For the first time since the 2013-14 season, UConn men’s hockey will play on-campus. The Huskies are set to host their 13-game home schedule at Freitas Ice Forum — which currently serves as the men’s team’s practice facility and hosts the women’s games — after the school announced it will not play any games in Hartford this season due to the pandemic.
Doing so will take a monumental effort, though.
“It’s going to be challenging,” men’s hockey head coach Mike Cavanaugh told The UConn Blog by phone. “It’s not really equipped to handle Hockey East games. I mean, we’re going to do it, we’re going to make it work but there’s a reason why Hockey East said we can’t play games at Freitas.”
The XL Center has served as UConn’s home ice since it joined Hockey East. The conference requires its men’s teams to play in a 4,000-seat arena and Freitas Ice Forum seats just 2,000. After they joined Hockey East, the Huskies were supposed to build an on-campus rink within four years, though construction has yet to begin.
With only player and coaching staff guests allowed as spectators at the start of the season, capacity won’t be an issue. But that’s the least of the problems with the facility.
Freitas Ice Forum opened in 1998 — the first year UConn men’s hockey began Division I play and two years before the women’s hockey program even began. Though two home varsity locker rooms were built, everything else about the rink is too small to house two Hockey East programs.
“You don’t really have the space,” he said. “It’s hard finding space to warm up. It’s hard finding space for our training facilities. Our training facilities really aren’t adequate for both teams. I guess when you go on the road you have to make a makeshift thing but we don’t even really have a lot of space for the visiting team to do that. It’s very difficult with a men’s and women’s team.”
The problems are magnified in the age of COVID and social distancing. The lobby is the only area large enough in the building for the entire team to warm up and even in normal circumstances, players are still crammed into a small space. The fact that it’s the only way in and out of the building complicates matters as well.
UConn considered bringing in a temporary, external locker room space to alleviate the congestion but ultimately decided to make it work with what they have at Freitas. It’ll do so “under the protocols and social distance guidelines,” though, according to program SID Bill Peterson.
The school will use all available space in the building, such as converting part of the lobby into an athletic training area. Inside the rink itself, workers will be spread throughout the stands while the glass behind the benches and penalty boxes could be removed to allow support staff to sit on the bleachers as well, which would create more space in those areas.
“[Freitas] wasn’t built for Hockey East,” Cavanaugh reiterated. “That’s why we’re getting a new rink.”
- UConn was picked to finish seventh in the Hockey East Coaches’ Poll. The Huskies finished in fifth place last season — their second fifth-place finish in years. View the full poll here.
- Speaking of polls, UConn received 10 votes in the USCHO preseason poll and three votes in the USA Today poll. The Huskies have never been ranked in program history.
- If Hockey East finishes the regular season with teams having played an uneven number of games, the final standings and playoff seeding will be determined by “percentage of points earned” instead of total points, commissioner Steve Metcalf told the media during a Zoom call on Thursday.