NIU hockey hopes ice rink brings DeKalb together


Courtesy NIU hockey

Senior forward Nick Gonzalez rushes the puck into the offensive zone in NIU hockey’s 3-2 win over Roosevelt University on Jan. 7. (Photo courtesy of NIU hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB – NIU hockey players roll out of bed at 5 a.m. to make the 40 minute trip to Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee for their 7 a.m. practices. Anywhere from three to five days a week, the players of NIU’s oldest club deal with the lack of an ice rink near campus. 

Without a rink nearby, the club struggles to get exposure and the following they’re looking to build at NIU. 

The team isn’t letting its current level of support from the community stop it from looking for a new home closer to campus. Freshman goaltender Jacob Piros brought the idea of having an ice rink built in DeKalb to the team and is head-manning a petition to make it a reality. 

“The team has been around since the ‘60s,” Piros said. “It’s been to a point where it’s if we’ve been fielding hockey for this long, there’s got to be a change. And I’m kind of the one who kind of brought it to the guys, like ‘Let’s do something. I don’t want to just sit here and not do anything about it.’”

The hockey club is currently building itself up and hopes to make DeKalb a hotbed for the top recruits in the country. 

While the team has already brought in dynamic offensive forward Lucas Sturm, two-way defenseman Ethan Koval and two-way forward Robbie Zimmerman this offseason, Piros feels the presence of an ice rink nearby could greatly improve the team’s recruiting pitch and speed up the process of the club’s rebuild. 

“I think it’d (having a rink near campus) really put us on the map,” Piros said. “It can probably separate us from getting the best of the best recruits out there for sure. Using that as a tagline when you’re recruiting … showing the facility we would have.” 

The DeKalb hockey community also has a lot to gain from having an ice rink in town. Piros said an ice rink worker he spoke with gave him an idea of how big an impact an ice rink near NIU would have for youth hockey in the area. 

“He (the rink worker) informed me of all the families in the area that commute to wherever – Elgin, Naperville, Belvidere,” Piros said. “DeKalb has a high school team. I was like ‘Man, I think this could actually work and serve all of these kinds of needs.’”

Having spent a lot of time on NIU’s campus this year, Piros sees the market for hockey and other ice-related activities at NIU and DeKalb as a slam dunk. 

“I think we’re a sports school,” Piros said. “Just walking around campus, I’ve seen kids who aren’t even on the hockey team – they’re wearing Buffalo Sabres shirts. I saw a kid wearing an (Edmonton) Oilers jersey. All the Blackhawks you see – the Blackhawks effect when they won their three (Stanley) Cups in six years. I just think it’d be a huge hit.”

Having a rink near NIU would be a big boost for the hockey club, but the team also recognizes an opportunity for a rink to be a massive benefit for the DeKalb and NIU community. 

In Piros’ eyes, a rink in the area has the potential to open many doors for new clubs, intramurals and activities for the DeKalb community and NIU students, even if they aren’t interested in on-ice activities. 

“We used to have a figure skating club – it ceased in 2020, but I believe they were at Naperville. So that could start back up,” Piros said. “We can have curling, (there) could be skating classes, along with public skating as well. Intramural hockey. There’s a lot of opportunities for organizations here where (we’re) giving the fans a great college experience. Also incorporating the band, dance team, a cheer team, having greek nights … Really just tying in the whole community and having a bunch of support, I think would be unreal.” 

Piros has even spoken with DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes, who is in support of the vision to bring the frozen pond to town.

“He said he loved it,” Piros said. “Full support of it.”

Piros has been the spearhead for the petition to get a rink to DeKalb. While it has the potential to be a massive plus for his hockey team and his community, Piros said seeing his vision come true for those that come after him would make all the work worth it. 

“I feel really proud,” Piros said. “You start something and then to see it actually build and then see what it can actually do. It’s kind of like, as you get older, giving back and seeing it (a rink in DeKalb) kind of means more. Seeing something that could last and so many people can use and enjoy. Seeing that you pretty much founded the next generation on NIU hockey. I think it’d be pretty cool just to know that you did something for a bunch of people and the future.”

NIU hockey’s petition is currently less than 200 signatures away from its 1,000 signature goal.