s about having better play conversations with the officials,” Jackson said. “It’s also a longer change for the opposing team on penalties, kind of an old school configuration.”

While the focus of the arena’s construction is with the hockey program in mind, senior associate athletics director Tom Nevala said the building’s creation offers several opportunities for the local community to get involved.

 “It really opens up the door for some events that otherwise couldn’t come to South Bend, Nevala said. “It’s the best long-term solution.”

The Irish will need the continued support of the community when they kick off the 2011-12 season in the new arena.