Let the din begin
By Brian Fitzgerald
Men’s hockey coach Jack Parker recently checked out the new Agganis Arena. His impression: the place is a real pit.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way. He is confident that the rink will be a noise pit, a well of sound — just like the old arena.
As soon as plans for a new home for his team were announced, Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97), who is also executive director of athletics, was determined to ensure that the Terriers retained the same home-ice advantage they’ve enjoyed at Walter Brown Arena. With a capacity of 3,806 and a low ceiling, the 33-year-old hockey barn is unbearably loud and intimidating for the opposition. He didn’t want to lose that edge, so from day one he consulted with University officials and the architects about the design of the new arena. A 6,200-seat facility was all right with him, as long as it still had a homey feel.
On December 7, nearly a month before the Terriers’ first game at the $97 million Agganis Arena, Parker donned a construction hard hat, stood at what would soon be center ice, and took in a 360-degree view of the stands. He liked what he saw. No seat is more than 60 feet from the ice surface. “Players are definitely going to have the feeling that the crowd is right on top of them,” he said. “The steep banking of the seats puts fans really close to the action, which is good for them — and great for the players, because they’ll feel like they’re in a pit. There will be a real closeness between players and fans.”
The Terriers are expected to take the ice for their first practice at the arena within days, and Parker predicts that fans, players, and the media will be impressed with the building, named after the late standout BU athlete and Red Sox first baseman Harry Agganis (SED’54). “When this place is filled, there is going to a huge ‘wow factor,’ not only at the rink, but also at the Fitness and Recreation Center when it opens in March,” Parker said. “When BU does something, it does it right. I think we saw that was true with the other buildings built on campus in the past few years.”
The arena is the centerpiece of the John Hancock Student Village, which received its moniker in recognition of a corporate sponsorship of $20 million from John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. The project’s first phase, an 817-bed residence hall, opened in 2000. The 80,000-square-foot track and tennis center on Ashford Street was completed in 2002. Additional residence halls will also be built.
“The arena will certainly make it easier to recruit student athletes,” Parker said. But, he pointed out, the entire Student Village will also benefit the BU community as a whole by providing social, educational, cultural, and residential opportunities for students. “It’s changing the feel and look of the campus,” he said.
A gala opening will take place on December 17, and then on January 3 the hockey Terriers will host the University of Minnesota to officially open the facility for action. Agganis Arena will reverberate to nine BU men’s hockey games this season, along with a pair of February basketball doubleheaders: both the men’s and women’s teams play Vermont there on Saturday, February 12, and Northeastern on Sunday, February 20. The women’s games will begin at 1 p.m., with the men’s contests following.
The arena is also providing Boston with a much-needed mid-size entertainment venue and BU with a revenue source: two family shows have been booked so far: Sesame Street Live 1, 2, 3 . . . Imagine from Thursday, January 20, to Sunday, January 23, and Smucker’s Stars on Ice on Saturday, March 5. The facility is expandable to 7,200 for concerts, basketball games, and other events.
Parker’s impromptu tour wound its way to the Mark Bavis Memorial Box, which honors former Terrier right-winger Bavis (CAS’93), who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. One of 29 luxury suites, the 12-seat box is reserved for former BU hockey players. Parker pointed to the four-sided 17-foot-by-24-foot scoreboard — each side has a 9-foot-by-13-foot full-color LED video screen. “The scoreboard will not only have replays, but it will also serve as a way to pump up the crowd,” he said. Among what seem to be countless amenities are a state-of-the-art locker room, a video room with theater seating, a weight training center, a private club room, a superior sound system, and two large media rooms.
Will Parker miss Walter Brown Arena? “There are a lot of great memories there,” he says, “but it’s not like the old arena will disappear, like the Boston Garden. We’ll still practice there once in a while, and the women’s varsity team will play there starting next year.”
Agganis Arena bustles with activity. Parker and his staff are busy moving their offices to the facility, and workers are putting the finishing touches on the building. The coach has few moments to spare because his team is getting ready to travel to Rensselaer, N.Y., to battle RPI before a well-deserved 18-day break after a grueling 9 games in 16 days. Are the players excited about Agganis Arena and the inaugural game against the country’s number-one team? “They’ve been over here a couple of times, and they like it,” Parker said with a grin, “but right now they’re focused on the next game and finishing up this first segment of the season on a high note.”
Parker has plenty of reasons to smile. On December 3 he notched his 700th career win, against archrival Boston College, 3-2, and the following night his team defeated UMass-Amherst, 7-1. The Terriers were unranked at the start of the season — now they’re 14th in the nation. Picked to finish third in Hockey East, BU sits atop the conference standings with an 8-1 record, and the Terriers begin the second half of their schedule in a brand-new building.
“Agganis Arena will be one of the finest hockey rinks in the country,” said Parker, “and as far as home-ice advantage is concerned, it will be just as loud as the old arena.”