SPORTS

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February 1, 2008

Without ice hockey, athletic department playing shorthanded

Another year, another brutal Hyde Park winter. As foreign television crews descend upon our South Side oasis to catch a glimpse of Barack Obama’s posh Kenwood digs (courtesy of that “slum landlord Rezko”), and students everywhere contemplate creative ways to cross from Bartlett to Stuart without contact with the latest snow flurry (hint: it’s not possible), the task of finding genuine sporting entertainment on campus becomes more and more difficult.

There are currently a number of options, none of them worthwhile. You could try ice fishing in Botany pond, for example, or the Polar Bear run, but neither of those events could rightly be considered spectator sports. Over at Ratner, men’s and women’s basketball are both lighting up the UAA through the early stages of the conference season, but while their accomplishments merit our attention, they still cannot cure the craving for something more.

No, what this campus needs (other than house quidditch teams, of course) is an honest-to-goodness, skating, checking, slap-shooting, fist-fighting, top-flight Division-I ice hockey program.

Few sports bring out the best and worst in a student body quite like hockey. Our current cheering section, the Phoenix Phanatix, could be rebranded the “Phrozen Phanatix,” and the very nature of the game lends itself to active crowd participation: The fluidity of the line shifts, the seamless transition from the defense to the attack and back again, and the lingering sense of anticipation combine to keep the crowd on its feet, not to mention the on-ice misconduct that can throw decency to the wind and send the student section into a frenzy. Forget what you’ve seen on Versus or Peoria Cable Access (or whatever channel broadcasts hockey these days): Hockey, like revenge, is a dish best served cold—and in person. Meanwhile, the possibilities are vast.

Sure, we compete at a D-III level in every other sport, with the exception of the occasional swim or track meet, but a national championship-caliber squad is not unusual for schools of similar sporting stature. Just take a look at the latest USCHO men’s rankings: North Dakota, Colorado College, Clarkson, UMN–Duluth, UMass–Lowell, St. Cloud State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, RIT, Union, and Bemidji State all crack the top-20 or the “also receiving votes” category. None of those school field competitive squads in any other D-I sports.

So what would these new varsity Maroons require? We would undoubtedly have to lower our standards a little bit, opening up our pocket books and our SAT thresholds to attract top-notch talent. But when 20 dim-witted French-Canadians, decked from head to toe in the maroon-and-white, skate circles around the Michigan Wolverines at the brand new Paul D. Wolfowitz Arena, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any objections.

I’m no economist, but I can imagine that for this plan to become a reality, we’d need around $30 million—$15 million to renovate the Midway community rink, and another $15 million to purchase players and coaches from the Canadian government.

The ramifications for a Frozen Four–caliber ice hockey squad extend beyond the rink. A nationally recognized program would boost the school’s visibility in regions of the country that currently may not be aware of the University of Chicago. Such an addition would likely boost the applicant pool, giving this institution some much-needed street cred.

A hockey team in Hyde Park is a logical step for a University constantly looking for ways to improve its name recognition. It would satisfy the student body’s need for a D-I sporting experience and uphold the tradition of manly sports. And if all else fails, it would at least give us a chance to make Mighty Ducks references twice a week. Hockey and the U of C: It’s a no-brainer.