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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

XL Center – Connecticut Huskies Hockey

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

XL Center 1 Civic Center Plaza Hartford, CT 06103

Year Opened: 1975

Capacity: 14,750


Husky Hockey in Hartford

The XL Center, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, is the largest arena in the state of Connecticut. It was originally built in 1974 as part of a downtown project that included an adjacent mall, convention center, office space, hotel, and parking garage. Some people still refer to the XL Center as “The Mall,” even though the mall portion of the complex was demolished in 2004 and replaced with a 36-story residential tower.

The University of Connecticut has sponsored varsity hockey programs since 1960. They initially competed at the Division Three level in the ECAC conference. The team played at an outdoor rink near Memorial Stadium until 1998 when the school decided to upgrade to Division One.

The Freitas Ice Forum was built to house the team and served as the Huskies’ home until the team joined the Hockey East Conference in 2014. At that time, the Huskies moved to downtown Hartford and the XL Center.

The Huskies have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Three UConn alumni have played in the National Hockey League.

Food & Beverage 5

The XL Center offers a menu that balances traditional arena fare with local flavor. Depending on your appetite, you can visit Chicken Fry Fry (featuring, you guessed it, chicken tenders and fries), Fresh Classics (sausage and pepper sandwiches and nachos), Grill Masters (burgers), or hot dog nation (yep, hot dogs). Chick-fil-A operates a cart selling their legendary sandwiches. Dunkin’ Donuts operates a pair of stands featuring their signature coffee and baked goods. Pepsi products are featured at the XL Center.

Visiting fans looking for a bit of local flavor should seek out Ted’s Cheeseburgers, which features gourmet burgers cooked in a style unique to Central Connecticut: they are steamed. Steaming the burgers creates a very juicy burger with a taste you won’t find anywhere else. Also, local favorite Bear’s Barbeque operates a small stand selling brisket, pulled pork, and their popular mac and cheese. Randy’s Wooster House of Pizza operates a stand serving up their legendary slices.

Fans looking for an adult beverage will be pleased to find stands dedicated specifically to alcohol sales. In addition to national brands including Sam Adams, Budweiser, Coors Light decided, and Blue Moon, several local craft brands are featured at the XL Center. Brews from City Steam, Two Roads, and Thomas Hooker Brewery are sold throughout the arena.

Atmosphere 4

Fans who have visited the XL Center over the years can testify that the building doesn’t produce an outstanding game-day atmosphere. The sheer size of the facility works to spread out the crowd and dampen any noise produced by the crowd.

For Huskies crowds, however, some life is breathed into the old building. Driven by the student section and pep band, there’s an energy here that hasn’t been seen consistently in Hartford for a while.

Arena staff put on a nice presentation, with the large video board put to use with hype videos, ads, replays, and crowd shots. There are t-shirt tosses and other contests to keep fans engaged, and the Husky mascot, Jonathan, participates on the ice and interacts with the crowd throughout the game.

Neighborhood 5

Hartford is rarely thought of as a destination city, but the XL Center’s location in downtown Hartford gives it an excellent rating. The area around the arena features numerous restaurants, shops, and attractions. Pratt Street, located directly across the street from the XL Center, is lined with many excellent pubs and restaurants.

City Steam Tap Room is located a block away from the XL Center on Main Street and features a legendary craft beer lineup. Black-Eyed Sally’s on Asylum Street features live music and excellent barbeque. Hartford suffers from a bad reputation, but the area around the XL Center is safe and walkable.

For fans interested in exploring the downtown area, there are some attractions nearby worth mentioning. The Old State House is located a few blocks from the XL Center and contains exhibits on Hartford's history. Tours are discounted for AAA members and will cost history buffs a mere $3. The State Capitol and Bushnell Park are popular attractions located nearby. The Mark Twain House and Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center are both located just a short drive from the downtown area.

