In 2014-2015 the Connecticut Huskies will enter new territory. Starting next year, the UCONN hockey team will be joining one of the better leagues in college hockey, Hockey East. At this point many people may even be asking “wait, UCONN has a hockey team”? It’s easy to be forgotten at a school known for its powerhouse basketball programs, and its recent dominance in soccer and baseball. Not to mention a school whose effort to build a national football program has gone off the rails in the past few years. By joining Hockey East, the hockey team will now be entering the big time. It’s been a program that’s been heading in the right direction. With more scholarships and an impressive 19-14-4 2012-2013 season, the program is ready to make some noise on the Storrs campus. There’s just one problem.
Let me see scholarships? Check. New uniforms? Check. A new coach with National Championship credentials? Check. A suitable arena to house the team? Oh there’s the problem. The Huskies do not have a suitable home which could be the final piece to the hockey puzzle. The solution? Give them the home they deserve. After years of pouring millions of dollars into the other athletic programs, it’s time for UCONN to invest in their hockey program’s future. Despite being built-in 1998, the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum is not a suitable home. This arena was built for a second-rate college hockey program, which UCONN was at the time, but now it’s a joke that a Hockey East team calls this home. While the hockey program has announced that the Hockey East games will be played at the XL Center in Hartford, this is just another problem. The massive 15,000 seat arena can barely be filled for a UCONN basketball game and will look empty even if 5,000 fans show up to a hockey game. On top of that the arena is outdated, 30 minutes from campus, and will cost the school about 25,000$ to play a game there. What’s the solution to all of this? Build this team a new arena.
The Huskies need to build a facility that will not only house this team for the future, but to use as a tool to recruit top prospects. Let’s face it, despite the direction of the program, the arena situation is a major turnoff. If I’m a recruit do I want to play in two arenas that are terrible, or go to a beautiful arena of a Hockey East rival? Sounds like an easy decision easy to me. If UCONN wants to be successful in hockey just look 40 minutes south at Quinnipiac University.
After building their 52 million dollar TD Bank North Sports Center basketball and hockey complex in 2007, the Quinnipiac Bobcats program blossomed. Coach Rand Pecknold has even said that the arena is one of the biggest recruiting tools and why they have been able to become on of college hockey’s premiere programs. Six years after opening their new arena, the Quinnipiac Bobcats were playing for a National Championship, in large part because they used their arena as a major recruitment tool. UCONN has the resources and space to build a new arena. A 3000-4500 seat arena would be an adequate sized arena for this team. Bigger then their current arena but not as colossal as the XL Center. Plus, they can add all the bells and whistles to make it a state of the art home that will make Hockey East rivals envious. With Connecticut now becoming one of the better locations in the country for college hockey, thanks to Quinnipiac and the National Champion Yale Bulldogs, the state of Connecticut is becoming a major player in college hockey. We’ve seen how quickly the Yale and Quinnipiac programs have emerged onto the national stage, with nowhere near the resources that UCONN possesses. If UCONN builds a new arena and uses that as a great recruiting tool, I predict within 5 years after the arena’s completion UCONN will be a nationally ranked program. Hockey has always been a staple in New England culture, shouldn’t one of New England’s best schools share in the tradition of great hockey? I’m not saying that UCONN can’t be great in hockey without a new arena, but it would defiantly speed up the process. Remember what they always said in Field of Dreams? If you build it they will come! If UCONN builds it, great hockey will come. Who knows. Maybe one UCONN hockey and basketball teams will be fighting over who can win the most National Championships and who is truly Connecticut’s team.