Enriching a program

One of these days, you might not recognize the MacInnes Student Ice Arena anymore.

A few years back, the Michigan Tech program added a new locker room complex to its venerable facility and added onto the press box. OK, not the most noticeable things, but certainly appreciated by players and the media.

This season, the facility has all new plastic seats, replacing the wooden ones that have been in the arena since it opened in 1972. New flooring, too. Those are good steps, but, again, probably not the kind of thing that’s going to floor (pun intended) a recruit.

Here’s where things get interesting: The Huskies are working toward major changes at both ends of the arena — suites and a VIP area enclosing the side where the pep band now sits; a bridge connecting the two sides of the arena and a video scoreboard at the other end.

It’s becoming commonplace around the WCHA, but the thought of a video board in Houghton seems odd. The MacInnes is one of the most down-to-Earth college rinks I’ve seen, and adding that kind of technology would take it in a different direction.

That’s the way it goes in the WCHA these days. Bigger, better, more flashy. If you have the lights on for your pregame introductions, it’s noteworthy.

But the fact that Michigan Tech is even considering such a project tells you what kind of commitment there is from the school and its alumni.

The program is a couple of years removed from an enrichment campaign that brought in money to use for spending above and beyond the traditional budget items. There’s a $100,000 skating treadmill at the MacInnes and a strength and conditioning coach at Tech because of the campaign.

Now, Huskies coach Jamie Russell said the program is looking at feasibility studies to determine the next course of action in further improving the building.

“It’s a process,” Russell said. “You want things immediately. ‘Here’s the plans. OK, let’s do it. Let’s build it.’ Well, you’ve got to raise the funds and you’ve got to work with architects. There’s an awful lot of people involved in the process.

“I thought it was a great step getting the seats in. It looks fantastic, just the look of the building now. It’s black and gold; it’s our colors. We got rid of the green and the orange and the ’70s colors.

“We’ve worked really hard to mesh the old with the new and keep the tradition. You can’t build a building like that with code anymore, with how steep it is. Having played there as a student-athlete, it feels like the crowd’s right on top of you. When our building is packed, I think it’s a tough place to play. It’s got a great atmosphere. It’s loud.

“I think it captures the essence of what college hockey is. I think we’re constantly working and trying to improve and take the next step. I think we’re well on our way.”

Tech already has one of the nicest setups around. It always practices where it plays home games. Its locker room is across the hall from its bench. Everything the players use, in fact, is basically on one side of the arena.

Of course, recruiting to a small school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan isn’t easy, and when recruits see big buildings with fancy light shows compared to what the MacInnes offers on game day, things can get tougher. You’ve got to credit Russell and the Tech staff for making the effort to close the gap.