On Christmas night, the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team got a gift from Santa they’ll never forget: their first skate in the $106.5 million Jerome “Schottenstein Center’s Value City Arena.
Of course, it was Christmas, and the players were grumbling about the shortness of the break; the road conditions on the way home through upstate New York and other points north; the ‘flu many players brought home with them; the fact that they hadn’t eaten in hours, or that they’d eaten at all during the holidays.
And then there were the lines and creases — hasty but earnest jobs in blue and orange spray paint, respectively.
“I watched their faces as they took the ice,” said head coach John Markell. “They were happier than they were letting on.”
Who can blame the Buckeyes for their low-key reaction upon moving into the “Schott”? The hockey players have stood by and watched as the men’s and women’s basketball teams have played game after game this season, as Billy Joel, Bill Cosby, KISS, and other acts have performed, even as WCW Wrestling has entertained the locals — and all before the ice was even formed on the Value City Arena floor.
In fact, the Buckeyes have yet to move in completely. In this, the last week of 1998, some weight room equipment has yet to arrive, and there are still practices scheduled at the teeny, tiny little OSU Ice Rink, a place some players have affectionately dubbed, “The War Memorial.”
To the outside observer and perhaps even to the team itself, it seems like men’s ice hockey has been moving into the “Schott” for months.
But don’t mistake the late arrival for any kind of slight to the Buckeye hockey program. The talk around the CCHA about men’s ice hockey being the scarlet-headed stepchild in a building designed for basketball is all wrong.
In fact, the Value City Arena wasn’t designed for roundball at all.
“The sight lines and the concept of the arena itself are designed for hockey,” said OSU Athletic Director Andy Geiger. “You can design to hockey and get a great basketball arena, but you can’t design to basketball and get a great hockey arena.
“We wanted a great arena for both sports.”
How “great” is the Schottenstein Center?
The facility itself is over 700,000 square feet. It’s the largest venue in the Big Ten, and the largest on-campus venue for ice hockey in the U.S. The “Schott” seats 17,500 for ice hockey, 19,500 for basketball, and up to 21,000 for center-stage concerts.
That’s big. For a point of reference, OSU Sports Information helpfully tells us that, if filled with soda-pop, the “Schott” would hold 133,187,970 gallons, and that the “Schott” is able to house 17,714,000 basketballs.
No word from OSU Sports Info about how that translates into hockey pucks.
But we do know that there are over 400 toilets, and that the women’s restrooms outnumber men’s two-to-one.
And we do know that the shower heads in the men’s basketball locker room are 9.5 feet above the floor. No figure is given for how high the shower heads are in the women’s basketball locker room or in the men’s ice hockey locker room.
We do know that there are 52 private suite boxes, 250 television monitors positioned throughout the building, and 5,652 light fixtures.
We also know that as of December 29, over 14,000 tickets for the January 2 opener against Michigan had been sold, approximately 4,000 of which are seat license holders. The OSU ticket office anticipates a sell-out.
What no one knows, however, is how that many people from Columbus will react to collegiate ice hockey, which is something that John Markell says makes the Schottenstein Center opener that much more exciting.
“The crowd is a totally unknown factor,” said Markell. “A lot of people will show up with great enthusiasm, but will they know how to react to a successful penalty kill, or to winning an important face-off? That we don’t know.
“The players have played in big arenas before, so they won’t be overwhelmed by the crowd. But their biggest concern in the atmosphere.”
Atmosphere was anything but a problem at the OSU Ice Rink in 1998. The Buckeyes packed them in at The War Memorial, a building with a capacity of just over 1,400. From December 5, 1997 through December 5, 1998, the OSU ice hockey faithful were rewarded with 15 consecutive Ohio State wins in the little rink, a thrilling and flawless year that included OSU’s dream run to the Final Four last season.
After the last game in the OSU rink, the 4-1 December 5 win over Notre Dame, many fans lingered, unwilling to leave the unheated barn with a roof so low that play was often stopped when a wayward puck showered the ice with fragments from the ceiling. Many of those fans had tears in their eyes.
