Connecticut joins Hockey East

The University of Connecticut has accepted an invitation to become the 12th member of Hockey East, the region's top college hockey conference.

The 10-member league, which is in the process of adding Notre Dame for 2013, had been looking for a 12th member to ease scheduling problems.

Commissioner Joe Bertagna told The Associated Press in May that UConn was the target of that search. The school and the league announced Thursday that an invitation had been extended and accepted.

UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel called it a historic day for the school.

"We are committed to developing a men's ice hockey program that can and will perform successfully on the national level and compete for Hockey East and NCAA championships," he said.

UConn currently plays in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, does not offer scholarships and has a home rink that seats fewer than 2,000 fans on metal bleachers.

UConn will join the league in the 2014-15 season and play its league games at the XL Center in Hartford, which seats more than 15,000 for hockey and is the home of the AHL's Connecticut Whale. UConn also plays many of its home men's and women's basketball games there.

Non-league games would still be played at the on-campus Freitas Ice Forum, which Manuel has said the school plans to renovate or replace.

A study commissioned by the school and released in April put the cost of upgrading the program at about $1.3 million just in scholarships, and almost $11 million to renovate the on-campus rink. It would also cost the program about $20,000 a game to play at the XL Center, according to the report by consultant Stafford Sports.

"I think they are going to do all they have to do to be competitive," Bertagna said. "When they want to be successful they develop the resources necessary to become successful. So I don't have the fears that some fans have. I think they will be competitive fairly quickly."

The move had the endorsement of Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Boston College alumnus, who personally got involved in the talks.

"I have been a longtime fan of college hockey and believe that this is an incredible opportunity for the university," Malloy said Thursday. "It is also a great opportunity to bring more top-flight events to the XL Center and further enhance the quality of life in downtown Hartford."

UConn said it plans to add 18 scholarships for the hockey team and will add scholarships to existing women's programs, likely rowing and tennis, to meet federal gender equity requirements. The UConn women's hockey program already plays in Hockey East.

Bertagna said the only concerns in the negotiations centered over whether UConn's fan base would travel to Hartford and whether UConn was committed to building a better on-campus facility. He said the school and the state addressed those concerns.

Hockey East was founded in 1983, and its members have won eight NCAA championships and four in the past five years, including this past season when Boston College took the title. Current members also include Boston University, Maine, UMass, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Vermont.

Bertagna said the league likes the state school model because it brings with it a large alumni and fan base.

"Our directors have always said that we would welcome growth through any institution that brings value to our conference," Bertagna said. "No other school was better positioned to do this than the University of Connecticut."