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A brand new barn

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, January 19, 2012

Open the door.

Open the door to new tradition, coupled with a storied history. Open the door to a majestic stairway accented by brick, blue and gold. Open the door to two rinks, two Frozen Four banners and 5,022 seats.

Whatever you do, please just open the door to the newly opened Compton Family Ice Arena.

The new $50 million home of the Irish hockey team was made possible by a generous lead donation of $15 million from Kevin and Gayla Compton, whose son Cameron graduated from Notre Dame in 2010.

“Our family has been involved in the community for some time and hockey is a love of ours personally,” Gayla Compton said. “More than anything, we were actually interested in the students having a place to be, the community having a place to gather and making it a good experience for everyone.”

Compton said the idea originated in 2007, when Cameron, then a sophomore, told the family about waiting outside in the cold for hockey tickets, often times not able to get in. Compton cited an apparent student passion and love for the sport as motivation for the donation.

Despite the idea’s emergence in 2007, the Compton family had to wait four more years to see its dream come to fruition. Gayla said she first stepped into the new, finished arena in October.

“I walked in and I couldn’t move for a while,” she said. “I just stood there, I’m sure with my mouth open. It was better than I could have imagined, than I could have planned. All the pieces had come together so well. We’re so happy to be a part of that. It was beyond what we thought it would be, and we thought a lot.”

The exterior of the building is imposing yet graceful, complementing the other structures on campus with its Gothic brick design.

“I got misty [when I walked inside],” Gayla said. “Outside, it

looks like it’s been there forever. I’m so pleased with the architects and how they managed to fit it in with the rest of the university. I walked in and the lights and the warmth of the place were welcoming. It was very welcoming.”

 

Multidimensional building

While housing the No. 6 Irish hockey team appears to be the main purpose of the state-of-the-art building, the facility does so much more. The arena also hosts the figure skating club, the women’s hockey club team, public skates, intramural broomball and hockey games, junior hockey tournaments and various community events.

“You’ve got four teams playing hockey and four teams waiting to go on for the next games. You’ve got recreational skating. You’ve got people renting it for community parties,” Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick told The Observer in December. “So it’s not just that it’s a great home for our hockey program and a great place to go and cheer for them, it’s that it’s getting the sort of community use that we envisioned for it.”

Compton said a welcoming environment was a must for the arena.

“Our family believes very strongly in it being a place where one feels welcome,” Compton said. “It has to be efficient. It has to be clean. It has to be neat. It has to be open. Those things are important. Our vision was a place where students, hockey players, amateurs, beginners — everyone — can be a part of a gathering place.”

The Compton family, which also owns the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, was very involved in the design process. Notre Dame sent a design team to San Jose to use the HP Pavilion as a model for what the Compton Family Ice Arena could look like.

Gayla said the idea was not to copy from the established arena, but to grow from it.

“[Having an arena already] had a huge effect, being able to start with a few ideas and know how they can work better definitely gave us insight,” she said. “We were able to say, ‘This works well for us,’ or, ‘This could be improved for us.'”

She said the design of hockey specific items, such as Zamboni entrances, were aided by the knowledge that comes from owning an NHL franchise.

While the Sharks enjoy the luxury of having an arena to call their own, Notre Dame did not. The Irish used to play in the north dome of the Joyce Center, a building shared by various other teams and a cramped space for a top-tier hockey program.

The new building, however, still has a few relics from the Joyce Center. Lining the wall overlooking the Olympic-sized rink are award plaques from the tiny hallway outside the locker room in their old home.

Gayla said an old bench from the Joyce Center was carried over and given a facelift with a fresh coat of paint.

 

Electric atmosphere

Since the move to the Compton Family Ice Arena in October of last year, the Irish are 7-3 in their new home, including wins over No. 3 Boston University, No. 4 Boston College and No. 8 Western Michigan.

The 3-2 overtime win over Boston College on Nov. 18, however, stands out from the rest. In the facility’s official dedication game, sophomore right wing Bryan Rust scored the winning goal with just 1.1 seconds remaining in overtime. The Comptons, along with other donors, were in attendance to witness Rust’s game-winner.

“It was over the top,” Gayla said of the game. “I couldn’t have had scripted it better. It was crazy. It was wonderful.”

The win also marked one of four sellouts this year at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Irish coach Jeff Jackson was pleased not only with the result, but also with the crowd’s support.

“Tonight was everything we hoped this building would be,” Jackson said after the game. “I thought I saw it [in the inaugural game] against RPI. It reminded me of [Michigan’s] Yost Arena, which is something I’ve always aspired to have, that kind of environment in a college hockey game.”

The game served as the perfect backdrop for “Onward to Victory: Notre Dame Hockey,” a documentary that aired on the new NBC Sports Network on Dec. 31. The movie chronicled Notre Dame’s move from the Joyce Center to Compton Family Ice Arena and the dedication game from a behind-the-scenes angle seen by few.

Notre Dame hockey’s partnership with NBC, however, is not over. Along with Notre Dame’s move to Hockey East in 2013, a new television deal with the network was put into place that could include the airing all Irish home games. The Compton Family Ice Arena has proved to be a television-friendly venue that played a vital role in the deal.

While the main rink has now housed the top seven crowds in Notre Dame hockey history, the auxiliary Olympic-sized rink downstairs serves as a vital preparation tool for the Irish. Jackson has called the practice rink a bonus when preparing for road games at arenas with wider sheets.

Gayla said that her favorite part of the arena right now is the ground floor, an area that holds both the pro shop and the Olympic-sized rink.

“I love seeing the figure skaters. I love seeing the kids. It just knocks my socks off,” Compton said. “That is probably my favorite spot knowing that anyone can come in and take advantage.”

She added that while the arena has exceeded the family’s lofty expectations for now, she is not opposed to future additions to the building.

So open the door. Even if it has already been opened for you.

 

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu