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UConn hockey’s new home is worthy of the program’s ambitions

The Huskies certainly have a barn of which they can be proud.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn hockey finally has a home of its own.

The official opening of Toscano Family Ice Forum was on Saturday, as the women’s squad claimed victory in the afternoon portion of a Grand Opening, while the men’s team took a tough defeat against Northeastern.

“It’s a culmination of a community that believes in the program and a lot of guys that put blood, sweat, and tears into building it,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame. “It’s something that’s going to continue to help grow our program.”

From the moment you drive up, it’s clear that this is a first-class facility. The glass facade with lights on the inside sets the tone. There’s a fire pit outside for brave souls that are interested in tailgating, of which there were some, despite the temperatures below 30 degrees. Every seat, aside from the student section, has a chairback.

It’s also clear who plays at this arena. As soon as you walk in and turn toward the rink, there is a large, backlit “UConn Hockey” sign on the wall, with a logo on its left.

Despite the semester break, there were more students in the building than at any point I can remember seeing. The standing-room-only student deck was full well before puck drop, as were most of the rest of the seats all around the building.

It finally felt like college hockey. And that’s a good thing.

The XL Center never felt like a home for the Huskies. They played there for almost a decade and had their own dressing room, but it’s an aging, cavernous building that seats nearly 15,000 for hockey and at one point hosted an NHL team.

UConn would consistently bring in 4,000-5,000 fans, with even more during bigger late-season matchups. Despite a curtain system that blocked off most of the second deck, attendance figures that led Hockey East made the XL Center feel like a morgue.

Instead, there were 2,691 engaged fans no more than 10 rows from the ice that made the place loud all night.

“It was loud for sure,” Cavanaugh said. “The more we play here, and certainly the more students we get here on a regular basis, there becomes some traditions. I think that will certainly enhance the atmosphere.”

There are still plenty of amenities to bring a high-end feel to what is a collegiate environment. Opposite the students, there is an ice-level lounge with high-top tables and a club area that runs the entire length of the rink above the seating bowl. There, you could find dignitaries such as Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma, Jim Mora and former Boston College men’s hockey coach Jerry York, under whom Cavanaugh was an assistant for many years.

This isn’t to mention the amenities for the players and coaches. The teams have a wet and dry locker room, in addition to their own weight room and training facilities, which are enclosed in glass at the back end of the building. Formerly, they had to work out at the Shenkman Training Center.

Aside from the updated digs that will create a better game environment and much-improved facilities, the men’s program finally can stake their claim to a building. Since the Huskies moved to Hockey East for the 2014-15 season, their home games were more than a half-hour’s drive away. The team would frequently stay in a hotel the night before games, making every contest feel like a road one.

They were split between two dressing rooms. They practiced in one facility and played in another. There was another team’s logo at center ice. No longer. Like many of the other programs around the athletic department, hockey finally has a home of its own. And it’s something of which they should be very proud.