By Jonah Malkin
Madison, Wis. – Since 2012, the LaBahn Arena has been more than simply an alternative facility for Wisconsin athletic teams to practice in- to the women’s hockey team, it’s finally a place they can call home.
For years, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team practiced at the Camp Randall Sports Center (also known as the Shell), and played their home games at several venues outside the city of Madison, including places in Verona or at Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton; both of which are at least a 20 to 25 minute commute from the campus.
The LaBahn Arena, named after UW alumni members Charles and Mary Ann LaBahn, the primary benefactors and lead donors of the 2012 project, was primarily established to serve as a central location for the women’s hockey team. According to AJ Harrison, the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications, before the establishment of the LaBahn Arena, the women’s hockey team would occasionally play homes game at the Kohl Center, which posed its own problems and further highlighted the need for another facility.
“The Kohl Center is a great facility. One of the things though is, if you bring three-thousand people to the Kohl Center, and the building seats about 15-thousand for hockey, it’s not a very good environment or atmosphere for the players,” Harrison said. “They would do some fill the bowl games early on and we would get crowds of eight to nine-thousand which is fantastic for women’s hockey, but on an average Saturday afternoon we’d have three-thousand people there and it just wouldn’t have the same energy as LaBahn Arena does.”
The LaBahn Arena is not only a state-of-the-art facility but unique in that it is just one of two purpose-built women’s collegiate hockey arenas in the entire country. Despite its smaller physical size and only having a maximum capacity of 2,273, Harrison says that structural aspect of the arena is what greatly contributes to the incredible environment and atmosphere it creates for both the fans and the players.
“At the end of the day it’s (LaBahn) one of the best environments in college hockey in the fact that we sell out so many games and get passionate fans,” Harrison said. “We have fans that arrive 90 minutes before games but we don’t even open our doors until 60 minutes before, so this allows them to get their favorite seat. And with the rink being kind of smaller, there is not a bad seat in the house and the fans that come feel like they are a part of the program.”
Harrison expanded to say that now when the team’s schedule is released, all of the home games are listed at LaBahn: elucidating any fan confusion as to where the home games will be played.
He also said that despite not working for the Athletic Department in 2012, or playing a role in discussions involving the decision to build the arena, he believes that there was no backlash received from the women players or fans, in protest of the women being forced to play in a separate and smaller arena than the men.
“I don’t think there was any backlash at all. Many of our former women’s hockey players helped donate to build LaBahn, and I think the big thing that the alumni wanted was a place that the program could call home,” Harrison said. “Our players now have their own locker rooms which are magnificent, coaches have their offices right in the arena, they have their own hot and cold tubs and their own training room; I just think it’s a dream scenario for the program.”
Beyond having their own dedicated ice rink to utilize at their discretion, Harrison emphasized that the most significant benefit of the LaBahn Arena is the fact that the team finally has a place they can consider to be their own.
Having been around for five years, the Labahn Arena continues to garner attention from fans and provide the players utilizing it with one-of-a-kind experiences. More importantly, for the women’s hockey team, it will continue to be a place they can call home for years to come.