Fans 4

The Huskies have finished in the top twenty of the national attendance rankings every season since moving to the XL Center. An average of between 4,000-4,500 fans have entered the building over the team’s five seasons in Hartford. While the city has been reluctant to embrace minor league hockey in the two decades since the Whalers left, they have supported the Huskies in numbers superior to the AHL’s Wolf Pack,

Despite the XL Center’s location is 21 miles from the UConn campus, a strong turnout from the student body can be expected. Driven by the pep band, the students give the building some energy night after night. Locals, youth teams and alumni help fill the XL Center.

Access 4

The XL Center is in downtown Hartford, easily reached via either Interstate 84 or 91. The arena is only a few blocks away from either highway. Traffic in the city is often difficult to navigate, particularly for weekday games. Be sure to give yourself extra time to arrive, as both highways back up regularly around rush hour and beyond.

There are almost 50 parking lots and garages in the downtown area, all within walking distance of the XL

Center. I

f you want to plan, the XL Center website has a link to the downtown map here. In addition to these paid spots, on-street parking is readily available around the XL Center. Meters are not in operation on weekends.

Once inside the XL Center, fans will enter a spacious lobby. This area was once part of the Civic Center Mall but is mostly space now.

The ticket office is located here, as well as access to the attached parking garage and the Coliseum Club on the second level. There is a nice display in this area featuring jerseys from every high school hockey program in Connecticut, as well as a display featuring photos from Hartford’s hockey history.

All seats in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum consist of folding stadium chairs. The seating bowl at the XL Center is very steeply pitched, ensuring great sight lines no matter where you sit. Only certain seats in the upper level are sold, meaning that even when a big crowd is in attendance much of the arena is still empty.

Despite numerous renovations over the years, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum maintains its cramped and narrow concourses. Luckily, since the typical Husky crowd only fills a fraction of the XL Center, getting around is usually not too difficult. When lines form at the concession stands it can make passage tough. Restrooms are clean and spacious enough for the typical Husky crowd, but lines do form during intermission. Plan your trips wisely, particularly if there’s a big crowd in attendance.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets for Husky games at the XL Center are very affordable. Center ice sections sell for $18, with end zone seating priced at $15. “Husky Value” sections in the 200 level are discounted at $8 per seat.

Parking in the lots and garages surrounding the XL Center ranges in price from $10-$20, with on-street parking available for fans wishing to search for it.

On-street parking is free after 6 PM on weekdays and all day long on weekends. Concession prices are a bit on the high side, particularly for premium items, but are not out of line with other venues in the area.

Extras 2

Banners-if you like banners, you will love the XL Center. Banners honoring the 13 University of Connecticut National basketball champions (9 women, 4 men) hang from the rafters on one end of the arena. On the other end of the arena, the Huskies have hung their 2000 MAAC championship banner alongside banners honoring Whaler and Wolf Pack champions.

Whalers-The XL Center doesn’t ignore its past as the home of the Hartford Whalers. Banners honoring Whalers division championships, retired numbers, and the Howe family, who all played together in Hartford, hang from the rafters. In addition, the lobby contains a large mural of some of the highlights of Hartford’s professional hockey history. After every Husky goal, Brass Bonanza, the Whalers’ goal song, plays.

Final Thoughts

The Huskies’ move to the XL Center may not be a permanent one. As part of the university’s commitment to upgrading the hockey program, the school is looking into the feasibility of either upgrading the Freitas Ice Forum or building a new on-campus home for the team. UConn is clearly invested in the hockey team, as they added 18 scholarships to various women’s sports to satisfy Title IX gender equity requirements.

Likewise, the future of the XL Center is unclear at the present time. The state of Connecticut and the city of Hartford have committed significant resources towards deciding whether to renovate the arena or build a new downtown facility. Until then, UConn has the distinction of playing in the largest facility in Hockey East, and for the first time in the program’s history has a home rink worthy of the lofty goals of the athletic department.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.

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