The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Students rejoice over Ice Arena referendum

Matt Stepp
The Illinois men’s hockey team celebrate a goal in a game against Illinois State on Feb. 23. The Ice Arena is home to both Men’s and Women’s Club Hockey teams, as well as local hockey, figure skating and speed skating groups.

For years, the walls of the University of Illinois Ice Arena pulsated as crowds stuffed the bleachers for hockey games and a plethora of other events. Yet, many feared the shouts of hockey enjoyers would soon be replaced by the beeping and clanging of construction vehicles demolishing the site.

However, the students simply wouldn’t stand to see decades of memories forged in the building be frozen in time.

“We now have faith in the students,” said Joe Dorion, junior in Engineering and defenseman on the Illinois hockey team. “And they have faith in us.”

That faith yielded staggering concrete results, as 88% of student voters cast their ballots in support of rejuvenating the 93-year-old arena with fresh renovations despite a $13 increase in student fees through the Illinois Student Council referendum. 

This avoided alternative options, which were to either utilize an off-campus arena or demolish the current building and replace it with a more general athletic facility.

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For many, the arena’s long and celebrated history was a key motive to retain the iconic building.

“This has been around for years, and it’s a key part of the Illinois community,” said Senna Charles, junior in LAS and an Illini Ice Girl. “We’ve had Olympians skate here, (it has also seen) U.S. figure skaters.”

One of the most prevalent manifestations of that tradition is the Illini hockey team, which has been a fixture on campus since 1937 and has claimed a pair of American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I crowns in the 2000s.

“The hockey team has a really long history, a history of success,” Dorion said. “We’ve heard that if you go back 15, 20 years ago, they’d sell out games all the time, and a huge part of being a student at U of I was being able to follow the hockey team.”

Now, the arena’s new lease on life grants the hockey team ample opportunity to further rekindle student interest and forge a new chapter of its legacy.

“We’re trying to get back to that,” Dorion said. “And we think that in the past couple years, we have done a nice job of introducing more theme nights, more events at the games, just to get more people involved, more eyes on our team, and so that’s been going really well.”

While the hockey team aims to continue to cement its status as a campus icon, the arena may also provide a meaningful outlet to students not engaged in a collegiate sport.

“I’ve only skated a few times growing up, and this second semester, I bought a pair of my own skates, and I’ve been out here three to four times a week every week,” said Stevie Granat, sophomore in LAS. “I come out here a lot. It does a great job of breaking up the monotony of school.”

Fellow recreational skater Tushar Mohan, sophomore in Engineering, echoed that statement.

“It’s a good way to de-stress from school and good exercise as well,” Mohan said. “So I really value this place, and I think a lot of people do.”

While Mohan’s claim that a lot of people care about the arena was indisputably reinforced by the referendum’s results, fears about the arena’s short- and long-term future have yet to be completely alleviated.

“I’m still a little hesitant (as to) what exactly is going to happen; it still hasn’t been explained to us,” said Ben Mazurek, senior in LAS and goalie on the hockey team. “I hope they definitely do take that vote into account and we’ll have the ice rink for the foreseeable future.”

The general sense of unease expressed by Mazurek likely traces its roots to the university’s lukewarm stance concerning the Ice Arena’s future. While a page on the school’s website states that “There is currently no plan to close the Ice Arena,” this year’s vote wasn’t the first time the University administration raised questions about the building.

In 2022, the University ran a survey to gauge whether or not students would support the retention of the arena despite an increase in fees, leading to the query concerning the arena’s future appearing in the recent referendum.

Despite the overwhelming support for the arena’s continuation, fears the University could disregard the results of the vote persist with many.

​​“From my understanding, the vote was to have the students’ opinions, but I’m not sure how much that will actually be taken into account,” Mazurek said.

Kenny Zhou, junior in LAS and arena speed skater, expressed a similar lack of agency concerning the outcome.

“Whether it actually does or doesn’t (stay), I don’t feel like that’s my place to comment,” Zhou said. “The University will do University things.”

Concerns for the arena’s future remain, but for now, they may be currently shrouded by a sense of joy and relief that the arena will continue to galvanize students, athletes and citizens.

“There’s so many hockey teams and figure skating teams, so many people that come to this rink,” Charles said. “It’s really a community, a second home for a lot of students.”

Zhou was one of the many students for whom the arena provided a welcoming atmosphere. A speed skater since the age of 12, the arena immediately infused his college experience with a taste of familiarity and community.

“Very early on, it gave me a solid community,” Zhou said. “I got to meet a lot of new people.”

The students aren’t the only ones finding a home inside the Ice Arena’s venerable brick walls. A new generation of athletes and ice enthusiasts is also forging foundational experiences within the arena, extending its reach far beyond the confines of campus.

“It’s definitely like a community center,” Charles said. “We have so many kids that grow up here doing youth hockey and things like that.”

For those who haven’t yet found their stitch in the arena’s far-reaching tapestry, Charles urged them to see for themselves.

“There’s something for everyone here,” Charles said.


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About the Contributors
Ethan Oskroba
Ethan Oskroba, Senior Copy Editor
Hi all! My name is Ethan and I’m a junior majoring in journalism. I transferred over to Illinois in Fall 2023 and immediately jumped into The Daily Illini. I’ve penned features on a wide range of topics throughout my time here. Before coming to Illinois, I discovered my love for journalism at Trinity International University as the Editor-in-Chief of the school’s student publication. I used to play college baseball over there too, but now that I’m past my prime, I enjoy intramural and fantasy sports as well as board games, Mario Kart and chilling with friends.
Matt Stepp
Matt Stepp, Visual Director
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