Asmussen | Hockey in C-U sounds cooler than ice

Asmussen | Hockey in C-U sounds cooler than ice

Hockey is cool. Literally and figuratively.

The Miracle on Ice, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe playing with his sons. The early scenes from "Happy Gilmore," the Montreal Canadiens, the Edmonton Oilers, the Detroit Red Wings, "O Canada," Chicago Blackhawks, cheering during the national anthem, St. Louis Blues, Kate Smith, Wayne Messmer, fighting, teeth lost during fighting, Ron Hextall scoring a goal. The only pro franchise in Las Vegas, the Hanson brothers, "Mystery, Alaska."

I can fill the rest of the column with the reasons, but you get the point.

Will hockey be cool in Champaign?

Absolutely. Especially, if the proposed downtown arena is built. The sooner the better.

Illinois continues to pursue the project. It is seeking donors. Anyone with an extra $50 million can get their name on the new building.

Illinois doesn't need the sport. Plenty of teams are already on campus and they all have wish lists.

Baseball needs a new park or at least a major overhaul. Memorial Stadium is great on the West and North sides, but there is work to do on the South and East.

Of course, those are priorities. And they should be.

But a school with a Big Ten-sized athletic budget can walk and chew gum at the same time. Part of the beauty of the downtown arena proposal is there will be no impact on other campus athletic facilities. No construction zones to worry about. Clear a path, start to build and open in three years.

Perfect.

Cash cow

Once the money is raised for the initial hockey investment, the sport will need to help pay for itself.

Ticket revenue will go a long way. The proposed building will seat between 5,000-6,000. Let's price the tickets at a reasonable $25 per game for 20 home games. My smartphone says that is $2.5 million per season. That will buy a lot of sticks and pucks.

There are other ways to make money. Like concessions and merchandise.

Did I mention beer? That will have to be available, adding to the revenue stream.

The school can work out a deal with the city to split the money that comes from concerts, plays and conventions in the new facility.

The school will have no trouble filling the place. C-U has shown it loves big-time events and will support the teams. The teams might struggle to win for a few years. Who cares? Put big-time hockey a short walk from The News-Gazette and I'm in. I will tell the neighbors.

Two-for-one deal

Note my earlier use of the word "teams." Hockey at Illinois needs to be for women and men.

From a practical standpoint, adding two teams will fill more dates at the new arena. And help to justify the cost.

From a philosophical standpoint, it makes great sense. Traditionally, Illinois has been late to the party in women's sports. But in hockey, it can be among the trendsetters.

Only four Big Ten schools have women's hockey programs. Illinois can be a part of the next wave.

The sport just had a magic moment with the U.S. women's team capturing the Olympic gold medal. Now is the time to jump on the hockey bandwagon.

Any downsides? Hardly.

Trust me on this, it will be cool. Literally and figuratively.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Other