Irish Blessing by Tim Connor   Article provided by Rink Magazine, September/October 2012 edition.  


  Compton Family Ice Arena welcomes historic Notre Dame program and surrounding community
Dreams do come true. One needs to look no further than the brand-new, state-of-the-art Compton Family Ice Arena (CFIA) at the University of Notre Dame. Home of the Fighting Irish, the facility opened its doors to the public on Oct. 18, 2011, with Notre Dame playing its first hockey game there three nights later. In front of a capacity crowd of 5,022, the Irish handed the Rensselaer (RPI) Engineers a 5-2 loss to christen the new ice palace.

Since that hectic opening week last October, the building has been in constant use, serving both the Notre Dame and South Bend communities. CFIA has hosted a wide range of activities, including Notre Dame hockey games and camps, local high school and youth hockey programs, sled hockey, figure skating, public skating, physical education skating classes, learn-to-skate, learn-to-curl and other Compton Classroom instructional programs. The facility has also accommodated Notre Dame intramural ice hockey and broomball, women's club hockey and synchronized skating teams, commencement ceremonies and local meetings.

Youth hockey tournaments with participating teams from around the country managed by Hockey Time Productions, showcase tournaments hosted by the High Performance Hockey League, Bauer Select camps, Chicago Mission games, the United States Hockey League (USHL) have also been patrons of the CFIA in its inaugural season.

CFIA features two sheets of ice - the 200' x 90' Charles W. "Lefty" Smith Jr. Rink that serves as the home of the Notre Dame hockey program and a 200' x 100' Olympic-sized sheet. The "Lefty" Smith Rink has a capacity of 5,022 (4,500 chairbacked seats and 522 standing-room spaces) while the Olympic-sized rink has seating for approximately 350.

Prior to moving into CFIA, the Joyce Center Rink serviced the Notre Dame community. Opened in 1968, the Joyce Center seated 2,857 for hockey and was the home of the Irish for 44 years.
While Notre Dame hockey is the main tenant of the building, CFIA has become much more than that. The facility is now a community center and a meeting place for the entire Michiana area that includes northwest Indiana and southern Michigan. Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick alluded to that community during the building's dedication ceremony on Sept. 11, 2010.

"There's a limit to how much the community can use our dormitories and our classrooms and our laboratories, but the athletic facilities can be a special point of contact," Swarbrick said. "I hope we win national championships with teams that train here and I hope we build new programs for our athletes and our students. But the ultimate success of this facility will be if we inspire a young boy or a young girl from the community to shoot higher, if we challenge them to be better people because they spend time on our campus. Then we've realized the potential of athletics at Notre Dame."

From the time CFIA opened, the local community has made the most of the opportunities the building has presented. "The Compton Family Ice Arena has a lot to offer a wide variety of audiences," says Mike McNeill, director of programming and instruction for the facility.

Despite opening in late October 2011, CFIA has turned in some impressive numbers. "We had over 14,000 people come through the building for public skating between the end of October and the end of June. That's a big number," McNeill says. "We had over 600 kids participate in our learn-to-skate program in its first year, and our learn-to-play hockey program had 180 kids.

Our goal is to grow these programs and keep making them better." A former hockey standout at Notre Dame, McNeill grew up in South Bend, and his father was one of the first assistant coaches for the Irish hockey program when it started in 1968. He went on to play 12 years of professional hockey from 1988 to 2000, including 63 games in the NHL with Chicago and Quebec.

"The Compton Family Ice Arena is something that this area needed. I think we've only begun to touch on what we can do with this facility and what kind of impact that it can have on the area. We had some success in our first year and we really want to see that grow," McNeill explains.

"Groups coming here now know that we want to make it a special trip when they come to Notre Dame and South Bend. If you go off of last year, from the groups that were here, the best way to measure if they enjoyed their time here is to ask the question, 'Do they want to come back?' Well, everyone wants to come back. They know that it's a great facility, but I think that everyone enjoys working with our staff. To me, that is what is really satisfying." There is plenty of space for everyone at CFIA. The facility has a dedicated team visiting suite for Notre Dame's opponents, plus four auxiliary locker rooms for the Smith Rink with showers, restrooms and one officials' locker room.

The Olympic rink also has four auxiliary locker rooms with restrooms, showers and one dedicated officials' locker room. In addition, 700 pairs of rental skates are available to public skating patrons in the service pro shop at ice level, along with essential equipment, accessories and skate sharpening.

Notre Dame's home suite occupies the entire north side of the building and is a self-contained training and locker room facility that rivals any in North America, if not the world. The area includes both wet and dry locker rooms, a 40-seat auditorium for team meetings and the traditional weekly team mass, a sports medicine area that includes hot and cold hydrotherapy, cardio and weight rooms, a players' lounge, equipment areas, video operations and a multi-purpose room that will serve as a study lounge and team dining area.

CFIA also is the home of O'Brien's, an exclusive 250-seat club area with an Irish pub theme that features premium food and beverage services during Irish hockey games for O'Brien's season ticket holders. O'Brien's is also can be used for meetings and events during non-game times.

The arena also has a 15' x 15' Daktronics four-sided, center-hung scoreboard with 8'4" x 13'6" 10mm video displays with integrated auxiliary displays and fascia boards.

The facility's media center includes a 36-seat working press area, two coaches' booths, two radio booths, one television broadcast booth, one video-replay booth and one control room. Multiple TV camera locations are cabled throughout the building.

Located on the main concourse are eight spacious public restrooms, four concession stands (operated by Centerplate) and a merchandise shop called the Irish Hockey Shop, (managed by Follett's). The concourse level also houses the Notre Dame hockey offices.

Design and construction of CFIA was under the auspices of the Southfield, Mich., office of Barton Malow, a national design and construction services firm, and their project partner Rossetti Architects, also of Southfield.