Northfield, MN -- St. Olaf has a rich hockey tradition playing in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). That tradition will mark a new era when the Oles open a new state-of-the-art on-campus hockey arena Jan. 1.
The $8 million project kicked off this year with a concerted fundraising campaign that has already raised 79 percent of the needed funds.
For St. Olaf players and fans, this new era is a game changer.
“It will be transformational,” said Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Ludwig, a former St. Olaf baseball and basketball standout. “We are committed to excellence at St. Olaf and this facility supports that commitment.”
Both the men’s and women’s hockey teams commuted to nearby Northfield Ice Arena where the ice was good, but the amenities were in short supply. There were no showers and the locker rooms weren’t big enough to house a college squad.
“Our availability there was limited, too,” said Ludwig. “That impacted our ability to get practice time for both of our teams and for our student-athletes to get to practice due to class conflicts.”
The new arena will be connected to the existing Skoglund/Tostrud athletic complex. It will not only better serve the hockey players, but will also serve the student fans, who will no longer have to commute to games.
In addition, it will serve as an extra-curriculur space for other ice-related activities such as intramurals, open skates, activity classes, figure skating, club hockey and curling.
“We view athletics as co-curricular at St. Olaf, not extra curricular,” said Ludwig. “Our athletic venues are spaces for learning, not unlike classrooms, labs and library spaces on campus.”
Ludwig pointed to leadership from the Board of Regents and President Dave Anderson’s leadership team as well as the athletic staff in helping the project come to fruition.
“We collaborated every step of the way,” he said. “It has truly been a team effort.”
Leadership was able to keep the budget reasonable at $8 million because they are already working inside the footprint of an existing building. A strong fundraising effort continues to make progress as they near their goal of raising the entire $8 million. As of this week, they had raised $6.32 million through an institutional commitment and alumni support.
The arena will seat 800 fans, who will enter on a mezzanine level that circles the entire arena. All seats are stadium-style, giving the facility a wow factor.
“There aren’t many small college facilities like it,” noted Ludwig.
Mike Eaves is the head coach of the men’s team and is excited for the new project.
“The new on-campus ice arena will have a distinct impact on our program in a couple of ways,” said Eaves, in his third season at the helm and coming off a 9-12-3 season. “First of all, the experience for our student athletes to play in a premier D-III facility will be a tremendous experience. The intimacy of the arena will create a unique atmosphere. Secondly, the new facility will enhance our recruiting. We will be able to attract a broader base of student-athletes to St. Olaf.”
Women’s head coach John Bazzachini is in his 14th season and said the project will help student-athletes and the program in a number of ways.
“The first thing people will say is an obvious one in that it will help with recruiting,” Bazzachini said. “Potential players will be able to see themselves playing on campus in a first-class facility at an elite academic institution.”
Bazzachini said the benefits of the arena will extend well beyond just recruiting.
“We currently are forced to practice about 30 times per season in Faribault at 2 p.m.,” he said. “We average approximately 10 players per practice that either miss the entire practice or only can skate for 45 minutes because of class conflicts. That equates to around 45 hours of team practice that we yield to our competition. In a league where making the playoffs usually comes down to the final weekend of the season, those missed practice hours take a toll. It greatly impacts special teams and limits team growth.”
Not to mention the time needed for players to commute.
“On an individual basis, players give up 45 minutes of their time for every trip to Faribault,” Bazzachini said. “That would equate to an additional 22.5 hours of their time that could be used for studying. The additional time for studying might also mean getting to bed earlier. The additional sleep improves their academic and athletic performance.”
The benefits are many, both on the ice and off the ice. And there are still unknown benefits.
“There will be additional benefits that we currently don’t even realize,” Bazzachini said. “We have learned to operate and function in our existing environment. We don’t know all of the impact of something we currently don’t have.”
Ludwig said the arena will not only affect hockey players and fans, but have a campus-wide effect.
“We have a vibrant, active campus life atmosphere, where around 97 percent of our students live on campus,” Ludwig said. “This facility gives the chance for our students to try something new.”
Ludwig said the venue will also be used for showcases, camps, high school games and other events when it is not being used by St. Olaf students.
Could the new arena start a trend throughout small college campuses in the Midwest and beyond? Ludwig said it’s important to assess the needs, create a strong vision and decide on a budget while knowing the capacity for fundraising efforts.
“It’s an investment of time and money to know all of these items, and you need to be thorough,” he said. “It’s important to have everyone at the table – user groups, contractors of all components and your leadership team at almost every step.”
Working together with a common goal is the way they get things done at St. Olaf.
“That’s where the creativity is,” said Ludwig, “in the collaboration.”
Sooner or later the puck will drop, marking a new era at St. Olaf, and strengthening an already strong tradition.
Coach Eaves concluded: “The new arena enhances the total experience for our young men and women who attend St. Olaf to get their secondary degree and play a game they love.”