COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The USA Hockey Foundation has finalized the purchase of Compuware Arena, effective today, and will take over operations of the Plymouth, Michigan, facility immediately.
“It’s an exciting day for us,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of The USA Hockey Foundation and USA Hockey. “There are a lot of people to thank, too many to mention them all, but I’d particularly like to recognize Tony Rossi for all of his hard work on this effort and also commend our Board for their vision and support throughout the process. Obviously there is much work ahead, but we look forward to the future and all the opportunities having this facility will bring.”
DeGregorio noted the facility will be called USA Hockey Arena and that it will serve as the new home for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, beginning with the 2015-16 season.
“We’re grateful to the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, which has been the home of the NTDP since it was founded in 1996,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of the USA Hockey Foundation and USA Hockey. “The good news is, that for fans in Ann Arbor, we will not be far away. Also, we very much look forward to welcoming the fans of the Plymouth Whalers and we’re confident they’ll enjoy the product they’ll see on the ice. Our two teams that make up the NTDP play in the USHL, which is the top junior hockey league in our country. Coupled with some of the college opponents that we'll host, as well as international competition, our schedule of games and events will be very attractive to fans.”
“There’s a lot to accomplish now that the sale is complete,” continued Ogrean. “We intend to have a formal press conference and community event later this spring and at that time will have more details related to what fans and the community can expect going forward.”
The purchase of the facility, which includes two ice sheets, also includes the drive-in movie business that operates in the arena parking lot during the summer months, C.J.’s Restaurant, and the arena pro shop. USA Hockey intends to continue operation of all three … USA Hockey Arena will remain the home of the Compuware youth hockey program … The NTDP is expected to re-locate to USA Hockey Arena over the course of the summer.
Their skates may move a little slower than they did nearly 42 years ago in Sapporo, Japan, and there’s probably more silver and white in their hair, but talk to any member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and they instantly go back to that time like it happened just yesterday.
“I can still hear the crunch of the snow from our early morning runs around the Olympic Village and playing in those games,” said former defenseman Tom Mellor, a Rhode Island native. “What an experience it all was – just a bunch of amateur hockey players going out to take on the world one game at a time.”
An improbable run to the silver medal started with an upset of Czechoslovakia that some compared to the U.S.’s wins over the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1980 Olympic Games. Team member and Minnesota native Craig Sarner credits the intense team bond to helping lift Team USA to its success that year.
U.S. Head Coach Murray Williamson demanded that the team stick together right away, beginning with practices and tryouts that began months prior to the Olympic Games. Sarner and Mellor both note that, “everyone had one another’s backs” and “it became one of our biggest and most important families.”
And it’s a family that hasn’t drifted, even though states and careers now separate them. The team chemistry still carries on today with the majority of the players that donned the Red, White and Blue all those years ago.
“The medal was important,” said Sarner. “But the friendships we developed and the lifelong bond we have is the biggest part of it all. We just enjoy the heck out of being together, and it was that chemistry that helped us prove that will does beat skill sometimes.”
After the Olympic Games, most of the team, which included the likes of a then 16-year-old Mark Howe, Henry Boucha and Mike “Lefty” Curran, went on to some sort of professional hockey career, still staying in touch every year via email and phone calls and trips all across the U.S. Sarner, Mellor and the rest of the squad get together frequently. Their last trip was to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of 2012. Mellor said the team already has plans to meet up again this year, a reunion that everyone looks forward to.
The conversation is not always focused solely on hockey. Sarner is still involved as a scout for the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League. Mellor hung up the skates and moved on to “life after hockey.”
They also update the hockey family on each player’s personal family.
“I’m a new grandpa with a granddaughter, Eve, so I am boring the guys with photos and information about her constantly,” said Sarner, whose silver-plated medal hangs in Eve’s room. “So I know they’re tiring of it, but we all update on family life and just everything that’s going on with one another. Never a lack of stories, some true, some fabricated, when this group gets together.”
Stories will be shared by the 1972 alums and their extended USA Hockey family for years to come.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with and meet than that team,” said Mellor. “Them and really everyone involved in the USA Hockey organization, from the 1980 team, and beyond, it’s neat to be a part of something like that – to be a part of that family.”