Hockey is coming back to campus

  • 3 min to read

The IceJacks hockey team is planning to move back on campus with the construction of a new ice rink in the University Field House. Completion of the project is anticipated for October 2018.

The hockey program started in Flagstaff fall of 1971 and has been located, moved and relocated to the Jay Lively Activity Center over the years. 1977 through 1985, NAU housed the IceJacks in the Walkup Skydome that featured games with close to 10,000 people in attendance. A variety of issues led to NAU letting go of its NCAA Division-I program following the 1985 season.

Field House concept photo

Concept photo courtesy of AJ Fairchild.

After a four-year-long lull, the IceJacks reawakened in Jay Lively for the 1991-1992 season. The team produced success at a consistent rate with multiple top 10 national rankings in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). From 2005-2008, the IceJacks appeared in two ACHA National Championship matches, developing enough notoriety for the team to create a Division II team along with the Division III group. Unfortunately, the team’s quick development of being a legitimate powerhouse would soon come crumbling down before them. Literally.

The infamous blizzard of January 2010 hit Flagstaff with 54.2 inches of snow in just a week, the second most snowfall for the city since 1967. The four-decade-old roof of the Jay Lively Activity Center collapsed under the intense pressure, taking away the IceJacks’ facility for nine months.

Thanks to an outpour of donations from alumni and the public, the team was able to rebuild the rink and reopen in October 2010. The team is closing in on a new home exactly eight years later.

“[This] means everything to us,” said director of hockey operations AJ Fairchild. “We’re at ACHA Division II and III, and it will enable me to recruit better players so we could go to Division I and II in the ACHA … you know not too many schools have a [Division] I and II team.”

Construction in the Field House was in progress during the summer of 2017, where there is currently a layout of the rink, a new layer of concrete after old cement was dug up and even a couple hockey goals pushed to the side. Construction has since stalled with the fall semester well underway. It is currently unclear when construction will begin again.

Fairchild is still confident in the arena’s completion within the next 13 months, but there has been conflicting takes from the university’s point of view.

“An ice rink in the Field House is only a concept at this time,” said NAU spokesperson Kimberly Ott in an email. “Until it moves beyond a concept with a completed design, cost estimates, and funding, it is not in consideration. We do not have an estimated time frame.”

To already have a layout of the ice rink in place in the Field House, it’s hard for some to imagine that this is still a concept, and not just for formality sake until an official release from NAU. Though, it still leaves a bit of uncertainty for the IceJacks who see this transition as all but complete.

The team raised the desired funds, collecting over $100,000 through contributions from the IceJacks alumni and other parties including the Arizona Coyotes.

“I guess we have to wait for the announcement before we can 100 percent say that it’s going to be done,” Fairchild said. “They asked the hockey club to raise a certain amount of money, and I think we have it all there … We’re going to be able to have everything they want for the rink.”

NAU’s original offer included the hockey program having to raise upward of $500,000, but the price dropped steeply after negotiations between the university and TC Eberly, director of campus services and activities.

Eberly is unable to comment on the project until an official announcement from the university is made but continues day-to-day operations on the ice rink.

Fairchild expects the announcement to come in a month or two but believes there is still a low probability that this falls through.

This past February, the ASU hockey program came up short on a deal with the Arizona Coyotes toward a shared ice rink and is currently exploring other options with the university. ASU moved up to Division I NCAA in the 2016-2017 season and is looking for a venue that better accommodates the team’s prestige. ASU’s current location seats less than 800 people at the Oceanside Ice Arena, while the failed collaboration with the Coyotes would have seated 4,000 fans. They hope to have a new home for the hockey team by the 2019-2020 season.

For a team like the Sun Devils to have struggles with a similar project, it’s reasonable that the Division II and Division III ACHA IceJacks are not guaranteed a Field House ice rink. However, this concept that has been in the works for over a decade could be a missed opportunity for both the IceJacks and NAU.

Fairchild views the IceJacks as just one of the many beneficiaries of the possible new ice rink. He believes it would open more on-campus activities and events that could revamp college life with involvement from Greek Life events, and open ice times throughout the day for students.

The space has been primarily used as a desolated basketball gym that received minimal maintenance on its dusty wooden floors. Accompanying the basketball court, is only a handful of recreational activities taking place in the large indoor arena.

NAU has been heavily invested in on-campus innovation through multiple construction projects in recent years, in addition to this project.