In 1972, the town of Watertown, Mass., opened a municipally owned hockey rink at the John A. Ryan Arena. Five years after the rink opened, Bentley launched a varsity hockey program in ECAC Division III, playing in the affectionately-named “JAR.”
Over the next four decades, as the college hockey landscape shifted, changed and altered, the building served as a home rink for the program across three divisions.
It now seems that era is drawing to a close. After nearly 40 years of playing off campus in Watertown, the Waltham-based institution is gearing up to bring its hockey team to a new facility to be constructed on its own land.
“Bentley University has formally begun to evaluate potential campus sites for a proposed arena that would serve as an entertainment venue for students, as well as provide a new home for the school’s Division I hockey program,” the school said in a statement. “The arena will be part of a comprehensive, 10-year construction plan that includes redesigning academic buildings and science labs, a new health and wellness center and a new academic building.
“The arena, currently estimated to hold between 2,000-2,500 spectators, would move the Bentley hockey team from their current home at the John A. Ryan arena in Watertown to the campus in Waltham,” the statement continued. “Targeted to open in 2018, the arena would give the campus a needed venue for its increasingly successful hockey program, as well as provide new space to host campus events on non-game weekends.”
Within five years of kicking off the program, under the direction of head coaches Joe Quinn and Tim Flynn, the Falcons won back-to-back ECAC Division III league championships in 1980 and 1981, defeating RIT and Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass-Dartmouth) along the way.
Over the next two decades, Bentley remained a central part of the ECAC hockey landscape as the league split into separate divisions. In 1985, the Falcons joined the ECAC North-South, eventually moving into the ECAC Central as the landscape shifted.
In 1998, then-Bentley College announced it would compete as a Division II independent before joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, becoming a full-time Division I hockey member in time for the start of the new century.
In 1999-2000, the Falcons played their first games as a member of the then-MAAC, the lineal predecessor of Atlantic Hockey.
Throughout the program’s growth, one thing remained a constant: the off-campus home at Ryan Arena in Watertown. The 1,200-seat arena remained the home ice for the team through its first 15 seasons as a full-time Division I hockey program. Over the years, it took on its own unique kind of charm as part of the program’s tradition.
The announcement will inject even more life into a surging Atlantic Hockey program whose on-ice success steadily increased since joining Division I.
The team is in the midst of its most successful four-year stretch, having won 63 games as of the close of this regular season. Last season, Bentley became one of the first two Atlantic Hockey teams to take part in the Frozen Fenway event at Fenway Park, kicking off the hockey festival with a conference game against Holy Cross.
As a team and individually, the Falcons broke and re-broke nearly every statistical category possible, with coach Ryan Soderquist holding the all-time program wins record at 172 wins and counting. Soderquist, who was a player when Bentley moved to Division I, is also the program’s all-time leading scorer with 189 points.
Full details of the arena, as well as the construction timetable and groundbreaking date, have not yet been released.
The JAR stands as the second-oldest building in Atlantic Hockey behind only Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Air Force Academy home rink opened in 1968.
Holy Cross’ on-campus Hart Center opened in 1975, the same year the as the Milford Ice Pavilion in Milford, Conn., which is the off-campus home for Fairfield-based Sacred Heart.
The new Bentley arena stands to become the third new Atlantic Hockey rink opened in recent years. Both Canisius and Rochester Institute of Technology moved into new arenas this season.