If you haven’t heard, the University of Connecticut is turning into a hockey school before our very eyes.
UConn’s men’s hockey program is certainly on their way to becoming a perennial threat in the Hockey East Association. Mike Cavanaugh and company are coming off their most successful season in their new conference since leaving the Atlantic Hockey Conference for the Hockey East in 2014-15 season.
The move to the country’s premier hockey conference was almost inarguably the catalyst behind the program’s rise to power. Add in veteran Boston College assistant hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh as the new head coach and the Huskies began to surge.
I mean, it makes sense. A better conference brings better prospects (looking at you American Athletic Conference). With better prospects brings success, with success brings an audience.
To be fair with the Huskies, the audience came almost immediately. In their inaugural Hockey East season, the Huskies led the entire conference in both average overall (5,396) and conference-only home attendance (5,879). The Huskies placed second average home game attendance in 2015-16, and have finished top-five in every season since then.
Part of the agreement for UConn’s move to the Hockey East was the plan to build an on-campus arena that meets conference-standards by 2020. The Freitas Ice Forum wasn’t going to cut it for conference officials.
It was finally announced Sept. 26 that the UConn Board of Trustees had approved plans for an on-campus arena. The trustees authorized the school to “execute agreements necessary for any portion or all of the design, construction, financing, and operation of a new ice hockey arena on the Storrs campus, provided that the arena meets the minimum requirements of the Hockey East Association.”
The only problem? It doesn’t exactly meet the standards of the Hockey East Association. The standards require every school to have an arena to play in on campus and for that arena to seat at least 4,000 people. The approved plan for UConn will be an arena that fits 2,500.
UConn is apparently aware of the fact that an average of much more than 2,500 fans regularly flock to hockey games. A spokesperson explained to the Courant that the team will stay and play a majority of games in Hartford. The on-campus arena will allow for more flexibility in terms of scheduling, as the XL Center is often jampacked with different events.
The Huskies will not have the only rink under the conference’s 4,000-seat standard. Providence’s Schneider Arena holds just 3,030 and Merrimack’s Lawler Rink holds just 2,549.
The low-capacity makes sense for the other two schools, as Providence enrolls just over 4,800 students and Merrimack’s enrollment being just 3,515.
In case you need a reminder, UConn enrolls over 32,000 students. The most in the Hockey East Association.
I’ll say that again: The school with the largest enrollment numbers in the conference will have the smallest on-campus arena.
I understand the XL Center will still serve as the primary arena, but the school could certainly do better than 2,500 seats.