GCU, Coyotes team up on new rink, and students win
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Elizabeth Tinajero
GCU News Bureau
As his Grand Canyon University hockey teammates skated behind him Thursday afternoon, Jack Garcia made it clear what the new outdoor rink on campus means to him.
“I’m going to be using this every single day,” said the freshman from Chino Hills, Calif. “It’s going to be my new home.”
And what a home it is.
The ribbon-cutting for the roller hockey facility, built and entirely funded by the Arizona Coyotes, was a chance to celebrate several puck-related developments.
First, there’s the GCU program. The University will move up to the Division I club ice hockey level next season for the first time, and the rosters for the recently concluded season list 78 players – 52 men, 26 women.
“It’s got to be the fastest-growing ice hockey program in the whole country,” Garcia said.
One thing’s for sure: It’s having a sizable effect.
“The growth of men’s and women’s hockey set this up to some degree,” Club Sports Director Dan Nichols said.
Now all those players have a place to practice on campus during the season. It’s not the same as playing on ice, of course, but GCU men’s coach and Director of Hockey Operations Daniel Roy said it will be valuable for walk-throughs or stickhandling drills.
It also could score another hockey goal.
“I think we’re going to play roller hockey, which has been on the table,” Nichols said. “That would be good because it would feed the programs. It’s a big bonus for hockey players coming in – they could play roller and ice hockey.”
Hockey players like Garcia, who played the rollerblade game for 10 years before coming to GCU.
“Roller hockey, it’s not the biggest game out there, but it’s a very fast-growing program,” he said. “Having the rink here, we’ll definitely be able to show how big roller hockey is and how much of a family community it is.”
Creating a large hockey community in Arizona is the goal of the Coyotes, and they’re getting results. President/CEO Ahron Cohen, one of the speakers at Thursday’s ceremony along with GCU President Brian Mueller and Phoenix business icon Jerry Colangelo, said the Valley is the fastest-growing area in the country for youth hockey participation.
“Our goal is to get as many sticks and pucks in kids’ hands as possible and just expose a lot of people to our great game,” he said. “We’re not going to rest until everybody in this state knows about who we are and about the game of hockey.”
The GCU rink is the fifth the Coyotes have built in Arizona, joining central Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and El Mirage. The team also has allowed the University’s clubs to play some games at the Coyotes’ home, Gila River Arena.
It’s indicative of the relationship two of the biggest entities in the West Valley have developed in the last year. It started gaining momentum when Dr. Mark Clifford, Director of Sports Business for the Colangelo College of Business, reached out to Alexandra Davis, an alumna of the program who has gone on to become the Coyotes’ Administrative Coordinator.
She just happens to report directly to Cohen. Before long, Cohen was on the sports business advisory board and was talking about building a rink on campus – and the Coyotes were hiring GCU students so often they now have 27 on their staff roster. That’s more than any other team in the Valley.
“It’s tough in the sports industry getting jobs, and for us to have a partner like that on the west side hiring our students and giving them opportunities, that’s a big deal,” Mueller said.
It’s an equally good deal for the Coyotes, in Cohen’s view.
“We love hiring GCU students, and we love the mission the school has and the passion that the students have, and I love everything Mr. Colangelo is doing to grow the sports business school,” Cohen said.
What he likes most about those GCU students:
“Their unbelievable positivity. They just have a great mindset and positive attitude – at the end of the day, that’s where so much success comes from is being positive and working hard and working in collaborative fashion.
“The thing that really stands out above a lot of other young people that I’ve been around is just their overall positive outlook toward life. I think there’s something special here.”
That also is the feeling in the club hockey program. Allyson Tracy, who came all the way from northern Minnesota to attend GCU and be part of the women’s team, calls the opportunity “a dream. It’s really cool to be in the desert and to be playing hockey.”
Of course, there’s also the little matter of getting out of the frigid winters back home. “I’ve adapted really quick,” she said. “It’s actually harder for me to go home now because I freeze, which is crazy.”
The outdoor rink, part of the Canyon Activities Complex (CAC) near Missouri Avenue between 29th Avenue and 30th Drive, is yet another recreation location on campus for students. Walk around GCU on any given evening, and chances are you’ll see students playing a wide variety of sports.
The addition of a luxurious rink, which has lights for night play, just adds to the wealth of possibilities.
“It’s going to get used,” Mueller said. “There probably will not be a hockey rink used more than this thing in the entire country, because of our students.”
Colangelo, the man who brought hockey to the Valley in 1996 and has been all about partnerships during his five decades here, summed up what it all means:
“When you look at the marriage of GCU and the Coyotes organization, having this kind of amenity for its purposes, it doesn’t get much better than that. These amenities are just added to a long list that rivals every other university across the country. We take great pride in this relationship and look forward to some wonderful years together.”
And, as Garcia noted, it starts with one simple fact: “With the rink being here on campus, it’s just a nice little walk and it’s open every single day to us.”
Notice that he said “every single day” again. The new rink is getting to be a habit already.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].