Granite State of Mind, #85: Whittemore Center Arena, University of New Hampshire, Durham
When I arrived at the University of New Hampshire as a freshman in fall 1993, the Wildcat hockey teams played in Lively Snively Arena, a classic old barn, a cramped wooden hangar with arrows in the ceiling that we could make shake from top to bottom when we got rolling. That season was the last in the old digs; I can remember playing in one of the last broomball games on the small ice surface there, lending a hand to the bull gang laying the floor for the Fishbone/Queen Latifah show in 1994, and being in the building as we said goodbye. I can also remember playing touch football on the open field behind the arena way back then.
Thirty million dollars (give or take) and many months later, the University boasted a proud new state of the art facility. The Whittemore Center could seat 6,500 for hockey and more than that for concerts. Next door, in the renovated Snively footprint, was the spanking-new Hamel Recreation Center, with racquetball and basketball courts, weight rooms, and more. This was heady stuff for UNH, and we loved it. Of course, during the intervening months while the complex was under construction, a dizzying array of negotiations took place between students and administrators. The earliest work was done by Mike Vlacich and Shelagh Newton Michaud and Daryl Hemeon and others, but as work progressed I can remember being in meetings with Candace Corvey and Leila V Moore about what portions of debt service would be borne by student fees (I recall a $125 rec fee split with $26 per student going toward debt payments and the other $99 to programs). Some good decisions (hemosote) and some bad (no air conditioning). Most vividly, in the spring of 1995, as I joined the Athletic Advisory Committee, I recall sitting with then-Men's Athletic Director Gib Chapman for a cheeseburger at the old Gateway Restaurant at the Lee Traffic Circle and we took red and blue markers to a seating chart of the unbuilt arena and allocated seats for students. As the years went by and Judy Ray assumed full leadership of the department, we'd work well together in a relationship I cherished.
There was a lot of tension over whether the place would be ready for the announced opening date in November of 1995, as scaffolding and heavy equipment continued to surround the building into the new school year. When the night finally came, and the UNH men's hockey team hosted #1-ranked and defending NCAA champion Boston University on the new Olympic ice sheet, we kicked off with a celebratory pregame reception at the New England Center. Students, administrators, and trustees gathered to toast the campus' new crown jewel. I distinctly remember then-Chancellor William Farrell, a dour, man of advancing years, as he pronounced to a few of us that we were "about witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational hockey arena." When a guy who looked not unlike Palpatine and bearing the title of Chancellor brings the Star Wars quote, you know it's a good night. Am I right, Anthony Zizos?
A good night it was, too, as we watched from the paint-still-drying skyboxes as UNH came from behind in the final seconds to tie BU and then win in overtime. The 7,000+ fans in attendance will never forget that moment - it's still the loudest, most indelible sporting event I've ever witnessed. There were more moments to come in that new building (I got to play one of the first broomball games there, and man, an Olympic sheet is HUGE) - watching the women's team win the ECAC title in multiple overtimes in 1996, even trying on the headset and calling a few games on WUNH radio alongside Geoff Grant and Jason Boucher.
After graduation I'd continue to make the pilgrimage, sometimes in a working role at the UNH Foundation, sometimes with Dave Emanuel or David May or Matt Carlyon or other friends. In the winter of 2009 I got to bring Bobby to his first game there. It's the kind of place where there are too many memories to capture. Fish on the ice, the pep band, newspapers in the student section during player introductions, chants and cheers, sieves and ceremonies. Hard to believe the new place is now the old place - the students who cram into it these days weren't even born yet when we built it.