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Ohio junior Matthew Hartman tries to handle the puck around Liberty's goal at Bird Arena on Jan. 15. Ohio hockey will play its final games of the season this weekend.

Upgrades to Bird Arena don't mean jump to NCAA for hockey

With possible renovations to Bird Arena on the horizon, head coach Sean Hogan says that a jump to the NCAA is still purely predicated on funding by the university. 

Ohio hockey has Elizabeth Baker to thank for its home of 58 years.

Baker, the wife of the 14th Ohio University President John Calhoun Baker, had the idea of turning the fieldhouse on the southernmost part of campus —originally meant to be used for football, baseball and track — into an ice rink.

Bird Arena, the first ice arena on a college campus in the state of Ohio, was born.

But, over the nearly six decades since, the facility has aged. Its neighbor to the north has been torn and built back up into a brand new student center, Ohio has introduced the Bobcat mascot and two United States presidents have visited the campus since then.

With the proposed plan, there could be major changes to Bird Arena, whether that's in the form of a major renovation or a brand new arena adjacent to Ping Center.

Of course, a new arena would be great for the hockey program, but ACHA Division I head coach Sean Hogan admires the history that has taken place in the building.

“There’s so much history and it’s so old,” Hogan said. “Hockey has been here since 1958. It was NCAA Division I in the '60s and '70s. That part of this place is special."

“If money wasn’t an option, I think a full renovation of this place would be awesome because of the history,” he said.

Ohio hockey surely has a great history, with four AHCA titles and 40 alumni of the program going to the professional ranks.

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However, a new arena may be the next step to returning to NCAA status for the first time since 1973.

The jump, as Hogan notes, is purely predicated on funding.

Ohio’s former AHCA rival Penn State made the jump in 2012, but it came with a large price tag.

Two years prior, Penn State alum and billionaire Terrence Pegula donated $88 million to build a brand new facility that would eventually hold the Division I hockey program. The donation was the largest in the university’s history.

The new Pegula Ice Center holds 6,014 fans, two NHL-sized ice surfaces, various training facilities, and broadcasting capabilities. The arena has the ability to host NHL games, according to the athletic department.

However, a brand new, million dollar arena is still only a dream for Ohio hockey.

The university will do minor improvements in the meantime to upkeep the arena until they can officially decide whether to renovate the arena or to build a new one.

Also, a new arena would put a major dent in the Master Plan’s budget.

The newest NCAA arena, the Gene Polisseni Center on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, cost $38 million.

In the meantime, Hogan is just glad the proposed Master Plan is considering upgrades to Bird Arena.

“It would show dedication to the sport,” he said. “Not only to Ohio hockey, but to the whole southeast Ohio region. I think the university is proud of the college hockey program here.”


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