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UConn hockey arena’s frame is complete

Head coach Mike Cavanaugh also provided an update on the team’s COVID problems.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The final steel beam of UConn’s new hockey arena went into place during a topping-off ceremony at the construction site on Friday. The occasion marked another milestone in the progress of the new rink just over six months since the groundbreaking in May.

“When you start seeing the steel go up, it feels official,” UConn men’s hockey head coach Mike Cavanaugh told The UConn Blog. “It was great at the groundbreaking but still, it’s just an empty space. Then watching every day driving into work, I drive by and I’m just amazed at how fast everything’s going here.”

The final beam started on the ground, where current players and coaches, support staff, school administrators, and others in attendance signed it. After speeches from athletic director David Benedict, interim UConn President Andrew Agwunobi, women’s hockey head coach Chris MacKenzie and Cavanaugh, a crane lifted the beam — which included a Christmas tree and American flag — roughly four stories into its final position, where workers secured it to complete the building’s frame.

At the groundbreaking in May, MacKenzie opened his speech by asking: “Are we really here right now?” On Friday, he spoke about the transformation of the facility from renderings to a reality.

“I can safely say looking out here right now, yeah, it’s happening,” he said.

The arena is set to hold 2,600 seats and will feature club and ice-level lounges as well as a student deck for fans and new locker rooms, lounges, a weight room, and more for the teams. It’s expected to cost $70 million and is currently on track for completion in fall 2022, according to MacKenzie. If construction does fall behind, the coach once again offered to help.

“If you get behind, don’t be afraid to call me in. I’m right over there at that rink,” MacKenzie joked. “A couple of YouTube videos, I’m sure I can drive that crane in no time.”

The teams’ current on-campus home, Freitas Ice Forum, isn’t exactly a prominent feature on UConn’s campus. The barn resembles a maintenance garage more than a hockey rink. That won’t be the case with the new arena.

“The part where you come over the hill here, the drive up, you see this thing, it’s like ‘Wow,’ and it’s not even as big as it’s going to be,” MacKenzie said. “This thing’s going to stand out on the street, which already has a lot of nice buildings (like Gampel Pavilion, the Werth Champions Center, Burton Family Football Complex, and the new athletics district).”

“At first you go in there and you don’t think it’s that big,” Cavanaugh said. “But they assured me that it’s going to be as big as we thought it was gonna be. They promised.”

Update on UConn men’s hockey’s COVID problems

The women’s team had 10 women’s players in attendance while the men’s team had six — Jake Flynn, Vladislav Firstov, Ryan Keane, John Wojciechowski, Matt Pasquale, and Kevin O’Neil. While some players were in class — the ceremony was held at 11 a.m. on Friday — UConn men’s hockey also has a significant portion of its team in COVID protocols.

The Huskies’ last two series of the first half were postponed because they didn’t have enough players available to meet Hockey East’s requirement of 15 skaters and two goaltenders.

On Friday, Cavanaugh provided more details.

“We had started with one (positive test) and went to two or three but because of the protocols, you have to wait five days and close contacts get tested, and then all of a sudden it jumped to six and now we’re testing the whole team and it gets to a point where we couldn’t meet the Hockey East protocols to field a team to play last week and obviously this week either,” he said.

As a result, UConn won’t play again until Jan. 2 at Harvard.

“We’ll get through it. It was an unfortunate situation and certainly I don’t think as bad as last year,” he said “I feel pretty confident that we’ll be healthy for the second half.”