Jackson Discusses New Arena at Notre Dame
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Thursday, Notre Dame announced that it was going to build an on-campus arena, which replaces plans to renovate the current Joyce Center that have been in place since Jeff Jackson was hired to coach the team in 2005. The Joyce Center renovations were exciting enough for the program, and something Jackson was assured of when he was hired.
The new plans push the process back one year, and up the price tag to approximately $50 million, of which $26 million in funds have already been secured through donations.
Plans shifted after the new athletic director, Jack Swarbick, was hired last June.
Jackson: He started in August. And he came to me and asked what we had to do to make the program as great as it can be. And I think he did that with all the programs, not just ours. I think he saw an opportunity to go beyond what was planned before. ... There is still more fund raising they're going to do, but the commitment is there. It was time to make it public that this was a committed project.
He asked if I was willing to wait another year in order to have a facility on campus. I said absolutely. The only thing is, I feel bad for the kids who I told were going to have a new place in 2010.
CHN: Win or lose, something was going to happen, but was the administration inspired by the success of the program to do something bigger?
Jackson: I don't think there's any question that what's happened here over the last three years has had a profound impact. It showed people around here that our facility is not big enough or adequate enough. We turned 100 students away last game, and turned other people away at the gate. There's a real excitement about the hockey program now, and that credit goes to these kids who turned this program around.
CHN: Not saying that you demanded this or what not, but when you were hired, you were assured there was going to be a better facility, correct? That was part of you coming to Notre Dame.
Jackson: I was told when I came in it was going to happen. When I came in, the original project was approved for
$15 million in renovations. That changed over the last four years to wher this year it was a $32 million renovation.
If you looked at the plans we put together with the architect, it was going to be pretty nice. There wasn't going to be a curtain up for games (as there is now, in the large Joyce Center). It was going to be a new facility, but in the same envelope. It was going to have 4,000 seats and be really nice.
CHN: So what do you think motivated the athletic director to up the scale of the project?
Jackson: He saw an opportunity. This building is going to be 5,000 seats. We talked about the size issues. I think the facility itself is going to bring in another thousand fans. Right now they're on bleacher seats. It takes 20 minutes to a half hour to walk from the parking lot to the arena. The amenities aren't very good for rest rooms and concessions. It's actually not a bad environment now with the fans and the pep band here, except you don't know what the ice conditions will be like with the humidity because of the open nature of the arena. There could be another event going on in there, all kinds of things. But a new facility is going to be — especially where they're locating it — it will be ideal for the community, and community hockey. It's going to have tons of parking, because it's right in front of the football stadium.
CHN: And it's going to have an Olympic-sized sheet in there, so that's nice to have for preparing for some games.
Jackson: Jack was one of the guys who said, "Let's have an Olympic-sized sheet." It's opens up the arena to more opportunities for people to use our facility. We could have USA Hockey festivals in there. And it allows us to practice on an Olympic sheet when preparing for Northern Michigan or Alaska. It opens up the door to a lot more for community hockey, and hopefully increase opportunities for South Bend youth hockey.
CHN: The only thing is, it's unfortunate you have to wait that extra year, but I guess it's worth it.
Jackson: in the long run it will be. Notre Dame doesn't do anything (halfway).
CHN: This weekend, you've got Northern Michigan. It looks like they are going on another one of these late-season runs. You'll have to be wary of them, especially without Ryan Thang (out 3-to-6 weeks).
Jackson: They're playing real well. There's no question, it's going to be a tough series. I'm not going to talk about the guys that aren't in the lineup, but it's going to be a tough series regardless. We'll have to play well and some guys are going to have to elevate their games.
CHN: Is the last two weeks (going 2-2 against Ohio State and Michigan after a 20-game unbeaten streak) the indication of anything to be concerned about, or is it solely a function of playing tougher teams.
Jackson: I knew our second half, the schedule was tougher. Ohio State is a legitimate contender in my mind. I hadn't seen them all year, then (Zac) Dalpe was out. He returned and I was very impressed with their team. They're a team that's going to raise some eyebrows in the playoffs.
CHN: It was huge to get that win in Ann Arbor after they broke your streak at home, just to show you weren't going anywhere.
Jackson: It's probably one of the toughest places to play in college hockey (Yost Arena). I was happy our team showed the resiliency to bounce back and play well, and in a tough place to play.