When hockey was in Hilton Coliseum


cyclone hockey hilton.jpg

Spencer Suckow


That could be an accurate description of just about any athletic event at Hilton Coliseum nowadays. Cyclone fans have created a reputation for themselves as some of the most loyal and rowdy fans in the Big 12 Conference, and have made Hilton Magic a nationally known phenomenon.

As it turns out, however, Cyclone fans’ reputation and Hilton’s magic were both alive and well even decades ago, for a different team at Iowa State.

Back in the year 1972, Cyclone Hockey moved into Hilton Coliseum and the fans proceeded to create a tremendous home-ice advantage at the venue. For a little over a decade, people would flock by the thousands to watch the hockey team in Hilton, until they moved out in the mid-1980’s.

“On the weekend, we drew a little over 12,000 fans,” said former Cyclone Hockey head coach Alan Murdoch. “Hockey fans are rabid. We would have cheering contests; I can remember that upper walkway just full of banners from fraternities, sororities and residence halls. The atmosphere was very good.”

The team previously played their games and practiced on an outdoor rink near Beyer Hall because the shade would keep the rink from melting.

However, during the construction of Hilton Coliseum, a large donation was made to help with funding of the facility with the condition that the building be made suitable for hockey usage. Cyclone Hockey became tenants in the venue as a result.

According to Murdoch, 10 miles of piping was put into the concrete floor of the arena so the venue could support an ice rink. The coliseum opened on Dec. 2, 1971, but because of ongoing construction, the Cyclones actually had to wait until March of 1972 to play their first game in their new home.

That first game came as a part of a weekend series that was set up by Murdoch and then United States Air Force Academy coach Vic Heyliger, a six-time NCAA National Champion head coach and United States Hockey Hall of Famer.

Heyliger brought his Falcons, a NCAA Division I varsity level team, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Ames to take on the Cyclones.

“It was really quite exciting,” said former team faculty adviser Jorgen Rasmussen. “It would be virtually impossible that Iowa State was able to beat them, but they thought they were going to come and really slaughter Iowa State.”

Perhaps it was due to the level of coaching talent residing on their bench, but it indeed appeared the Air Force Academy’s players didn’t take the Cyclones seriously. Murdoch himself remembers finding writing in the locker room after the game that said the Falcons’ mission was to beat the Cyclones by 20 goals.

That didn’t happen, as Air Force players soon realized despite the Cyclones status as a “club” team, the construction of Hilton Coliseum actually allowed Iowa State to recruit high level talent. The Cyclones ultimately didn’t win either game in the series, but each contest was much closer than the Falcons anticipated.

Air Force wasn’t the only top level competition to visit Hilton. With intentions of going to the Division I varsity level, the Cyclones hosted as many big-time opponents as they could to build legitimacy, even getting the United States Olympic Men’s Hockey Team to visit for a game in front of roughly 10,000 fans.

“The game was played on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, and so I told them I built the Olympic team’s confidence on Pearl Harbor Day,” Murdoch said. “We got bombed 22-1.”

Lopsided scores aside, this begs the question: Why doesn’t the team play at Hilton anymore if it was such a great environment? Several factors ultimately played a role in Cyclone Hockey changing venues, but one primary cause was two separate floods that ruined the plexiglass, boards and other arena equipment.

Additionally, Murdoch said all of the different sports and activities at Hilton caused a myriad of scheduling conflicts. Eventually, Cyclone Area Community Center was constructed in part to fulfill the desire for a full-time home for Cyclone Hockey. With a new facility, intentions also remained of moving up to the Division I level.

However, the team was unable to obtain the necessary funding to build an arena that fit the 5,000-seat minimum requirement set by the NCAA, despite pushes from Murdoch and help from former Olympic coaches Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson. 

Additionally Title IX rules would have required Iowa State to add another varsity sport on the women’s side, making the move to the varsity level even tougher.

Combine those factors with the fact that the glass, boards and piping were all thrown out at Hilton after the floods, and the Cyclones hopes of going Division I were dashed. Now without proper equipment, the team couldn’t play any more games at the venue, leading to the Cyclones’ move into their current home at Ames/ISU Ice Arena.

“It’s really unfortunate that there’s no ice in [Hilton Coliseum] now,” Rasmussen said. “[Ames/ISU Ice Arena] is a satisfactory location, but you couldn’t invite Air Force Academy or the Olympic team to play there.”

In Rasmussen’s opinion, the legitimacy Hilton Coliseum brought to the program is what he misses most about games in the venue.

“To really play with those teams, even on an exhibition basis, you need to be in a place like Hilton,” Rasmussen said. “Because Hilton makes it look like ‘this is a real operation, and by George this is a good venue.’”

Even with other varsity teams now having their own spaces to practice, the hockey team would still have to raise the funds for boards and proper piping on their own, given their non-varsity status. Without the required materials, the idea of Cyclone Hockey ever playing a game in Hilton is nothing but a pipe dream.

Even though the arena will almost certainly never host the team again, the venue nonetheless created fond memories for a generation of Cyclone players, coaches and fans that make for great stories.

And despite the fact that the current team will never get to experience Hilton Magic from a player’s perspective, they can still imagine what such an environment would’ve been like.

“I’m very jealous of the chance that they got to do something like that,” said current junior forward Tony Uglem. “It’s tough to imagine what that place would be like with an ice rink in the middle of it. I’ve played in rinks where you’re surrounded 360 degrees by fans and that’d be something really cool.”