When the University of Notre Dame consulted head coach Jeff Jackson about their new hockey arena prior to it being built in 2011, he told them he wanted nothing fancy.
Make no mistake: Compton Family Ice Arena is downright gorgeous, but in an understated way. There is no giant lighthouse like in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, no gargantuan octopus like in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena or oversized oil rig like in Edmonton’s Rexall Place. Instead, it is the little things that set the arena apart.
There are numbers on the railings for standing room only patrons, little faux banners that indicate the section numbers and four different Notre Dame symbols on each corner of the arena.
That is not to say that Notre Dame didn’t splurge a little when building the $50 million facility. The jumbotron in the center of the arena would make Jerry Jones jealous, a wealthy woman purchased the staircase that leads to the club level in a Led Zeppelin ballad and the club section of the arena is designed like a pub that belongs in the streets of Dublin.
Even with all the opulent detail and design, the place feels unique to the university.
Above the press box reads the team’s mission: Onward to Victory.
Above the south goal is a Golden Domer’s unofficial holy trinity: God, Country, Notre Dame.
On the way upstairs are banners that list the university’s values: Faith, Education, Community, Tradition, Excellence.
The most pertinent phrase cannot be found written anywhere in the building, however. Rather it is omnipresent as you circumnavigate the rink: This is Notre Dame.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are four concession stands. Each has its own name and a unique menu. At one stand there are the Souvenir Nachos, another is home to the Legendary Pulled Pork and others feature the Duck Dog and Irish Poppers.
Most concessions are reasonably priced, with the standard items in the $6-$8 range and the more expensive selections around $10 or $12.
Coca-Cola products are served at Compton Ice Arena. A large soda is $5, a small is $4 and bottomless is $8.
In addition to the four concession stands, there is a South Bend Chocolate Factory kiosk that would put Willy Wonka out of business, a Dippin' Dots station that belongs next to a carnival ride at the Indiana State Fair and a nut stand that would find a home in streets of New York.
Compton Family Ice Arena is located next to the other sports facilities at Notre Dame, including the legendary Notre Dame Football Stadium and hockey's former home on campus-the Edmond P. Joyce Center.
All of the athletic facilities are a bit of a walk from the dormitories on campus, but are easily accessible for South Bend residents and out of town visitors alike. That is not to say it is isolated from the core of the campus, as a couple of strides past the football stadium will put you in the heart of the university.
In short, it is close enough to draw the students that wish to attend the games, but far enough away where they are not a distraction to those that wish to study or get a good night's sleep.
Inside the arena, there is a good blend of traditional Irish fight songs and popular hits that fill the air and patrons are close to the action regardless of where they are seated.
There are clear, LG flat screens conveniently located in wide, uncluttered concourses for fans that are unseated during play and plenty of large, clean restrooms in case nature calls at any point during the game.
The Notre Dame campus is bucolic, a "can't miss" for anyone that loves the college atmosphere. On the other hand, South Bend leaves much to be desired. The inconsistent traffic lights and oddly designed roads can be a burden for travelers exiting from the Indiana Toll Road and I don't recommend cashing a check at one of the "Credit Unions" that will hand you a wad of Benjamins without checking your ID.
Having said that, there is plenty to enjoy on campus.
For the religious folk there is the grotto and Touchdown Jesus. For the perspective students, there are state-of-the-art dormitories and large dining halls with both "homemade" food and chain restaurants located inside. For the weary traveler there are plenty of benches underneath large, luscious trees and water fountains that remain lit at night.
In general, there's something for everybody on Notre Dame's campus.
Don't tell anyone, I channeled my inner Bill Simmons and joined the student section in the third period of what ended up being a 4-1 win over the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The students are loud and proud without being irreverent. They belted out the Notre Dame Fight Song loud enough to shatter the Plexiglass that separates them from the players, chanted "You let the whole team down" at the goaltender when he let in a goal and put their hands over each other's shoulders while singing the Alma Mater after the game. The players offered a gesture of gratitude for their presence at the game, which came during a break mind you, by raising their sticks in the air while at center ice and then racing toward the glass by the student section.
The game was sold out. Many of the 5,000 attendees were not Notre Dame alumni or faculty, but rather residents from South Bend and the surrounding area. Advertised as Hockey Night in South Bend, rather than Notre Dame, the game is seen as a community event rather than exclusively for people with ties to the university.
Compton Family Ice Arena is not difficult to find. Because the ice arena is located near all of the other venues, it is easily found from the roads outside the campus and anyone on campus can direct you there even if they've never been to Compton Ice Arena..
