COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Had a mountain resort owner not gone to Chicago and witnessed legendary figure skater Sonja Henie perform in 1937, the event we’ve come to know as the NCAA Frozen Four might not exist.
The Broadmoor, a posh and pricey golf resort in the Rocky Mountain foothills just southwest of downtown Colorado Springs, is one of the unlikely birthplaces of college hockey. Spencer Penrose, a Philadelphia investor who owned the resort, was taken by seeing Henie’s on-ice skills. He returned to Colorado and decreed that a large horse arena on the resort’s grounds would be converted into an ice arena, where hotel guests could be entertained by figure skating and hockey.
Starting in 1948, Broadmoor World Arena — as the former equestrian facility came to be known — was the site of the first 10 NCAA hockey tournaments. Michigan won six of them. The 3,900-seat arena had a compact ice sheet, murals of outdoor scenes on the walls, carpeted aisles and curved wooden seats not unlike an opera house of the era. It also served as the home rink for the Colorado College hockey program, and the Tigers won their only two NCAA hockey titles, in 1950 and 1957, on home ice.
Late Tigers and Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer, who played at CC in the 1960s, once recalled that it wasn’t uncommon for games at the Broadmoor to start as late as 8:30 p.m., so the resort’s well-heeled guests would have time to finish dinner, dessert and coffee before the evening’s entertainment — college hockey — began.
It all came to an end 25 years ago. In the 1993-94 season, Don Lucia took the Tigers from worst to first in his initial campaign behind their bench, which was the Tigers’ last of 55 seasons on the resort grounds. In 1994 the arena was demolished to make way for high-end lodging, and the Tigers were forced to play at Air Force for a few years until the current Broadmoor World Arena, which seats 7,700 for hockey, opened in early 1998. It seemed as if CC hockey would be set, arena-wise, for the next 55 years.
So there was some surprise in the college hockey world in July 2018, when the school announced a partnership with the city of Colorado Springs that will lead to Edward J. Robson Arena’s construction on campus as the new home of Tigers hockey starting in 2021.
“We’ve never played a game in the history of the program on our campus, so we’re really super excited. Two more years at World Arena and then we get our own building, with a little smaller, more intimate setting,” said Tigers coach Mike Haviland, with a nod to the fact that current Tigers have to drive 15 miles round trip to games and practices. “In the recruiting end of the world I think I will help us to have everything in one place. Guys won’t have to drive off campus, they can walk right across the street and we’ll try to make it a harder environment for teams to come and play.”
Like at many college hockey programs, empty seats have not been uncommon at Tigers games in recent years, as CC has gone through a sometimes rocky transition to life in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. With an enrollment of 2,000 students, which is roughly the size of some of the larger Twin Cities high schools, new Tigers athletic director Lesley Irvine thinks the rink, which will have just 3,000 permanent seats, will provide an ideal setting for the future of CC hockey.
“The national trend is to just build smaller. You want to create (ticket) demand and provide an intimate experience,” said Irvine, who previously spent five years around college hockey as an administrator at Bowling Green. “It’s a space that fits us really well when you think about the uniqueness of Colorado College and the intimacy of that experience. We thought that was a number where we could strive to fill that arena on a game-by-game basis, and provide an atmosphere that our student athletes would love playing in.”
After more than 75 years playing hockey games at a resort, at a military academy, and at a far-flung off-campus arena, it seems like the Tigers are finally headed home.