League high attendance rates for men’s hockey games at the XL Center in Hartford have led the University of Connecticut to consider a two-pronged approach of expanding the team’s downtown venue while doubling the capacity of Freitas Ice Forum, a rink on campus, to meet Hockey East standards, said Director of Athletics Warde Manuel.
UConn’s agreement with Hockey East allows them to defer construction of a rink that meets league standards for seating, training facilities and other amenities until the opening season of 2019. While UConn athletics has yet to reach a decision, Manuel said the team wants to tap into student enthusiasm by playing more conference games at Freitas Ice Forum on campus, which currently seats less than 2,000 fans.
“We wouldn’t make the same revenue but students drive environments at our games,” Manuel said. “When we play a game at Gampel the student fervor really drives all of our fans.”
Expanding Freitas Ice Forum to seat at least 4,000, the league average, could also save the university money, as opposed to building a new rink to meet Hockey East standards, Manuel said.
The possibility of constructing a new rink on campus was originally raised in UConn’s 2015 Master Plan, but the complexity of replacing Mansfield Apartments with a multi-use building makes this unlikely, UConn’s Director of Planning, Beverly Wood said.
“It’s still being discussed,” Wood said. “Of all of the choices that probably at this point is the least likely, although we haven’t completely taken it off the table.”
Wood said the university tries to take a global view of the housing available to students in the Storrs area when planning new construction, as seen with the STEM and Honors Program housing that will replace Connecticut Commons when it is demolished to make room for the new recreation center.
“It’s a net gain of housing at the end of the day, you sort of time these things so that you bring new housing on as you’re developing,” Wood said.
Mansfield’s Director of Planning and Zoning Linda Painter said the Freitas Ice Forum was one of the locations put forward in the town’s plan of conservation and development as an alternative location for the rink. Painter said residents were concerned about the impact of construction on the Albert E. Moss Sanctuary behind Mansfield Apartments as well traffic from increased game attendance.
“I think all of those things have to be weighed and balanced,” Painter said. “There are definitely some that would prefer not to see that traffic out there.”
Manuel said UConn Athletics will not have an extensive plan of development until the university has a clearer picture of what needs to be done to create a Hockey East ready facility.
“We’re in the phase of deciding what we need to do,” Manuel said. “Right now the main site is the current location where Freitas is located and more than likely it will be a renovation of this facility.”
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.