Klonsinski: Compton should be so much more
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, November 3, 2016
Compton Family Ice Arena deserves a place in the discussion of the top hockey venues in the country, and not just at the collegiate level. Between the imposing façade, the impressive stone interior and the state-of-the-art team facilities, the five-year-old rink should be one of the best places to play in all of college hockey.
But, frankly, it isn’t.
“It’s kind of sad to see what’s happening with our attendance, in my opinion,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said during media availability Oct. 25. “I know it’s football season … but this building used to be filled almost all the time in the first few years. But for whatever reason, I’m not sure why it is … it’s a little disappointing when you come out in your own building and it’s quiet.”
Never has this been more evident than for the opening game of Notre Dame’s series against Connecticut on Oct. 27. There was zero energy in the building when the Irish took to the ice, and zero energy even as the Irish dominated most of the first period. In fact, the intermission gimmick when fans try to shoot a puck from center ice into the net to win plane vouchers drew the most active interest — and loudest reactions — of the night to that point.
The official attendance was 2,936, just 58.5 percent of Compton’s stated capacity of 5,022 — including a student section of about 100 if we’re being generous — and it’s hard to figure out how the gate monitors even reached that number.
The attendance for Friday’s season finale supposedly climbed to 4,065, 80.9 percent of capacity, with a student section one of my friends described as “average, not very full.”
That was also on a night when tens of thousands of the Notre Dame faithful clogged the Michiana area before the next day’s football game. Theoretically, without either basketball team playing across the parking lot at Purcell Pavilion yet, the hockey game should have been an easy sell out.
Mind you, this was also for Notre Dame’s first Hockey East series of the year. It’s the equivalent of the men’s basketball games against Louisville on Jan. 4 and Syracuse on Jan. 21 — the first ACC home game and first ACC home game after the beginning of the spring semester, respectively — being played in a half-full Purcell Pavilion. Obviously, that won’t happen, but it just demonstrates my key point:
Notre Dame is not a hockey school. At least not anymore.
Going to hockey games used to be a common student pastime, back when the team played in the awkwardly-large-for-hockey north dome of the Joyce Center, where the Castellan Family Fencing Center now stands.
There are a number of reasons for the recent decline in student attendance, but the largest of these is the befuddling — to put it kindly — new student ticket policy introduced at the beginning of last season for hockey and men’s basketball.
The policy requires students to claim tickets at least a week in advance or else pay for tickets at the door. It makes sense for men’s basketball, but it isn’t logical for hockey. Attending hockey games is not something Notre Dame students plan. It’s a spontaneous decision, made the night of from conversations such as, “Hey, what do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know. Oh, there’s a hockey game, want to go?”
When you take away that spontaneity by charging for tickets at the door — the tickets are only $7, but college students are notoriously cheap — you lose the largest proportion of students who attend hockey games.
Sure, there’s a small core of students that’s deeply devoted to the team, but if Notre Dame wants to pack the student section and harness that energy, the ticket policy has to go.
Another reason for the lagging energy of Thursday’s game was the hockey band’s absence, as the members were rehearsing for their performance at the football game against Miami on Saturday.
The band’s absence resulted in piped-in music that echoed hollowly off the stone around the largely-empty arena that couldn’t rely on the band’s enthusiasm.
“I think for most hockey players, you enjoy [the band] being there,” Irish junior forward Jake Evans said after Thursday’s game. “They’re enthusiastic. They bring a lot of energy to the crowd.
“But when you’re locked into the game, I don’t really care if there’s a lot of people there — I just want to win to be honest with you. It’s obviously nice to have them there. They’re a great part of the atmosphere, but you’re not going to play any different — you try not to play any different when they’re there.”
Notice the catch at the end: there’s a distinction between “not going to play any different” and “you try not to play different.”
“The band is always good, but we’re only going to be as good as the energy in this building,” Jackson said. “Coming out flying in the first period … is a lot easier to do that when you have that level of intensity in the building.”
To be fair, the final big reason for the lack of atmosphere will be remedied next season when Notre Dame moves to the Big Ten for hockey and plays old CCHA foes like Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. These rivalries used to pack the stands in the Joyce Center and create one of college hockey’s top atmospheres.
“We’ve seen [Compton] that way, and I’m sure it will be again at some point,” Jackson said. “But it’s been a little disappointing to see the crowds thus far.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.