Iowa club hockey makes home out of unusual ice rink


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First-year Iowa club-hockey assistant coach Jim Doersam was shocked when told where his team would play its home games.

Instead of a hockey-specific venue, instead of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and even instead of a frozen patch of the Iowa River, the team calls the ice rink in the Coral Ridge Mall home.

"I thought it was something they only had in Canada," said Doersam, a New Yorker who has been a coach for 10 seasons. "It's certainly interesting … When I first found out, I looked up videos on the Internet and sent them to my friends. It's definitely unusual."

Even though the ice and surrounding area have a distinctly mall-esque aura — there's a movie theater on one side, a food court on the other, and only a dozen benches scattered around the perimeter — the team has one special place that gives them the sense that Coral Ridge is their home: the locker room.

A Tigerhawk on the floor and a similar logo on the wall with the words "Go Hawks" remind the players of the university they represent. Lockers filled with gear and adorned with a gold plate bearing the name and number of each player stretch from wall to wall. The lockers were built by former Iowa club-hockey players six years ago.

The team says the rink has many charms and even some advantages that gives the arena its own special flair.

"It's really fun to see all of the little kids from the mall watching the game," forward Larry Laino said. "We get a variety of people at our games. A lot are students, our friends, or our family, but the kids really love hockey."

The team draws an average of 100 to 150 fans per game, the junior said. Most opponents the team plays have ice rinks of their own or are from a major university nearby, but the players said the venue doesn't matter.

"We play in all varieties of places — some nice and some not nice," forward Brian Rooke said. "But the ice is what matters most."

And while some may think all ice is created equal, Doersam said that's not the case. Most ice needs to be kept at a certain temperature to maintain the best playing surface, but having a mall atmosphere around the Coral Ridge rink causes the on-ice humidity to be higher than normal and leads to softer ice than some teams might be used to.

"We definitely have more of a home-ice advantage," Doersam said. "We know the bounces and where not to throw the puck. The temperature is understandably hard to control. We're used to our ice, [and] other teams aren't."

The players agreed that most opponents don't like playing in the mall; most said a common complaint is that it's too hot. But they also said opponents usually arrive two hours before the game is scheduled to start to experience the mall.

The team also plays a few games every season at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, and players said they would love to have a similar venue. They'd be open to having a space closer to campus, they said, or even moving home games to Cedar Rapids, but there are difficulties with both proposals.

"It's mostly just wanting at this point." Doersam said. "Unfortunately, we have a loose affiliation with the university, and it has other things to worry about. There's also no way to charge fans for tickets, so we don't receive any revenue from the fans."

Even though the players said they never imagined playing hockey at the place they now call home, Laino said that they wouldn't have it any other way.

"Sure, growing up, you see these huge ice arenas that you imagine yourself playing in," he said. "But we make the best out of playing here. That's what we do. We just play."

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