“The old place was wonderful for what it was,” said Geiger. “The tears were nostalgic tears, not tears of regret.
“We’re going from an anachronism to something thoroughly modern. The transition is so stark and great that it’s a jolt.”
Those who have seen games in “The War Memorial” may very well experience a jolt when attending ice hockey in the “Schott”. The first thing one may notice is heat. Another plus is not having to leave the building for another building just to use a public restroom or buy a cup of cocoa. Shot clocks are nice, too.
But the Schottenstein Center goes well beyond the mere provision of modern amenities; the simple fact of the building is that it is aesthetically beautiful.
From the brick facade to the cherry wood accents — including individually vented cherry stalls in the ice hockey locker rooms, and the cherry Block-O bars on the luxurious Huntington Club level — the design by architects Sink Combs Dethlefs of Denver and Moody/Nolan Ltd. of Columbus is as pleasing to the senses as it is to the sense of function.
From the Schottenstein Center’s conception, aesthetics was a major consideration. The building is the culmination of the largest public art project ever undertaken at The Ohio State University.
The most noticeable of all the public artworks in the “Schott” are the stunning terrazzo floors in each of the tower entrances. Men’s and women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey are all represented in large mosaics in shades of scarlet and gray.
The face of the hockey player in the Northwest corner’s terrazzo should be at least a little familiar to current Buckeye fans; it belongs to sophomore forward Benji Wolke.
“There were four finalists for the face on that terrazzo,” said Julie Karovics, the Campus Graphics Coordinator and overseer of public art in the Schottenstein project.
“We didn’t have a good historical photo to work from, so the artist asked that we photograph current players to provide a face.”
All current players were invited late last spring to pose for the face shot; artist Alexis Smith chose Wolke’s face because it best fit the composite player she’d created for her floor design.
“It’s kind of neat that Benji’s an everyman kind of player,” said Karovics. “That’s the whole spirit. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s representative of an ethic, an era.”
Karovics said that while fans will definitely notice the terrazzo floors and the Buckeye Hall of Fame in the entry floor concourse, Smith had a say in many aspects of the interior design, things fans may never even think about.
“The decision to include the artist in the concourses and even the restrooms unifies the visual in the building. And, of course, we really feel that people will come and just look at our floor.”
So, the Jerome Schottenstein Center is big and it’s pretty, but what does it mean for Buckeye hockey, and college hockey in general?
“I don’t know what it means to the sport,” said Geiger, “but I do think it’s an elevation of the game for Ohio State, especially when you look at where we’ve come from.
“I’ve always believed that ice hockey is a potential leadership sport, a potential revenue sport, and should be approaching major status in this country.
“It’s a truly great game, and the guys play really, really hard. It has all the school spirit of basketball and football. It’s very appealing.
“And it’s even more attractive when we put it in an arena like the Value City Arena. Then, it becomes a family event.”
Markell is conscious of the pressure to perform in this attractive new venue. “What a magnificent sales job that would be,” says Markell, “if we bring our winning ways from the old rink to the new one.”
Duplicating that success may be difficult, Markell concedes, given the adjustments the Buckeyes will make, and the juggling act that their practice schedule imposes.
“There are adjustments, no doubt. There’s the ice surface, the lighting, the way the pucks bounce off the boards for the goaltenders. That shouldn’t take more than a couple of practices to adjust to.
“But you do need to practice consistently in a rink to get a feel for it. We’ll bepracticing in both for a while. That’s one of the things you have to deal with when you’re using a big, multi-purpose building.”
And so after 30 years of Buckeye hockey in a tiny inglorious barn across the sidewalk from St. John Arena, Ohio State is ready to join the late 20th Century — or perhaps lead the way into the 21st Century, with more gizmos, whistles, and bells than any other collegiate sports facility in the United States.
For many people — fans, press — the move will be like trading the best seat in college hockey for the most plush.
Of course, The Ohio State University and the Buckeye hockey program are banking on the plush, hoping that the luxury of the Jerome Schottenstein Center will create a market for Buckeye hockey where one has never existed before.
If you build it, will they come? That’s the 106-million-dollar question.