On January 12, the UConn Division of Athletics hosted a ribbon-cutting in order to commemorate the grand opening of the Toscano Family Ice Forum. The ceremony marked the conclusion of a construction process that began one decade ago, when the university’s hockey program was first admitted into the Hockey East in June, 2012 and the school was required to build a new on-campus rink. The project ultimately required much more time, and the XL Center in downtown Hartford was instead used as the school’s host arena in the meantime. With the grand opening of the new rink, the XL Center will no longer host UConn hockey games. The ending is bittersweet as the XL, despite being a temporary venue, played host to the Huskies during an era of immense program evolution, with the Ice Bus blossoming into one of the most prestigious hockey programs at the collegiate level.
Now that Toscano has had its doors open to the public for a few weeks and has seen both the UConn’s men’s and women’s hockey teams play games on the new rink, it seems like the time has arrived to compare the Huskies’ old home to the one they will inhabit for the foreseeable future. Both arenas share similarities and differences, the most notable of the latter being that the XL Center plays host to many public events beyond Connecticut hockey, while Toscano will prioritize the university’s hockey games and other university events.
However, that’s not to say that one arena is far superior to the other, as both offer various public amenities and deliver on those amenities to varying degrees of success. For the sake of comparison, both the XL Center and Toscano will go through the Spin Cycle in order to determine which of the Huskies’ homes is truly the better venue in terms of satisfying an exciting fan experience.
Perhaps the biggest strength that the XL Center has in the battle of the ice hockey arenas is the fact that it can house over three times as many fans into its seats than Toscano can. The capacity of the XL Center during UConn games, where the upper section of the arena was blocked off by curtains, could still support just over 8,000 fans, while Toscano’s listed seating capacity comes in at 2,600 people. At the same time, the XL’s greatest strength could also prove to be a weakness: the bigger venue in Hartford creates a dilemma in that, even with more fans, sound does not travel as efficiently as in the more-compact Toscano. As a result, arena noises, including the sounds of fans cheering, music playing and the sound of the arena’s public address system, seem both crisper and louder at Toscano.
The greatest strength of Toscano, and one that UConn fans will welcome with open arms, is that the arena has been completely Connecticut-ified. In other words, everywhere you look inside of the venue, you are reminded that you are in the Huskies’ house. Large letters spelling out the university’s signature “UConn” logo are situated on top of the picture-clear screens of the jumbotron, and the walls are covered in a pleasing, navy-blue splash. The Connecticut athletics logo of Jonathan the Husky can be seen almost anywhere that you look: on the end of each row of seats, in corners, on the walls and perhaps most importantly, at the center of the ice rink, a welcoming distinction from the Hartford Wolfpack logo painted on the ice at the XL Center. Behind the standing area directly above the student section, text is situated on the wall reading “UConn Hockey,” with the giant nature of the text providing an almost-otherworldly and even overwhelming presence in the arena. It is a place that fans should appreciate for the opportunity to be able to experience, and one in which players will cherish the ability to play in such a polished environment. The XL Center, on the other hand, does not feature much Connecticut decor other than the banners hanging from the rafters and the flags depicting each of the member teams of the Hockey East, which was oddly omitted from Toscano.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that one may have in regards to Toscano is the underwhelming student section. As the XL Center, the entire section behind one of the goals was reserved for UConn students, enabling student fans more freedom in being able to acquire tickets given the number of general admission tickets available and to choose the viewing experience of their preference. The layout of the student section at Toscano is similar to that of the XL, though the smaller arena capacity makes it more difficult for students to acquire tickets given the reduced number of general admission tickets, and is not aided by the fact that the university’s pep band demands the area directly behind the goal, taking up even more space essentially splitting the general admission section for students in half.
There is a standing area that students may wish to utilize on a platform located directly above the student section, though this area is also problematic in that the flat nature of the platform makes it difficult for fans not situated directly at the edge of the platform to see the rink. Essentially, for student fans to get good seats at Toscano, they will need to acquire tickets almost immediately after they are released to the public and show up to the venue extremely early on game days to ensure a seat close to the action. That being said, the view from almost every seat within Toscano provides a quality viewing experience, so fans should be able to enjoy the game from wherever they are situated.
Though they have each been the home of the Huskies, the XL Center and the Toscano Ice Forum enable fans to enjoy the university’s hockey programs in various settings. At the XL, seats are easily obtainable and events can be enjoyed without obstruction, though the arena does little to provide fans with a truly memorable viewing experience. While it is harder to get in to Toscano, the university absolutely did its diligence in providing fans with a memorable experience, incorporating state-of-the art technology while focusing the arena’s aesthetics on honoring the nature of the school’s athletics department, which resulted in UConn decor being situated in every corner of the venue imaginable. That being said, while both have done a fine job hosting UConn events, it seems that a true fan experience could only be obtained at Toscano, a place so rich in history, fan dedication and pride that walking within the walls seems almost too good to be true.
The bowl is too steep resulting in poor site lines when the puck enters the corners. The concessions are horrible, offering a hot dog as the only meal option and a lousy beer selection. The tables section behind the goal is a waste of space and could easily house more fans if eliminated. Bathrooms on one side of the bowl? These architects have never been to a college hockey game. I prefer Hobey Baker Rink over Toscano.
This arena was not built so students would be more attracted to coming to the games, which is a monumental failure. I spoke to several students in the platform area and they could not be more disappointed with their experience.