Oceanside renovations look to make ice arena best possible temporary home for ASU hockey

Oceanside Ice Arena has been busy during the offseason preparing for the now-NCAA Sun Devil Hockey program.

It all started in a December 2014 meeting with ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson, Sun Devil hockey head coach Greg Powers, ASU Senior Associate Athletics Director David Cohen and Adam Mims, the executive director of Oceanside Ice Arena. 

The meeting took place about a month after the big announcement of the program's jump to Division I and centered on figuring out where the newly promoted NCAA team was going to play. During the talk, Mims pitched the other three on the idea of renovating Oceanside to make it the best possible venue while the NCAA program decided on a permanent home for the future. 

"I talked about how it was critical that the team continues to play close to campus," Mims said. "We need to get the students involved, the City of Tempe involved and ASU involved. I felt it was huge to the team to stay close but play in a setting that is upgraded."

A home away from home

Instead of the classic look of old, the arena features ASU pitchforks, Adidas logos and team slogans on its repainted walls. Although the maroon bleachers are not installed yet, Mims said they will add some pop to the rink's look and its in-game atmosphere. 

The renovations started in March and are scheduled to finish on Sept. 20. 

By Jacob Stanek | The State Press

Oceanside Ice Arena, home to Sun Devil hockey, is pictured on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, in Tempe.

Also included in that part of the makeover is the Inferno student section, which Mims said will have a 42-foot banner hanging over the top. 

"Right now it looks so incomplete," Mims said. "When the bleachers go in it's going to be five rows around the arena that will give three-fourths of it a bowl effect. It's going to feel more crowded than 800 fans."

ASU hockey's ACHA Championship banner has also been taken down, which is indicative of the program's new start and its willingness to embrace the challenge of continued success in the NCAA. 

In addition to the aforementioned renovations, the arena has a new locker room and a top-notch players' lounge complete with leather sofas, big TVs and ping pong tables. 

According to Mims, the total cost of the ice arena's overhaul is approximately $250,000. 

Valley of the ice?

But questions still loom. What does all of this say about hockey in the desert?  

"I think this means hockey is in pretty good shape in the West Coast," Mims said. "Specifically I think it's really good for the East Valley. The East Valley is dying for more high-level hockey to watch and that's exactly what we've got right here."

On the merchandising side, Sparky's Shop in the arena appears to have received a bit of an overhaul. Mims said he has been in talks with Fanatics, the official licenser of Sun Devil Athletics, and the store will sell official jerseys, water bottles, pucks, etc.

Another aspect of the transition to Division I is that the program is now officially school-sponsored, leaving many fans asking if Oceanside would be allowed to sell alcohol at the games it hosts. Mims said the rink will have beer sales at all its games this season. 

As for transportation, Mims said there are currently no plans to have student shuttles to Oceanside because campus is so close and the arena is expected to sell out regardless. However, he said he hopes ASU can organize some sort of shuttle trip to Gila River Arena for the Sun Devils' four games there.

Junior forward Michael Cummings said the rebranding has made the new-look arena feel like home. 

"It looks really good so far and I know there's work still left to be done, but as of right now, I really like the way the rink looks," he said. "It's just a little bit nicer coming into it with our name across the wall and the picture of us celebrating a national championship too. It's cool to see."

He said the new bleachers will be a huge upgrade from the previous ones, noting that he's excited to play in an environment where it feels like the fans will be right on top of the ice. More specifically, he said the ice baths and new stick rack are his favorite additions. 

Being the first Pac-12 school to make the jump is no small feat and Cummings said hockey players at other schools in the conference are likely going to take note of ASU's first year in the NCAA — he said realizes the Sun Devils are pioneers in that regard. 

Cummings said he can already feel the excitement from the school and community. Someone told him that when asked about which sport they were excited for after football, many students at the Freshman Welcome in Wells Fargo Arena picked hockey. 

"It's kind of cool being the start of something new here in the Pac-12," he said. "I'm lucky to be a part of this group and just want to embrace the experience...it's just cool to be a part of for everyone."

But playing in Oceanside will be a new experience for freshman forward Louie Rowe. Although he enjoys the rebranding like everyone else, he said the players' lounge is a great way for the team to bond.

Another part of that rebranding is head coach Powers' new slogan, "BE THE TRADITION," which he used for recruiting this past year. The slogan is written in all caps outside of the arena's doors and in the space near the locker room entrance, serving as a reminder to why the players chose a new Division I program with nothing guaranteed. 

"I wanted to be one of the first ones," Rowe said. "When I'm older and have kids, I want to tell them I was here the first year. I helped build this program. I was one of the very first students to ever commit here, so it's just kind of an honor to me to be one of the first."

And although he hails from East Lansing, Michigan, the 6-foot-6 Rowe has no concerns about hockey thriving in Arizona. 

He even said students in his classes and around campus have come up to him and expressed their excitement for the start of the season, firsthand proof of the community's readiness to embrace the program's jump. 

"I think the whole city is ready, I think everyone is eager and I think this program is ready to blast off and be one of the top programs in the country," he said. 

After an offseason filled with the arena's makeover and preparations for the move to the NCAA, all of the excitement will come to a head when Sun Devil hockey drops the puck on Oct. 3 against rival Arizona at Gila River Arena. 

Related Links:

ASU hockey team behind growing popularity of sport in desert

ASU hockey to call Oceanside home another season

Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or follow @justintoscano3 on Twitter

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