Bathrooms are clean and modern. Concourses are wide. Getting in and out was rather easy. All in all, it doesn't get much easier to attend a game than what you will expect going to a Notre Dame hockey game. There was a bit of gridlock leaving the lot, but nothing too drastic.
You get your money's worth.
Tickets along the glass are only $20. Other bowl seats are $14, $7 for seniors and youth. Access to the O'Brien's Club, the suite section that doubles as a pseudo Irish pub, is only $20. The club offers a buffet, arena seating, booth seating and a full-service bar. There are also other places to sit or stand between the booths and arena section that do not offer great sightlines to the game, but serve as social areas for work or personal events.
There is also a coat check for those cold winter days in northern Indiana.
Parking is free and food is pretty reasonable by arena standards, making this one of the better bargains in college hockey.
The staff is friendly and helpful. For the most part they do not bother you unless you make eye contact with them, but are willing to offer information on anything from seat assignments to the history of the programs to where to find that Legendary Pulled Pork Sandwich.
The introductions on the jumbotron are spectacular. These are not the generic, hackneyed prolusions you see at other venues that get handed down year to year more frequently than a children's suit. They are player specific with a focus on the team's seniors and superstar players like team captain Anders Lee.
A program history lesson is offered on the wall of the concourse beneath O'Brien's. It is rather in-depth and well presented. If you want a little tidbit on the WCHA or club years, you can gather it while passing by on the way to your seat. At the same time, you can stop and read paragraphs on the tumultuous 1980s if that suits your fancy.
The team really honors the people that are part of the program-past and present. Each head coach gets his own banner on the history wall, starting with the late Lefty Smith (1968-87) all the way incumbent Jeff Jackson (1995-). Additionally, each senior has their own banner near the entrance of the arena with a picture on the front and their name and number on the back.
Finally, although Notre Dame lacks the hockey history of, say, the University of Michigan, Minnesota or Boston University, you get the feeling that there is a culture of winning. Banners honoring the team's best regular season record in 2006-07 and 2008-09 as well as their Semifinal finish in the 2012 Frozen Four and their appearance in the 2008 Finals hang from the rafters.
One thing that stood out to me was how many people were at the game that had no Notre Dame attire whatsoever.
I saw Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and even Los Angeles Kings sweaters on patrons. While many people had an ND hat or hockey sweater, it didn't feel as if a person that just simply likes the sport of hockey would be an outsider here.
Although there are more ND symbols in Compton Ice Arena than crosses in the Sistine Chapel, the casual hockey fan should not feel like an atheist in a monastery.
In fact, let me amend what I said in the introduction.
The ubiquitous, nuncupative phrase in the arena should read: Welcome to Notre Dame, We Play Hockey Here Too.
When you think of Notre Dame, you probably think of football. As well you should. Notre Dame is one of those historic programs with an absolutely historic home in Notre Dame Stadium. You should go see a Notre Dame football game if you ever have a chance.
However, Notre Dame hockey is not without its tradition. The founder of the program, as well as the first head coach, was Charles "Lefty" Smith. Smith guided the program into NCAA Division I play in 1968. Smith sadly passed away in early January 2012, but not before the University decided to honor him by naming the ice at Compton Family Ice Arena, Lefty Smith Rink. Prior to Smith, Notre Dame also maintained a hockey squad that played from 1919-1927, as well as one season in 1912-1913.
The program has never won an NCAA championship in hockey, but appearances in the Frozen Four in 2008 and 2010 have raised expectations in South Bend.
The new ice and the new $50 million facility are both immaculate, and you can certainly add a trip to Compton Family Ice Arena to your must see list if you are a fan of college hockey. In fact, it may very well be possible to see a football game at Notre Dame Stadium as well as a hockey game in the same day. Check the schedules carefully in October and November.
Went wearing Bowling Green jerseys (bg playing in up Michigan, 10 hour drive for me, decided good excuse to check out arena). Great arena, great food, great fans. People surprised to see the brown and orange jerseys there and they loved it. Took an hour to walk around the lower bowl due to everyone wanting to chat with us. Great time and encourage you to check this place out!
If you want to see a beautiful arena then you are fine but if you want to actually take a game in then DO NOT go to Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena. The seats are so small we could not sit in them. And when we asked the Ushers and other workers why the seats are so small they said they had no clue and lots of folks have complained about them.
54801 Juniper Rd
Notre Dame, IN 46556
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University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
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South Bend, IN 46617