Five years after joining the Hockey East Conference, UConn finally has plans to build an on-campus hockey arena.
According to the Hartford Courant, the Board of Trustees signed off on a plan to a build a 2,500-seat rink next to Freitas Ice Forum, the current on-campus rink that does not meet Hockey East standards. Construction is expected to take four years, although it is not clear when that will begin.
UConn men’s hockey will still play a majority of their homes games at their current home, the XL Center in Hartford. Once the new arena is completed, the team will play 6-7 games per year in Storrs.
Hockey East requires all their teams play on-campus and gave UConn four years to begin construction of one when the Huskies joined the conference in 2013. The most recent plan was to expand Freitas to 4,000 seats, but those plans ultimately fell through.
UConn changed course and decided to instead build a new arena but scaled back the seating to 2,500. They submitted and received a waiver from the conference to have less than the minimum seat requirement as a trade-off for actually building an on-campus rink.
The new arena will be connected to Freitas Ice Forum, where the existing locker rooms, coaches’ offices and equipment rooms will be renovated instead of building new ones to save money.
With the majority of games staying in Hartford, the on-campus rink will likely host midweek non-conference games and lower-interest Hockey East games, such as Merrimack or Maine.
Still, the plan feels very underwhelming. Freitas’ capacity is 2,000, although there are only bleachers and not seat-backs. The capacity of 2,500 seats falls below the men’s hockey season ticket base at the XL Center and could create issues with long-time fans getting tickets, especially if there is increased student interest in on-campus games.
To compensate for the lack of seating, UConn needs to make it a great college hockey arena. It has to be more than just any a rink with ice and some bleachers. Outfit it with a nice video board, comfortable seating, good amenities, etc. Seats should be right on top of the ice so fans are close to the action and can make their presence felt. There are perks to having an intimate environment; it just needs to be done right.
If the school is going to put money into a small on-campus rink, they need to make it worthwhile. If all they plan to do is build a slightly larger, updated version of Freitas Ice Forum, then it’s not worth building at all.