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An inside look at UConn’s new hockey arena

The new rink is nearing completion, as we noted in a walk-through of the facility with head coach Mike Cavanaugh.

On Thursday, UConn men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh and his staff toured the school’s new on-campus ice rink. He allowed The UConn Blog to follow along for a first-hand look at the Huskies’ future home.

Almost exactly a year ago, UConn broke ground on its long-awaited on-campus hockey arena during a ceremony in what was then just a parking lot. Since that day, the rink has taken shape and towers over the school’s brand-new athletics district.

The building is little more than a metal frame — closer to a 3D blueprint than a functional hockey arena. A healthy dose of imagination is required to visualize what the rink will look like.

But Mike Cavanaugh has done his homework. He arrived in Storrs in 2013 to guide UConn’s men’s hockey program into Hockey East and then had to wait eight years for a new arena to be turned from a concept into a reality. He knows where everything is.

Donning a hardhat, neon yellow vest, and safety glasses, Cavanaugh walks through an opening in the frame that will eventually be the entrance to the team offices. He has to traverse through a puddle in the middle of the floor from the recent rain, though he barely seems to notice. He’s focused on a handful of “rooms” on the right — spaces outlined by shiny metal beams rising up from concrete floors — which he quickly identifies as the coaching offices.

The next stop is the ice-level lounge, which is presently just an opening in the concrete. It provides the best low-level look of the entire seating bowl and future ice surface.

Daniel Connolly

The team areas are up next, though they’re mostly just a maze of metal framing right now. Cavanaugh walks from room to room through the gaps in the beams, all while explaining where everything will be located. He points out the team lounge — featuring an electric fireplace — the dry locker room leading to the main locker room, and the trainer’s space with the hydrotherapy pools in the middle.

At different points, Cavanaugh stops to ask what one space or another might be — though he typically knows the answer.

“This is the coaches’ locker room, right? With the shower and toilet here and here?” he says to the foreman, pointing to two areas off a larger room.

The foreman confirms that it’s the coaches’ locker room, though he can’t seem to figure out what the smaller spaces are for. Luckily, assistant coach Tyler Helton sees a nearby whiteboard with the plans drawn on and explains the layout of the immediate area.

Across the hall from all the team areas is the entrance to the home bench, though the door looks more like a window at the moment with a placeholder slab of concrete at the bottom. In less than a year, the Huskies will be charging out the door and onto the ice for their first game in the rink.

Daniel Connolly

The team areas for the men’s and women’s squads are nearly identical, mirrored in layout along a long hallway the length of the arena. Behind them is a spacious weight room.

The backside of the arena is further along, which makes it easier to get a sense of spacing. We walk by the shooting room, the equipment room, the officials’ locker room, and plenty of cramped storage spaces — where Cavanaugh jokes they can stick one of their staffers. On the opposite side are the visiting locker rooms, which are plenty cozy.

The next stop is the concourse level. There’s too much work being done to walk around, but there’s a spot on an upper corner to look down into the bowl.

Daniel Connolly

Cavanaugh marvels at it, dreaming of the home-ice advantage it’ll bring his team.

“This’ll be the best seat in the house,” he declares of the upper corner where he stands. “Actually, there won’t be a bad seat anywhere.”

The foreman talks through different parts of the arena. There will be a row of seats on the concourse and handicap seating will be evenly spread out along the top row. On the far side is a metal frame that will become the student deck while the opposite side will house the ice-level lounge. The upper right side will feature the club lounge, a space for team meals, events, and a premium experience for fans and donors on game days. It’ll include two rows of seats to watch the game.

It’s an idea Cavanaugh got from a visit to Notre Dame and one of the things he’s most excited about in the new rink.

“It’s going to be dynamite,” he says.

The building isn’t even finished yet, but Cavanaugh starts imagining some potential upgrades down the road — coaching offices with a view, more premium areas, or extra seats.

But then he comes back down to reality and asks when they might be able to host their first practice in the new facility. Right now, everything is on track to have an ice sheet in by sometime in November and once the kinks are worked out, both teams will be allowed to use it while the finishing touches are put on around them.

One year ago, UConn held the groundbreaking ceremony in a parking lot to celebrate the start of the project. Now, it’s a hulking structure of steel beams and concrete. In one year, it’ll be the full-time home of the Huskies’ two hockey programs.

On Tuesday, the Huskies had a team meeting — the same team that will suit up in the locker room and take the ice through the door to the bench. The new arena no longer exists solely in renderings or blueprints. The completion date isn’t just some vague, distant dream. It’s quickly becoming a reality, one that promises to change the dynamic for the school’s two rising programs.