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Program takes major step with brand new rink

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 13, 2009

Notre Dame will begin construction next spring on a new, free-standing, on-campus ice arena that will likely be ready for the start of the 2011 to 2012 season, athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced Thursday in an official release.

“We’re thrilled about the plans for a new ice arena on our campus, particularly based on the superb job Jeff Jackson and our hockey team have done to position our program as one of the best in the nation,” Swarbrick said in the release.

No college program has won more games than Notre Dame since the start of the 2006-07 season, and finally Irish coach Jeff Jackson will receive his reward.

“It’s something I’ve been searching for since the time I got here,” Jackson said. “Hockey has arrived at Notre Dame, and this is kind of like the final piece of the puzzle for us.”

Plans for the new arena have yet to be finalized, but the rink is expected to seat 5,000 – nearly double the current Joyce Center rink’s capacity of 2,713.

“I give Jack Swarbrick a lot of credit for having the vision to see that it was something that was probably necessary,” Jackson said. “I wish he would’ve been here three years ago to push this idea because we might be so much further ahead. His vision is realistic – I think we can draw 5,000 fans a game.”

Though a facility upgrade had long been discussed, it appeared the most likely scenario would be renovations to the hockey team’s current home in the Joyce Center. Instead, Jackson, Swarbrick and the University’s Board of Trustees, among others, decided to start with a completely new building. Removing the Joyce Center ice sheet will free up training space for other athletic and University events, the release said.

The new arena will be built south of the Joyce Center, just north of Edison Road and just west of where the new track and field facilities are being constructed, the release said.

The facility will include two ice sheets, one of which will be Olympic-sized. Plans also call for offices, locker rooms and training facilities for the hockey team. Additional locker rooms will also be available for students and members of the community to use.

The new arena will not be ready in time for most current members of the Irish squad, but the upperclassmen’s impact on making a new rink a reality is one that isn’t being overlooked.

“Those kids were instrumental in creating an identity for hockey on this campus,” Jackson said.

Senior goaltender Jordan Pearce added, “Yeah, it kind of stinks that we’re not going to be able to play in it, but we take a lot of pride in that the last three or four years really probably pushed it over the edge to finalize it. To be able to maybe look back 15 years down the road and know that it was my class, my team that helped bring this arena here will be a great source of pride.”

Much of the talk at Thursday’s practice was about the rink announcement, but the No. 2 Irish (21-5-3, 15-4-3-3 CCHA) have a tough series with a Northern Michigan team that hasn’t lost since Jan. 9. The Wildcats (11-13-4, 8-10-4-3) are 6-0-1 over that span and have moved into eighth in the conference standings.

“They had a tough first half but have really come on as of late. This is a team that was picked by most to finish in the top-four of the conference,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be a tough weekend for us, and we have to be prepared to play well at both ends of the ice.”