College Hockey Expansion: Nebraska has home if it wants hockey

The formulation of a hockey branch of the Big Ten has continually conjured up hopes of a path towards expansion of college hockey, particularly within the conference.

It’s easier said than done for a school to add a sport like hockey. The cost, and Title IX will always be very real barriers for any school, no matter how much sense it seems to make. That said, the window opened a little wider when Penn State added men’s and women’s Division I hockey programs triggering the Big Ten formation.

That’s why recent news out of Lincoln, Neb., is going to drum up some buzz around the University of Nebraska and its potential to add a hockey program.

The newly-constructed Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln will be home to concerts, other large events and Huskers basketball. The building was also constructed with some foresight. It has most of the basics necessary for a fully functional NHL-size ice arena.

On Wednesday, the building’s ice capabilities were tested, and by all accounts was successful.

“Everything worked just like we wanted it to,” I.J. Rosenblum, the arena’s director of operations, told KLKN-TV.

PBA does not have an ice-making machine or resurfacer yet, but the hard part is taken care of.

“The ice floor is a very substantial investment for the city. We wanted to make sure everything is working well in it. If we don’t play hockey for a couple years we want to make sure everything we installed is functioning properly,” Rosenblum told 1011 TV of Wednesday’s test run.

He also told reporters that it was cheaper to put everything in during construction than try to retrofit it. That’s another barrier knocked down in the event there is an opportunity to full-time hockey.

Rosenblum said the arena hopes to lure events like Disney On Ice or possibly an NHL exhibition game, but may seek out a minor-league hockey tenant as well. One thing is for sure, though. No hockey team in Lincoln would be supported as soundly as the University of Nebraska, if it had a Big Ten team.

The big red “N” is a powerful brand, and while Nebraska might not be known as hockey country, it wouldn’t take much for the team to drum up interest.

The town is currently home to the United States Hockey League’s Lincoln Stars. The team routinely leads the USHL in average attendance, approaching nearly 4,000 spectators a night.

Pinnacle Bank Arena would have an approximate hockey capacity of 12,700, which would be ambitious and probably challenging to fill, but if Big Ten opponents are routinely rolling through town, it has some potential.

Would it work and is it worth it for the school? It’s very tough to know. There was an interesting and informative discussion last fall over at Nebraska’s SBNation blog Corn Nation, where there was a good mix of healthy skepticism and moderate optimism.

There’s also that pesky fact that new athletic director Shawn Eichorst said the school didn’t have any plans to add hockey as recently as this February. That can always change if someone with money wants it to.

Honoring Title IX will remain a challenge, which also impacts the money situation, but one of the biggest problems for any team to get past before it can add hockey is building a suitable facility. That part is done already.

Additionally, the building will have a relationship with Nebraska’s athletics due to housing men’s and women’s basketball games. Depending on how that relationship goes, it could make for a somewhat smooth transition into adding another sport.

“If UNL makes a decision they want a hockey team, we’re ready for them,” Rosenblum told KLKN-TV.

With Pinnacle Bank Arena at the ready, that window the Big Ten adding hockey wedged open at the very least opened a little wider in Lincoln.

(h/t reader Jason)

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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7 Responses to College Hockey Expansion: Nebraska has home if it wants hockey

  1. With Rutgers joining the B10 I’m hoping they will one day have D1 hockey but with their money problems I doubt it will ever happen. Anyway, the more D1 hockey programs the better, make it happen Nebraska.

  2. Carl says:

    As a long time Stars season ticket holder, I can say that I still see a lot of people that come to hockey games for the fights. Obviously there’s a big difference between the USHL and College in that aspect. Between the lack of fighting and the fact that tickets would likely be double what the Stars charge, I highly doubt that UNL will ever be successful with a hockey team. But who knows, maybe they’ll prove me wrong.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hockey at Nebraska would thrive. Nebraska fans support their school like zealots. If a ushl team can consistently draw 4k in a dump then a UNL team in a new barn would draw 7k plus. Several Nebraska fans I know are huge hockey fans and look how quick UNO has support. This is a no-brainer for Nebraska.

  4. Dick Fitzwell says:

    How in the world could you manage to schedule Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Men’s Hockey and Women’s Hockey events all in the same building? Their seasons completely overlap! It would be a nightmare to try to retro from basketball court to ice sheet virtually every single day. Optimistic thinking, but doesn’t seem to make any practical sense.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have been saying for a while now that this is something UNL should think about/consider. Lincoln has the Stars which have been a strong success from the beginning. Don’t just look at Lincoln either. Omaha has had a long term success with both the USHL Franchise, & UNO Hockey. Also take into account that they have hosted NHL Farm Team(s). Last Kearney also has their USHL Franchise. With 3 USHL Programs that have thrived over the last few years, a D1 Hockey program, & finally the growth of junior hockey/club teams, I feel the state could strongly benifit from the addition of a D1 Program to UNL.

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