Nov. 17, 2011
By Todd D. Burlage
Kevin Compton didn't want any fanfare or attention when he extended one of the most generous donations a University of Notre Dame athletics program had ever received.
But a gift such as this was difficult to keep under wraps. So once the secret was out, and the new Compton Family Ice Arena completed, the building's lead donor couldn't help but beam with pride in having his name attached to arguably the nicest college hockey facility in the world.
"It was done out of a passion for the sport, a passion for student-athletes to have the best, and wanting to do something that would be enduring," Compton said, when asked about his motivations for financing the striking addition to campus.
The interest in the project for Kevin Compton and his wife, Gayla, was borne out of a love of hockey, and a deep respect for the university. The couple's son, Cameron, graduated from Notre Dame in 2010 and the Comptons are part of the investment group that owns the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League, so the fit came naturally. And considering the dated facilities the Irish hockey team was playing in under the North Dome of the Joyce Center, the timing was perfect also.
"It was a passion that met a need. We wouldn't have done this if they didn't need it," Kevin Compton said. "We still would have done something, so it wasn't like we were looking for a place with a bad hockey rink. The passion just happened to fit the need. It wasn't a passion looking for a need."
The state-of-the-art facility went from conception to fruition all in the span of about 20 months. The design plan was approved and an announcement for the new arena was made on Feb. 12, 2009. Construction began on March 15, 2010. And on Oct. 21, 2011, the Notre Dame hockey team opened their new home with a 5-2 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, much to the delight of the Irish players, a sellout crowd of more than 5,000, and one proud member of the Notre Dame hockey family.
"The arena has been very nice for our program. It's everything we could have asked for," said Irish hockey head coach Jeff Jackson, who will be part of the dedication ceremonies this weekend during a doubleheader lineup against Boston College in both hockey and football. "It's a big positive in a lot of areas. It certainly helps our recruiting, but it also helps the image of our program as far as its perception nationally. It helps our players have that sense of pride in their home building, which is extremely important and gives them something that they can feel really proud of."
Jackson has lifted Irish hockey to new heights since taking over the program in 2005. And to Jackson, moving the team from the antiquated 2,800-seat rink at the Joyce Center - with the tiny locker rooms and thimble-sized storage facilities - and into the 212,000-square foot Compton Family Ice Arena is another important step to putting his program among the elite in college hockey.
"It means a lot to the players," he said. "We've always felt that our students and our fans did a great job for us, but the sounds just kind of evaporated in the Joyce Center and you could never really get a sense of how important that is for momentum and how the crowd gets behind you."
And from improved site lines, to chairbacked seating, to an NHL-caliber center-hung scoreboard, no detail was left unattended so that the players, coaches and the crowd enjoyed nothing but the best in their new facility.
"We could not be happier," Kevin Compton said. "The school did just a brilliant job of location, architecture and really thought through the details, which is something that mattered to us a great deal. And they nailed it."
The arena houses both the primary Charles "Lefty" Smith 5,022-seat rink (named after the first hockey coach at Notre Dame) and a secondary rink (Olympic-sized) with 350 bleacher seats. Away from the ice, the building includes coaching offices, a luxurious locker room suite, a sports medicine area that includes hot and cold hydrotherapy, cardio and weight rooms, meeting rooms, a players' lounge, video operations and a multi-purpose room that is used for the weekly team Mass and can also be used as a study lounge and dining area.
There are eight public restrooms, multiple concession areas and a merchandise shop, all of which represent drastic improvements that enhance the entire game-day experience.
"The most important thing of all is just having that sense of pride of playing in a full building all the time," Jackson said. "We thought all along that a lot of people come to our games (at the Joyce Center) but a lot more would have come had we had the amenities ... and improving just the overall atmosphere inside the building. I think it is going to be fun place to come and watch hockey."
The arena even features a balcony level, 250-seat premium club area, complete with an Irish-themed pub called O'Brien's for special events, or for those that just want to make a big splash for a Notre Dame home game.
But perhaps the most important part of the vision for the Compton Family Ice Arena not to be overlooked are the events and possibilities the complex offers aside from the Notre Dame hockey team.
The arena is as much about community as it is about university. The ice is available for public skating, while youth, high school and adult ice hockey teams and/or leagues can also take full advantage of the facilities.
Ice time for both intramural hockey and broomball for the Notre Dame students is also available. And the university hasn't even yet scratched the surface to the number of events and competitions that can be held and hosted inside the arena, from figure skating, to ice hockey and more.
"It is really great for our fans, for the campus and the local communities as far as having a facility like that for hockey and potential outside events that could be brought into town," Jackson said. "I'm hoping that it will be utilized for many events, to just give it more than our home hockey facility. There are just so many positives."
For Kevin and Gayla Compton, this weekend's dedication of the new arena feels as much like payback as it does a gift. The Comptons were struck with the quality of education and people the Notre Dame experience provided to their son. And whether it was a new ice arena, or some other initiative on campus, the family felt compelled to help improve the quality of campus life for generations to come.
"We were looking for something that met all of our passions. We wanted to do something for the school because the school has been great to our son," Kevin Compton said. "And more importantly, it has been great to thousands and thousands of students. Everybody we have met who is an alumnus has just blown us away.
"And for the student-athletes that do go there, hopefully one of their takeaways is the excellence that runs through the entire organization, and they should strive to have that kind of excellence in everything they do post Notre Dame as well."