Whitman Busey forum

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman speaks during his annual media roundtable Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration building in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — Josh Whitman remains confident about Illinois one day fielding a Division I hockey team. But when that happens is anyone’s guess.

“It’s been a long and winding road that continues to be long and winding,” the UI athletic director said Thursday during Busey’s 67th Economic Forum.

“There are a lot of different partners around the table,” he added. “... It will be that much more meaningful when we’re able to bring it across the finish line.”

Whitman touched on a number of related topics at Thursday’s event, held at the I Hotel and Conference Center. Those included the prospects of a downtown Champaign hockey arena, about which Champaign Planning and Development Department Bruce Knight said: “Our mantra on a daily basis is, ‘It’s a complicated project.’”

More from Whitman:

— On the Illini volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling some day moving from Huff Hall to a new downtown multi-purpose arena: “(Huff) has a quaintness that I really admire. As you get a little deeper into the weeds in Huff Hall, you realize some of that quaintness transitions quickly to challenge, particularly in the basement: the locker room spaces, sports med, strength and conditioning equipment.

“We’ve looked for a long time for a solution to Huff, and we think that a new venue, using hockey as a lever to get it done, would provide a new home.”

— On the idea of a downtown arena 20 years ago: “When I was in school here in the mid- to late-1990s, downtown Champaign was just something you drove through to get to the mall. ... Now, it’s truly become a destination.”

— On the accessibility a new arena would offer: “Unlike (Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center), which spend more days of the year with their doors closed than open, this is a building that would be open every single day.

"It would have the ice capabilities to service our kids. My daughter and my son would learn how to play hockey and how to ice skate and how to curl, for God’s sake.”