Aug. 19, 2012
MADISON, Wis. –- For Wisconsin men’s hockey equipment manager Nate LaPoint, donning a hard hat and walking into LaBahn Arena is both a grand and difficult walk.
The fourth-year equipment guru looks longingly at the beautiful and nearly completed locker room complex, as well as lots of empty equipment storage space.
Nate and the men’s hockey program, just like the women’s hockey team and the men’s and women’s basketball programs, have been somewhat inconvenienced since the end of their competitive 2011-12 seasons. That is when men’s hockey moved out of its Kohl Center locker room and construction began on a new locker room for men’s basketball in the old men’s hockey locker room space. At the same time, the women’s basketball locker room began upgrades. That means a bit of musical locker rooms has been played around the Kohl Center.
Ever since the Kohl Center opened in 1998, the men’s hockey program has maintained two locker rooms – one just steps from the Kohl Center ice and a second off campus at the Bob Johnson Hockey Facility on the grounds of the Alliant Energy Center. Because of the large amount of space at the Bob Johnson, most of UW’s equipment called that building home, with LaPoint making daily trips to the facility whether the Badgers practiced out at the Alliant Energy Center or the Kohl Center.
LaBahn Arena consolidates the two locker rooms into one location centrally located between the Kohl Center and LaBahn Arena ice surfaces.
A similar arrangement for the women’s hockey program has included locker rooms at the Shell and the Kohl Center and they too will enjoy the consolidation.
LaPoint follows the progress on LaBahn Arena very closely, knowing the 2012-13 school year and season are just around the corner. He can see all that space in LaBahn, but knows he can’t start moving in completely until the arena turns over to the athletic department on Oct. 1.
That means the first week of October is going to include many late nights because official practice begins Oct. 6 for the men’s program this year.
For those men’s hockey team members around during the summer, they’ve been using the visiting hockey locker room, which looks like the typical visiting locker room at most arenas around the country.
“Having to work around when we have to move out of different places has been the biggest challenge,” stated LaPoint. “It is kind of like we’ve been on the road the entire time - working out of a small locker room, sharpening on a portable skate sharpener and doing repairs on the fly.
“I’ve been going out to the Coliseum three or four times a week to organize things for the move. There was a flood this summer out at the Coliseum when a water pump broke. That flooded the storage area a little bit, so it has been a fun summer.”
In addition to the new locker rooms, the rest of LaBahn Arena is shaping up. The boards were on schedule for completion this past week and the installation of the bowl seating was on a similar track. DoIT, the campus technology division, was busy running wires and activating many of the technological systems, which is a step that will allow Findorff, the head construction company, to begin running various tests through the new facility.
While that went on, some of the finer details of the arena started going in, like the artwork that will honor past and present Badger hockey greats on both the men’s and women’s side. And the process of installing the inaugural sheet of ice begins in less than three weeks.
The swimming programs’ portion of the facility also looks painfully close to move-in ready, with locker rooms that include Motion W-adorned carpets and open, wooden lockers, as well as a spacious student-athlete lounge that will equal or surpass that of every other collegiate swimming program in the country.
The uniqueness of the swimming facility is its exclusivity to the aquatic members and its proximity to everything the program needs - academic support, weight training and dining at the Kohl Center, go along with the pool at the SERF, a short bridge walk away.
The walk into LaBahn Arena at this stage of construction brings back a feeling for the hockey and swimming programs that they probably haven't experienced since their childhood days. That feeling of when you were six years old. You know they’ll be presents under the tree after just one more sleep and you feel you can’t wait for the next morning to come. That morning for Wisconsin comes six weeks from now.