Mike McNeill was 2 years old when his father, Tim, moved the family from Minnesota to South Bend in 1968 so Tim could be an assistant coach for Charles W. “Lefty” Smith Jr., a friend who was developing Notre Dame’s hockey program.
McNeill, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1988 with a degree in business finance, played baseball as well as hockey for a while before he decided to put his career on ice. His 12 years of professional hockey took him to Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Chicago, Quebec, Milwaukee and Germany before he returned to South Bend in 2006 to manage the Ice Box.
Last year, McNeill became programming and instruction program manager at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
McNeill, who was a volunteer assistant coach at Notre Dame, remembers the day when athletic director Jack Swarbrick visited the locker room to tell the team about plans for the new arena at the entrance to campus: “His vision was, ‘Here’s this wonderful facility. It’s the first athletic facility you’re going to see when you turn here. It’s a building where we want the community to come.’”
The building was a replacement rather than a renovation of the old facility in the Joyce Center. “That rink worked out very well for a lot of people,” says McNeill, who recalls practicing at there at 5:30 a.m. when he was playing hockey for St. Joseph’s High School. “I’ve got a lot of good memories that I’m going to bring over to this new facility. It’s a big jump. It’s a lot different, having played at the old rink and spending four years playing there at Notre Dame.”
Just as his father and Lefty Smith worked to boost hockey in the community as well as on campus, McNeill says he expects to extend those connections with the new facility.
“They kind of worked on starting the youth hockey around this area,” he says. “I grew up in South Bend and had a chance to play in the Irish Youth Hockey League. A big part of what I do is work with kids in that program that my dad helped start. I do adult clinics. A lot of those adults are parents of kids that are in our program.”
The arena, which includes an NHL-sized rink named for Smith and a larger Olympic-sized rink, helps attract
both community skaters and out-of-town players. The facility recently received the local Barnes & Thornburg Tourism Investment Award.
“It’s set up in a good way,” McNeill says. “That bigger sheet of ice gives us a chance to put more kids on the ice. It’s been a good sheet for public skating. It helps to have some extra room out there.” The rink also can be divided for youth league play and other ice activities.
The four sheets available at Compton and the nearby Ice Box have made South Bend an overnight major attraction for hockey tournaments, partly because of its location between high-interest hockey areas around Chicago and Detroit and partly because of the draw to the Notre Dame campus and hockey team.
“We have the facilities,” McNeill says. “We have the campus. They can have a tour of the campus. If they want to walk around our rink, we want to show them around. We want to make it kind of a special trip. I think it’s important to note that a lot of the events we had last year wanted to come back next year. It’s very common for them to say, ‘I would love to do more activity, I would love to do more things at that facility.’”