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Tucson looking to build a new ice rink for both Arizona Wildcats and Roadrunners

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Is this just the start of hockey gaining major traction in Tucson?

Jason Bartel

In part one of our two part thing we’re doing here about the Arizona Coyotes and their impact on the University of Arizona club hockey team, we touched on their thoughts on U of A joining ASU at the NCAA level.

The Wildcats have struggled to be at the level the Sun Devils were in the ACHA. A huge part of that problem has been the fact that U of A has generally had to travel by van to Chandler to practice during the season.

With the Tucson Roadrunners coming in, this also means a new ice rink in Tucson is imminent.

"We would love to see a practice facility sooner rather than later," Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. "And probably a practice facility that does have a seating capacity of a couple of thousand. But that ultimately becomes a community rink, which is so important to us as we continue to grow the game."

If you've ever been to the Ice Den in Scottsdale, that is the model of what both the Coyotes and the City of Tucson envision building somewhere downtown, at least initially.

"Our view is let’s start with a practice facility, hopefully nearby, but in conversations with members of council, they would like to see us add more rinks."

"Our hope as the main tenant here of hockey, we can help grow that and have multiple ice rinks."

The Coyotes are all about growing the game in the state of Arizona, and this is just another way to do that.

"We’re obviously very interested in the concept of a second sheet," LeBlanc continued. "The primary reason, of course, is for the practice and development of players. But we also really like the concept of that sheet of ice, for the majority of the time, being a community rink."

"If you look at non-traditional markets in the NHL, the ones that are thriving the most are the ones that are focused on the growth of youth hockey within their markets, and to do that, you need to have sheets of ice," LeBlanc added. "A second sheet of ice down the road is important, and the Coyotes are not just interested in being a tenant but being involved with the City of Tucson and their needs."

So when will this building be a reality, or at least be finalized?

"I don’t have any real timeline," LeBlanc said.

"We want to locate it downtown," Rio Nuevo chairman Fletcher McCusker added. "It’s important to us that it’d be a public rink as well as a training facility for the (Roadrunners) as well as for the Cats. We’re looking for the best space, but I think we’ve got a lot of interest from private developers, private institutions, the Coyotes, and the City, so we’re optimistic that in a year, year and a half we might have a second sheet of ice."

"That’s crucial for U of A to go D-1 as well," McCusker added. "It gives them an off-site training facility that’s less disruptive in the arena, and gives us a full sheet of ice year-round. So we’re all working toward that goal."

Part of the Coyotes’ reasoning to move their AHL team to Tucson over several other markets was the support U of A gets for its hockey games, especially when playing ASU.

"If you’re having 5,000 people for a club hockey game, that’s a good indication," LeBlanc said of the community's support for the game of hockey. "And when we were having conversations with the folks at SMG who run the building, they were telling us the majority of the fans that are coming to watch the other club hockey games here, they’re not actually students. They’re local hockey fans. That was really important to us."

"I ran into Greg Powers, the coach at ASU the other day, and he’s told me about some of the experiences down here," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett told me. "He was telling me about some of the great games, and he’s looking forward to the program growing down here."

The University of Arizona club team’s reach will also be improved because of technological upgrades TCC has to undergo to meet AHL standards.

"We’re putting a 25 seat press box on the opposite side of the team bench on the top mezzanine level," McCusker explained. "The AHL will have an arena-wide camera system because they do rebroadcast and simulcast the games."

When you’re looking at the chances of Arizona being able to make the move to the NCAA level, there are only positive things coming out of the Coyotes coming to town with their AHL affiliate. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if donors and the Athletics department will take advantage of all these new hockey resources.