June 14, 2006
Postcard: There used to be an ice rink ...

By Jess Myers

COLORADO SPRINGS – If you don’t mind paying $5 for a domestic bottle, the patio outside the Hotel Bar at the Broadmoor is one of the world’s more impressive settings in which you can enjoy a beverage. Beyond the leather chairs and mahogany walls of the resort’s ornate interior, the patio overlooks a small lake and stunning panorama of the Rocky Mountains. Watching the sun sink behind the towering Front Range there, as dried aspen logs crackle in the massive outdoor stone fireplace, is time to savor.

A view of the Broadmoor World Arena, taken the year it was torn down. (Photo courtesy of Colorado College Sports Information)

If you’re a college hockey fan with a memory that dates back to the days before Paul Kariya won the Hobey, your euphoria about the surroundings may be tinged with just a note of sadness as you glance across Cheyenne Lake toward the resort’s west tower. Long before there were hotel suites, a ballroom, shops and a parking lot on that site, there was an ice rink of some note on the premises.

If not for the Broadmoor World Arena and the vision of a Philadelphia investor named Spencer Penrose, the event today known as the Frozen Four might not exist, and collegiate hockey might not be what it has become. After seeing figure skater Sonja Henne in Chicago, Penrose returned to the Colorado resort he owned and ordered that the outdoor horse riding academy be converted to an enclosed ice arena. He saw the formation of the Broadmoor rink as a sports palace, and home to some of the world’s elite figure skaters.

It was also the home of Colorado College hockey for 55 years, starting in 1938. Long before he was winning NCAA titles as a coach, Jeff Sauer was a player for CC and recalls that Tigers’ home games at the Broadmoor sometimes wouldn’t start until after 8:30 p.m., to give the posh resort’s guests time to finish dinner, dessert and coffee before the evening’s entertainment (featuring ice, skates and sticks) began.

William Thayer Tutt, the resort’s general manager in the 1940s, was among the driving forces organizing and promoting the early NCAA hockey tournaments, and the first 10 Frozen Fours were played at the Broadmoor. To this day, the hockey boosters’ club at Boston College is named for Pike’s Peak, in honor of the NCAA crown the Eagles won at the Broadmoor in 1949, in the shadow of the region’s most renowned mountain. And it was on the Broadmoor’s ice sheet that a few dozen players tried out for Herb Brooks in 1979. He picked 20 of them to go to another mountain resort town – Lake Placid – and earn American sports immortality.

By the early 1990s, when the resort decided to tear the place down and expand their accommodations, it was clearly outdated as a hockey venue. The wooden theater-style seats (3,900 of them) were relics of an earlier area. The ladder-accessed press box, although it hung just a few feet from the top of the Plexiglas, was a challenging place to work, with a ceiling that was less than six feet high. The CC program had struggled for decades, partially due to the recruiting challenges posed when trying to convince players to call an ancient, off-campus rink their home for four years.

First-year Tigers’ coach Don Lucia began the resurgence of the CC program during the 1993-94 campaign, taking the team from worst to first in the WCHA in what would be the final season for the resort’s old horse ring. They started tearing the place down in March 1994, just days after a 3-2 overtime win by Michigan Tech in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.

Lucia, now the coach at Minnesota, says that when he came to CC, with the Tigers’ home rink scheduled for demolition, there was no guarantee that the school would field a hockey team in 1994-95. While respecting the history of the Broadmoor and the home-ice advantage his first Tiger team got from the altitude and the small ice sheet, Lucia is of the opinion that the arrival of the wrecking ball on that site was the best thing that’s happened to the CC hockey program.

Today they’ve paved much of this one-time college hockey paradise and put up a parking lot. The Tigers play down the hill, by the interstate, in a much bigger and more modern, if somewhat sterile, facility. The program is a national powerhouse again, and the NCAA tourney has returned to Colorado Springs as recently as 2004 when the West Regional was played at the new World Arena.

If you get to visit the Broadmoor today and can spend an hour or two watching the sunset as the peaks reflect off the lake’s waters, it’s a scene of great serenity. Even if you listen closely, there are no echoes to be heard of hockey crowds roaring at the exploits of players in black and gold with names like Frasca, Lidster, Palazzari and Mio. You can’t hear “Hail to the Victors” playing in spite of the fact that Michigan won six of those first 10 Frozens played at the Broadmoor.

But you can be forgiven if the strains of a sad Frank Sinatra song echo in your head as you sip your beer and marvel at the mountains. To paraphrase the Chairman of the Board:

“There used to be an ice rink, right here.”