ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team was excited about becoming reacquainted with the renovated Alfond Arena Monday afternoon during its first official practice of the season.
The team had been holding its captain’s practices at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer.
Alfond has undergone a $4.85 million renovation and the finishing touches are being applied.
The Maine women’s hockey team will play the first two games at the renovated facility on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.) when it entertains Sacred Heart (Conn.).
“Everything is on schedule,” said Claude Junkins, the university’s coordinator of engineering support and the assistant project manager.
Junkins said the new seats have been installed, although there will be 275 fewer seats because the new seats are wider and more comfortable. The fans will have the same good sight lines and view.
“All the seats that used to be 18 inches wide will now be either 19 or 20 inches wide,” said Junkins. “The 22-inch-wide seats will stay the same.”
He said they have added 14 seats for handicapped fans for a total of 38.
Junkins said the big issue they are facing right now is the cylindrical duct socks that cover the new dehumidifying system.
He explained that the duct socks impair the view of the center-ice scoreboard’s instant replay screen from the press box and the six rows leading up to the press box.
“But the manufacturer is sending us some elbows (duct socks) which will enable us to create a hump in the middle so those people will be able see the instant replay board,” said Junkins. “But we probably won’t have them for the first game.”
The Maine men open the season Oct. 2 at 4 p.m. with an exhibition game against defending Canadian collegiate champion New Brunswick.
The other improvements to the arena include a new high-efficiency chiller system, new glass, refurbished dasher boards, and an improved electrical system and generator. There will also be safety netting behind both nets. The Plexiglas will be one foot higher on the sides, he said.
“The ice will be harder. It will be more like Sawyer Arena (Bangor) ice. The building will be more comfortable. There won’t be as much humidity and the building will feel warmer,” said Junkins.
He also said there won’t be as many aisles but the aisles will be wider and they will be uniform so people won’t have a dropoff when they are walking up and down the aisles. Some railings have also been added.
Junkins said they have also addressed a problem under the rink which saw the facility lose approximately “1,000 gallons of water a day. It went right into the drain.”
He said the rink will be “much more energy-efficient,” which will save money.
Some speakers have also been added to try to provide better sound from the public address system.
The Maine players were looking forward to getting back onto the Alfond ice Monday.
“We’ve all been getting in as much as we can to check out the renovations,” said sophomore defenseman Brice O’Connor. “The boards, the ice, everything looks fresh.”
Senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill said, “it’s really cool the way things worked out with the rink being ready at this time.”
He also praised the people at Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer for providing them with a facility while they were waiting for the renovations to be completed.
“We’re fortunate. They did the ice for us. They shaved it down and made the locker room real nice for us. I want to thank them,” said O’Neill.
Will the $4.85 million renovation put any more pressure on the Black Bears, who have missed the NCAA tournament the last four years after making nine straight appearances?
“I don’t feel any additional pressure,” said senior left wing and co-captain Brian Flynn. “I know (coach Tim Whitehead) did a great job trying to get the project under way. We’ve had great support ever since I’ve been here and I’m sure it’s going to continue.
“We’ve privileged to get this sort of treatment. That’s why guys want to come here, because we get taken care of so well,” added Flynn.
“We put enough pressure on ourselves as it is,” said Abbott, who is thankful they’ll have a few weeks to adjust to the renovations before their first game. “We’ll handle it pretty well. We’re a mature team. We’ll do a good job handling the pressure. We’re excited to get back on the ice.”