UConn to start construction on new $70 million arena for men’s, women’s college hockey teams, set to open fall of 2022

UConn trustees have given the go-ahead to build a highly anticipated new hockey rink on the Storrs campus, where it would open in fall 2022 if all remains on schedule.

The trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to authorize university officials to sign contracts for design, architectural and construction activities for the 2,600-seat arena, which will be located adjacent to the current Freitas Ice Arena in the Athletics District on Jim Calhoun Way.

UConn joined Hockey East for men’s hockey starting in the 2014-15 season, committing to provide an on-campus facility with appropriate space and amenities.

The new arena will host all games of the UConn women’s hockey team – which has been a Hockey East member since the 2002-03 season – and will be home to the men’s team, which has played at the XL Center in Hartford.

“First and foremost, I want to thank the university and the leadership for their commitment to this project and to our hockey program,” Huskies men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh said in a statement. “This is a great day for the UConn hockey program. We are excited that we will have a new rink to call home on campus and for what that will mean to the continued growth of our program. This will be a state-of-the-art facility that will enable our players to continue to get better every day and give our program the ability to reach the next level. This is an exciting time for UConn hockey and we can’t wait for our fans and alumni to see this first-class facility.”

“On behalf of our program, I’d like to thank the university leadership for their continued support and effort for this project,” added UCpnn women’s coach Chris MacKenzie. “This arena will give us the opportunity to reach the highest levels of competitive success and student athlete experience.”

In the bowl, the seating will consist of 80 percent with seatbacks and 20 percent on benches. The team facilities will include full Division I training and support for the women’s and men’s teams, team lounges, dry locker area and locker rooms with video displays, locker rooms for the visiting teams, training space with a hydrotherapy area, strength and conditioning room and other areas such as coaches’ offices, a press box, dining area, ice plant and spaces for support services.

The new facility will also have a large center-hung display scoreboard with perimeter ribbon boards and will be designed to create an outstanding experience for fans with state-of-the-art sound and lighting features.

Fans will also be able to access an ice-level lounge behind the home goaltender with café table seating and food and beverage service. A student-only standing room deck will also be situated behind the opposing goaltender.

The university had been working on plans for the new arena before the pandemic slowed that project and others, and had originally hoped to have the arena built and opened for fall 2021. The plan to open in fall 2022 will depend on factors such as whether the pandemic and any post-pandemic conditions affect the construction industry, or whether other unexpected delays occur.

The arena’s $70 million budget consists of $33 million from the sale of revenue bonds, repaid from non-state sources including revenues from the facility; $20 million in donations made specifically to support the new arena; and $17 million in University funds.

The $17 million in University funds will consist of $11.5 million that UConn received from selling the former West Hartford campus and the Nathan Hale Inn – proceeds that are required to go back into capital projects and cannot go to operating expenses – and $5.5 million in operating funds from non-state sources.

The final design will also include aspects to make the facility as efficient as possible in energy and water use, in keeping with the university’s commitment to make its capital projects as environmentally friendly as possible.

The new 97,300-square-foot facility will also meet all NCAA Division I ice hockey requirements and all Hockey East regulations, which the Freitas Ice Forum does not. With that in mind, Hockey East gave UConn some leeway when it allowed the university to join the conference for men’s hockey despite needing time to provide an appropriate facility.

The current Freitas Arena will remain at its current site adjacent to the new rink. It will continue to be used for practices and other events, including UConn’s club hockey programs and some community uses.

David Benedict, UConn’s director of athletics, has said having on-campus games could also help build the student fan base.

“I would like to pass along my gratitude to university leadership for its continued commitment to athletics and for taking the final step in making this project a reality,” Benedict said. “Our men’s and women’s ice hockey programs have been competing at a high level under challenging circumstances, and the future of both programs got a lot brighter today.”

UConn officials have said it is also committed to maintaining the parking capacity in the Athletics District area, recognizing that parking is tight in that area.

As a complementary project, UConn trustees on Wednesday also approved improvements and reconstruction of the 360-space “I Lot” near Freitas to replace its pavement, regrade the base, and update necessary features such as the curbing, lighting, signage, pavement striping and so forth.

The improvements would be completed during the same timeframe as the ice hockey arena’s construction, with both opening in fall 2022.