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HOCKEY: Unnamed donor pledges $15 million

Dan Murphy | Thursday, September 13, 2007

In the past nine months, Notre Dame has put up some impressive numbers: 32 regular season victories, 143 goals scored, a 1.7 goals-against average and five weeks as the top-ranked team in the nation.

The Irish can now add 15 to that list – as in the $15 million anonymous donation toward a planned new arena, announced Wednesday by the Notre Dame athletic department.

The much-desired improvements have been a goal of the athletic department for a long time. Last year’s success, along with the promise of good things to come from Irish coach Jeff Jackson and his team, created enough buzz to bring in the necessary funds to turn those hopes into a reality.

“Notre Dame is seriously committed to creating an absolutely first-rate ice hockey facility,” director of athletics Kevin White said. “It’s going to happen, we’re going to get it done.”

University policy requires 100 percent of funds be committed and 75 percent on hand before the actual planning and construction begins. The goal is for the final arena budget to be somewhere in the range of $25-30 million.

Other fundraising efforts have raised $7.5 million, so the project is only a few million away from where the athletic department hopes to be. The major donation is also expected to help bring in other benefactors now that it is clear that the project will be underway soon.

No time frame has been officially set at this point, but Jackson hopes that the funds will be in place to move forward by winter break. But the finished product is still a long way off, and it would be impossible to predict a date for the opening at this point.

Senior Associate Athletic Director John Heisler said the facility would remain in the north dome of the Joyce Center rather than being a stand-alone arena, and other plans were never seriously considered.

Jackson was happy to be staying in the building for multiple reasons. The third-year coach thinks the location is in the right proximity to the other athletic complexes on campus, as well as to most of the student body. The existing building will also make construction quicker and cheaper.

“That money can go a lot further if we already have a roof and a foundation to work with,” Jackson said.

Although the address will stay the same, the athletic department says the arena will be a whole new place. The plan is to remodel the Fieldhouse to make the rink the main feature rather than the side note that it often appears to be now.

“We’ve historically treated that whole north dome as an area to host a lot of other events,” Heisler said. “It was as much of a multi-purpose facility as the campus had.”

White and Jackson have discussed a very general concept of the environment they want to create when the rink is complete. The new arena will be more comfortable for the team and the fans by including more accessible restrooms, concessions, new locker rooms and better seating arrangements.

“I’d like to see them put the fans right on top of us,” Jackson said. “Make it a friendly place for us but an intimidating place for any opponents.”

Last season the Irish lost only two of their 17 home games in a wide open, below-par arena that held fewer than 3,000 people. Jackson hopes that the new stands will be able to hold roughly 1,000 more in an intimate setting where the fans can feel part of the action.

The team’s CCHA title and trip to the NCAA quarterfinals last year undoubtedly helped in the speed and grandeur of the project, but the plan to renovate the arena has been in place since before Jackson’s arrival in South Bend.

The rink is one part of a major overhaul that White and the rest of the athletic department have been working on for several years.

“It has been a matter of looking at the big picture and trying to figure out what makes sense for our various sports within the whole campus environment,” Heisler said.