Union excited at prospect of new hockey rink at Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor

Achilles Center has been home to Union hockey since 1975.

Achilles Center has been home to Union hockey since 1975.

SCHENECTADY — Since 1975, the home of Union College hockey has been the Achilles Center.

In the not-too-distant future, that appears to be changing for the school’s Dutchmen and Dutchwomen teams. 

The state budget that was recently passed includes $10 million in funding for a hockey facility that will be built near the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, it was announced on Monday. There is no timetable as to when construction will begin because more funding will be needed; the overall cost of the project is estimated between $40 and $50 million.

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“It’s a really positive step for Union, the hockey programs and Schenectady, as well,” Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said in an interview Monday night. “We continue to gain momentum, and look forward to taking the next steps in the process.”

Speaking at the site where the area will house the Dutchmen and Dutchwomen hockey programs, Union College president David Harris expressed excitement regarding a new rink, which has long been rumored.

“Union Hockey is Schenectady’s hockey team,” Harris said. “With this facility, it’s really Schenectady’s hockey team.”

State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara helped secure funding for the project.

Also: $10M in state funds coming to Schenectady for ice arena at Mohawk Harbor; For Union hockey, other events

“To get support for this,” Santabarbara said, “we talked about the fact that it’s multipurpose, the fact that it serves as an economic value, but it also serves the community function supporting Union College. They need a new home. They’ve been looking for a place to reconstruct their hockey rink. And this serves that purpose, but also serves other purposes as well.”

Seating capacity at the new facility will be 2,850, not much bigger than Messa Rink’s capacity of 2,225.

“People love the feel of Union that size,” Harris said. “I’m a college hockey fan. I’ve been to places that are huge. It’s just not the same feel. . . . We felt like this was the sweet spot for our community and our program.”

There will be plenty of standing-room only spots on the concourse. There will also be concession stands and plenty of bathrooms.

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The one concession stand at Messa Rink wasn’t open this past season due to restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic — and there are typically long lines at the one men’s and one women’s bathrooms in the Messa Rink lobby.

“I think we’re going to have some concourse availability for standing remotely, or for some seats on the concourse to the extent that you need it,” said David Buicko, president and CEO of Galesi Group, which is donating the land for the project. “I’ve been to pretty much every hockey rink in the Northeast, as well, and there’s a lot to be said for having a really packed, dynamic audience watching the game. It feels good.”

The Union women’s hockey program has been at the Division I level since the 2003-04 season after playing a few years at Division III. The Dutchwomen haven’t had much success in their 18 seasons at D-I They have yet to make the ECAC Hockey tournament.

The Union men’s hockey program has been around since 1975 when it played at the NCAA Division III level. The program moved to Division I level in 1991. The team struggled for years before becoming a powerhouse early last decade, winning three ECACH regular season titles (2011, 2012 and 2014), three straight ECACH tournament championships (2012, 2013 and 2014) and reaching the NCAA hockey tournament four straight years (2011-14), making Frozen Four appearances in 2012 and 2014 and winning the national title in 2014.

Since then, Union has made just one NCAA appearance (2017). The Dutchmen had their worst season under then-head coach Rick Bennett in 2019-20, going 8-25-4. They sat out the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic. 

Union finished seventh in ECACH play this season and swept Princeton in the ECACH tournament best-of-three first-round series before getting swept in two overtime games by Clarkson in the quarterfinals. The Dutchmen, who were 14-19-4 overall, were rocked by the resignation of Bennett on Jan. 28 after 11 seasons as head coach following an investigation into his coaching practices. John Ronan served as the team’s interim head coach, and McLaughlin is currently conducting a search for a new head coach. Two interviews took place last week and three are scheduled for this week.

There have been previous proposals to either build a new facility or refurbish Messa. In 1997, a proposal was made to build a facility just off Nott Street near a car wash that was to be a joint venture between Union and the Schenectady Youth Hockey Association. But the men’s team didn’t want to move off campus, and the project never happened. Since then, that space became home to the Union men’s and women’s soccer programs.

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The hockey programs’ current facility underwent improvements starting in the summer of 2003 and completed the following year. A new cooling system, boards and glass, locker rooms and the conversion of a storage area downstairs, which had been a curling rink, to a reception area were among the major projects. The rink was renamed after Union alum Frank Messa, who donated a gift to the college.

There was a proposal in early 2016 for improvements that included a new video scoreboard, a new entrance across from Frank Bailey Field, a new floor for the ice surface, along with new boards and glass and new coaches offices. Only the video scoreboard came to fruition.

Between funding for the rink and the introduction of athletic scholarships, which was approved at the NCAA convention on Jan. 22, Union could become more attractive for potential recruits.

“The resources that we’re putting into the program will be really helpful in attracting great student-athletes to our men’s and women’s hockey programs,” McLaughlin said. “[The new rink] will be an important piece, a great step that was taken [Monday]. Just very thankful for the efforts of Assemblyman Santabarbara, the work we’ve been doing with Metroplex and the Galesi Group and President Harris’ leadership in all of this.”

Also: $10M in state funds coming to Schenectady for ice arena at Mohawk Harbor; For Union hockey, other events

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