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Hockey: Joseph: CFIA finally a fitting home for talented ND (Oct. 25)

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, October 25, 2011


That’s really all that can be said about the brand-new Compton Family Ice Arena.

After 43 years of playing in half of the Joyce Center Fieldhouse, 43 years of struggling to build an intimidating environment, 43 years of having nicer amenities on the road than at home, 43 years of recruiting players who played in better rinks in midget hockey and 43 years of making do anyway, the Irish finally have a new home.

And boy, is it beautiful.

Notre Dame hasn’t just caught up to everyone else; the CFIA has blown away nearly every other arena in college hockey. Only North Dakota’s 11,640-seat Ralph Engelstad Arena is in the same league —and Engelstad spent more than twice as much money as the Compton Family did. Calling it “the new barn” doesn’t even do the CFIA justice — it’s far too state-of-the-art for that.

And it’s not just pretty. It’s loud.

The environment on the southeast corner of campus was raucous Friday night and figures to be so far into the future. With 5,022 fans on their feet, a gorgeous video screen hanging over the ice, O’Brien’s Pub in the mezzanine level and a low ceiling trapping all the noise, the Irish finally have a true home-ice advantage. And when sophomore left wing phenom Anders Lee opened the scoring in the first period, the foghorn was deafening — yet the students were louder.

Sure, it may be so far away from the center of campus that I decided to drive down to the game, but the Compton Family Ice Arena is what college hockey is all about.

Yet that’s not why tickets are going to be at a premium all season long. As nice as the ice is, the product on the ice is even better.

The Irish are simply a dangerous team. Fast, physical and smart, they have loads of talent both on the blue line and up top. Even more importantly, Jeff Jackson’s squad knows how good it can be but still takes one game at a time. And while there may be loads of talent both on the ice and on the bench, Notre Dame has the more important quality of knowing how to grit out goals. Just look at the second-period goal senior captain Sean Lorenz scored. It wasn’t a pretty play, but Lorenz somehow managed to fire a shot into the back of the net despite falling to the ground as he dug the puck out of his skates.

That’s not to say the Irish can’t play pretty. Lee’s first goal of his hat trick came on one of the most gorgeous plays imaginable. When Notre Dame can control the puck, it holds a death grip on the feel of the game. When Lee and fellow standout sophomore T.J. Tynan are clicking, they play well enough to warm even the unflappable Jackson’s heart. And when junior goaltender Mike Johnson stops thinking and just starts playing, he’s more than capable of reeling off impressive performances.

And let’s not forget the guy behind the bench.

Jackson has done an outstanding job coaching the absurdly talented sophomore class and has brought in another talented freshman class. He’s found talent and made it better — Lee has improved dramatically from his breakout campaign a year ago.

Jackson knows how to coach this team. He knows how to keep them focused despite the new surroundings and the high expectations, and he’s instilled a culture in which the Irish are never satisfied. They just continue to improve and get better. The team that takes the ice in February will be far better than the already-skilled squad that took the ice last week.

The architects of the new building should be complimented. Not only did they design a spectacular building, but they also did not forget the most important element: lots of room in the rafters.

Contact Allan Joseph at [email protected]

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