by: Henry Wyard
The University of Connecticut’s Men’s Hockey team moved to the Hockey East Association for the 2014–2015 season. This move from the Atlantic Hockey Conference pushes UConn hockey into an unprecedented position of dominance, according to a statement made by then athletic director Warde Manuel. The Hockey East Association is the premier conference in America, featuring a national best 8 NCAA championships in the past 20 years.
The Hockey East Association hosts some of the leading hockey programs in the country, highlighted by perennial powers Boston College, Boston University, and Notre Dame, among others. UConn is the 12thth team to enter the Hockey East Association following the admittance of Notre Dame in 2011 and the University of Vermont in 2005.
Top level hockey is a relatively new concept at UConn, with the program only elevating to Division 1 status prior to the start of the 1998–1999 season when it first played its games in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. It remained part of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference up until joining the Atlantic Hockey Conference in 2004, where it had remained until last season, when at last UConn was admitted into the Hockey East Association.
Prior to the move to the Hockey East, UConn did not award any scholarships for potential athletes to play for the university. Following its admittance into the Hockey East Association, UConn will now be able to offer 18 full athletic scholarships, the maximum number allowed under current NCAA regulations.
With a greater emphasis put on the future of hockey at UConn, the improvement of the current facilities for the team becomes a viable question. Prior to the 2014–2015 season, the hockey team played all of its games at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum, an on-campus facility that has the capacity to seat around 2,000 people. With the school looking towards the future of UConn hockey, there are plans to complement the commitment by upgrading the current facilities.
Though plans for improvement seem to be on the horizon, it is unclear to some UConn students and officials exactly where and when these changes will be made. Senior Erik Boswell, a Mansfield Apartments resident, said that he was fairly certain he knew where the new hockey facilities were going to be built.
“I heard that in two years, they’re going to tear down the Mansfield Apartments and put up a new hockey rink,” Boswell said.
The Mansfield Apartments are an undergraduate apartment option located on South Eagleville Road. Though the apartment complex is technically off of the Storrs campus, the land and apartments are owned by UConn and thus could be an option for the future location of new facilities.
With the commitment towards the improved future of the hockey program at UConn, and the emergence of the newly-offered athletic scholarships, there will be a need to upgrade the facilities so that they keep pace with the anticipated growth of the fan base that is sure to come with the rising success of the hockey team. Constructing a new hockey rink at the location of the current Mansfield Apartments would ensure that there are facilities that could sustain and complement the growth of the program.
Brian Gore, the Director of Project and Program Management said that this belief is rooted in some truth, but that it is unclear if this project will actually be undertaken in the future.
“[It is] correct that the current Master Plan shows Hockey at the current location of the Mansfield Apartments by my understanding is that Hockey may remain at Freitas in an expanded facility,” Gore said.
The on-campus facility, Freitas Ice Forum, with a seating capacity of 2,000, now hosts the hockey’s team non-conference games. The hockey team currently plays its Hockey East Association games at the XL Center in Hartford, a change that came with the start of the 2014–2015 season. While the facilities at the XL Center are certainly adequate to support a growing hockey team, it is challenging to develop a strong student fan base at UConn with the rink being a 30 to 40-minute drive from the Storrs campus.
Besides the problem of it being difficult to create a strong student fan base with the majority of the important games being played at an off-campus facility, the facility issue could also present a problem when trying to attract potential players to the team.
While the move to the Hockey East Association means that UConn will begin to offer up to 18 athletic scholarships, it may be difficult to lure top talent to Storrs without presenting state of the art facilities here on campus. Again, this problem has the possibility of being resolved if it is indeed true that new facilities are to be constructed on the site of the Mansfield Apartments. However, Director of University Planning Beverly Wood said that this is not currently in the immediate plans for the university.
“We have no immediate plans for constructing a new facility anywhere at the moment. The discussions I have heard are centered on a modest expansion of the Freitas rink. I don’t have the details, but I believe there are on-going discussions with the Conference officials,” Wood said.
As it stands, there are no plans in the foreseeable future to undergo any construction projects to create new facilities at UConn, despite what the Master Plan says. At the very least, this is likely to slow the rise of UConn hockey towards the level of superiority shared by some of the top universities in the Hockey East Association.
With that being said, past hockey coach Bruce Marshall (1989–2013) said in a statement that he believes there is a strong appetite for this level of college play here in Connecticut and that Husky fans will embrace the move.
Erik Boswell: email@example.com phone: 860–462-9361
Beverly Wood: Beverly.firstname.lastname@example.org phone: 860–486-4418
Brian Gore: email@example.com phone: 860–486-5759