By JIM MEENAN
South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
10:37 PM EDT, October 19, 2011
SOUTH BEND - Hockey heaven is here.
That seemed to be the consensus as about 1,500 season-ticket holders Wednesday worked their way around the Compton Family Ice Arena, posing for pictures and getting autographs from Notre Dame players.
The new home for Notre Dame hockey costs $50 million. And considering how nice the huge facility at the south side of the campus on Angela Boulevard looked, it’s easy to see how.
The arena, whose walls are bathed in a classy navy blue, gold and green, has a capacity of 5,020, including standing room.
It consists of two ice rinks, one of them Olympic size, nine locker rooms, an auditorium for team film study, cardio and weight rooms and two hockey shooting galleries similar to the size of baseball batting cages where players can practice their shot.
“Frankly, for me, it’s still hard to fathom that it’s here,” said Tom Nevala, Notre Dame senior associate athletic director who oversees the hockey program. “A great job by all concerned.”
Fans echoed those sentiments totally.
Dave Schroeter, of Granger, called the facility “eye-popping.”
He said he had mixed emotions, having attended Irish hockey games since 1970.
“I feel fantastic for the current players,” Schroeter said. “I wish some of the guys in the past could have had a chance to enjoy something as beautiful as this.”
Schroeter was impressed with the spaciousness of the facility and the fact that, as a fan, he would not be sitting on bleachers anymore.
John Simmons, of South Bend, has only been in town less than a year and described himself as a big Chicago Blackhawks fan who has attended numerous games at the United Center in Chicago.
“This is something else for the university level,” Simmons said. “This is outstanding. This looks fantastic. We’re really impressed with it.
“It almost looks like the pro stadiums. It’s fantabulous.”
Marie Warsko, of Granger, was there with her husband, John, and their three grandchildren from Buchanan.
“It’s fantastic,” said Warsko, who has been a season ticket holder since 1996. “There’s not going to be a bad seat in the whole place.”
And it has a few unique amenities, too. On the opposite of a highly visible and spacious press box sits O’Brien’s, an exclusive club for fans who purchase its special season ticket. The pub-like setting runs the length of the ice and includes a fairly spacious bar/food area as well as what most fans would call open skybox-like seating areas.
The 2-2 Irish open the arena Friday against Rensselaer at 7:30 p.m. The game is already sold out.
Construction on the facility began in September 2010.
The new state-of-the-art arena also ushers in a new era in which Notre Dame will allow the public to utilize the facility often.
“The whole motivation to build this building was to have two rinks and make it available to youth hockey, figure skating, public skating, the intramural needs that we have on campus,” Nevala said.
That openness will boost hockey in the area, Warsko said.
“People will start to appreciate and understand hockey with more of the outside people coming in,” she said.
The facility is named in honor of Kevin and Gayla Compton, who own the San Jose Sharks of the NHL and who donated the lead gift for the facility.
The arena and the turnout left a lot of players smiling, too, including sophomore Anders Lee.
“This is unbelievable,” Lee said. “To see so many people supporting us here, it’s ridiculous. Just to meet the fans tonight is really special, too.”
But even the Irish’s leading goal scorer could not stop marveling at the facility, which also features four big screen replay boards hanging over center ice.
“You can see for yourself it’s a special place,” he said. “Top-of-the-line everything. We’re so thankful for this opportunity to play here.”
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