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Remembering Freitas Ice Forum: Quirks, mail issues and the rink that served its purpose

As UConn prepares to open its new hockey arena, a look back at its home from the previous two decades.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Mike Cavanaugh finally has a view out of his office.

During his first 10 years as UConn men’s hockey’s head coach, Cavanaugh worked out of a windowless room in the heart of Freitas Ice Forum. In fact, there were no windows anywhere nearby. To even get a glimpse of the outside world, he needed to hang two rights out of the office and walk down a long hallway to reach the lobby of the building, which also served as a team stretching area, exercise space, press conference room, dining hall or any other purpose the Huskies might have needed throughout the years.

Now, Cavanaugh works out of a spacious office in a building that has it all: A dedicated strength and conditioning room. Team lounges. Offices for both assistant coaches and a meeting room. A high-tech shooting room for players. Dry and wet locker rooms. A luxurious club lounge that can double as a space for team meals or meetings.

Cavanaugh also has a window. And naturally, it looks out to Freitas Ice Forum.

“I actually told Mark (Freitas, who the rink is named after), I sent him a text saying that this wasn’t planned but I’m really glad it [looks out to the old barn],” the coach said. “Because we’ll never forget the roots of the program.”

Those roots have plenty of stories.

Built in 1998 at a cost of $2.4 million as part of UConn 2000, Freitas Ice Forum was the cheapest way the school could replace its old outdoor rink. The facility hosted UConn men’s hockey through 2014 when the program moved up to Hockey East and UConn women’s hockey until this past November.

The rink area itself is little more than a metal shed with bleachers that are not nearly big enough for an average sized adult. It seats somewhere in the range of 1,400 — the capacity of 2,000 listed in various places online is way off — and lacks anything in the way of fan amenities.

The teams that called it home didn’t have much, either.

For years, the postal service refused to deliver mail to the rink until UConn athletic director David Benedict finally got it sorted out. It wasn’t uncommon for the lights to cut out in the middle of practice, forcing the Huskies to finish out the session in the dim glow of the emergency lighting. Earlier this season, one of UConn women’s hockey’s games had to be played without ice resurfacing because the Zamboni wouldn’t work. The training room was tiny.

But the most memorable part of Freitas? The bounces. On one end of the ice, rimmed pucks would carry would carry all the way around the boards and out of the zone without fail. Pucks were also prone to take bizarre deflections off both the boards and the glass. Misfired shots had a propensity for shattering the glass — which even happened in a game during the 2020-21 COVID season at Freitas against Boston College, courtesy of Jonny Evans.

“That happened a lot, too. I won’t miss that,” Cavanaugh said. “The glass used to break quite a bit.”

But since UConn practiced at Freitas every day, it got used to all the quirks. They even became a running joke among the team as the years went on.

“When kids were in practice and you went to clear a puck and it hit the stanchion and came out, they would all yell ‘Freitas!’” Cavanaugh shared.

UConn men’s hockey planned to play its last full season in Freitas Ice Forum during the 2013-14 campaign — its last in Atlantic Hockey and its first under Cavanaugh. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented fans from attending games, so the Huskies moved back to Storrs for the year. That season, the rest of Hockey East got a front-row introduction to UConn’s home facility. Or a “broader appreciation” of it, as one staffer put it.

It wasn’t all bad in the barn, though. Cavanaugh admitted he’ll miss the coaches’ locker room, a cramped space that almost felt like it was built out of a supply closet.

“I liked our coaches’ locker room. I’ll miss it a little bit,” he said. “It was tight. We were on top of each other, but there was something intimate about it.”

Ultimately, Freitas Ice Forum served its purpose. Despite being a step below what the other teams in the league had, the rink provided UConn hockey with a home for over two decades and oversaw the rise of both programs in recent years.

UConn women’s hockey reached three championship games in five seasons while UConn men’s hockey came within one goal of winning the title and reaching the first NCAA Tournament in program history last year. That loss to UMass at TD Garden last March still hurts Cavanaugh.

“Last year, I wanted to win so badly just to say that we won in Freitas with that facility,” he said.

Even after UConn moved into Toscano Family Ice Forum on Jan. 2, Cavanaugh still had to return to Freitas a few more times. On one of those visits, a realization hit him.

“I had to go back in a couple times And I was like, ‘I won’t be coming in here anymore,’” Cavanaugh said. “That’s my home first 10 years I was here here.”

Freitas Ice Forum won’t be going anywhere, though. It will remain a community rink through the end of the season before being transformed into its next life — exactly what that is has not yet been decided, but it’s likely to be utilized by another program in the athletic department.

Whatever becomes of it, Cavanaugh will get a front-row view from his office.

“I’m glad that when I look out my window, the first thing I’m gonna see is always gonna be the Freitas,” he said.

Daniel Connolly - The UConn Blog