News Local/State

U of I Studying Feasibility Of Adding Ice Hockey, NHL Picking Up The Tab


The University of Illinois now has only club hockey but will study the feasibility of adding Division I ice hockey. Flickr/Adam Jones/

The National Hockey League and NHL Players Association said Friday that they are financing a study on the feasibility of adding men’s and women’s ice hockey teams at the University of Illinois.

Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said during a news conference Friday in Chicago that Illinois could be great at hockey.

"With hockey's popularity in both Chicago and St. Louis, and rapidly growing youth participation across the state, we anticipate tremendous interest in the sport at our university," Whitman said in a news relase.

But Whitman says adding sports has to make financial sense, and a big question would be how to pay for them.

"But by engaging in this evaluation in such a public manner, our hope is that it helps us identify those from the hockey community who might have an interest in supporting this initiative," Whitman said.

The first hockey question will likley be how to pay for a new arena, U of I spokesman Kent Brown said.

“The assumption is that there needs to be an arena built somewhere for us to play. Obviously right now we can’t play in the ice rink on campus. It’s not big enough and the age of it,” Brown said.

The only existing hockey venue at the University of Illinois is the Ice Arena, a 1,200-seat rink built in 1931 where the university's club team plays. It is also open to the public for ice skating.

Penn State added hockey four years ago after Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, who was at Friday's news conference, donated $102 million to pay for a new arena and other costs.

The University of Illinois said Friday that the state produces more Division I hockey players than all but four other U.S. states, but no school in Illinois has a Division I hockey program.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Twitter account quoted team CEO John McDonough on Friday saying it's time players from Illinois "had the opportunity to play in their own backyard."

The NHL plans to study adding hockey at five schools as an initiative to grow ice hockey's popularity. Illinois is the first of the schools.

There is no timeline for the Illinois study to deliver its findings.

Illinois disbanded varsity men’s hockey in 1943 and now has only club hockey.

The Big Ten has seven hockey-playing schools.