Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
WALTHAM — Forty years after hanging up his skates as senior co-captain of what was then Bentley College’s first varsity hockey team, Ric Briand will lace them up again on a very special weekend.
The occasion is an over-40 alumni game Saturday, Feb. 17 at the brand-new, state of the art, $45 million Bentley Arena. It’s part of a Bentley University celebration that will include the first two varsity hockey games played at the rink named for Bob DeFelice, the school’s athletic director who’s just started his 50th season as baseball coach.
Bentley will host Army West Point Feb. 16 and 17, with university president Gloria Larson, who is leaving in June after 11 years, dropping the ceremonial puck both evenings.
“It makes you feel good that you were a small part of bringing Bentley hockey to where it is today,’’ said Briand, who played on Eastern Mass. and state championship teams at Arlington High. He and a Bentley teammate successfully petitioned the administration to change the team’s status from club to varsity prior to the 1977-78 season.
Since then, the Falcons have transitioned from a Division 3 to a Division 1 team in the Atlantic Hockey Conference and have called the John A. Ryan Skating Arena in Watertown (nicknamed “the JAR’’) their home.
Their new home, which had been talked about for more than a decade, and which has been funded through private donations and the university’s operating reserves, is part of an ongoing capital plan that has included the renovation of classrooms and science labs at Jennison Hall.
The arena’s official seating capacity for hockey games – 1,917 – reflects the year the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance was founded in Boston. There’s also standing room for 200 people on the concourse. When used for concerts, guest speakers, career fairs, and other events, it numbers 3,400 seats.
First-year varsity hockey player Brendan Hamblet of Hopkinton said the allure of the new rink and a Bentley education is “a great combo. The excitement our team is feeling right now is through the roof.’’
And speaking of roofs, the 76,000-square-foot, multi-purpose facility, designed by Architectural Resources Cambridge and built by Suffolk Construction of Boston, includes 1,400 sustainable solar panels that will generate 40 percent of the building’s electrical needs.
The arena will be the first LEED-certified building on campus. Located on the South Campus, it is many things to many people.
To DeFelice, it’s a show-stopper. “I come in here every day,’’ he said, “and say ‘wow.’ ”
To head hockey coach and former Bentley star Ryan Soderquist, it’s about “satisfaction and pride seeing the faces of incoming freshmen and meeting Bentley players from 50 years ago. At times it looked like it might not happen, so seeing it now is a bit surreal. To be part of the fabric of the campus is a nice feeling for our team.’’
To associate dean of arts and sciences Wiley Davi, it will be a learning laboratory where students from several disciplines can enhance their classroom experience by working in the media control room, developing marketing content to be aired during games, gathering energy usage information, or working on player statistics.
To dean of students Andrew Shepardson, it’s representative of the Bentley of the future and a transformative gathering place. “I’ve been here almost 25 years,’’ he said, “and I can’t recall such enthusiasm.’’
To Angus Leary, Suffolk Construction’s Northeast president and general manager, it’s an emotional connection to his former Tabor Academy roommate, Travis Roy, who has worked to help spinal cord injury survivors since a 1995 hockey injury at Boston University left him a quadriplegic. In the past decade, Suffolk has built multi-use rinks at Tabor, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of New Hampshire.
To the players coached by the late Joe Quinn on Bentley’s club teams and their early varsity teams, it’s been an opportunity to raise funds to donate a plaque in the lobby of the new arena in his memory.
And to Larson, who will be honored next month at Bentley Arena, it’s the fulfillment of a dream that has “made me the happiest person you could imagine. Our students are over-the-top excited. I wanted to see this happen before I left Bentley.’’
Steve Manfredi, chairman of Bentley’s trustees, will accompany Larson for the puck-dropping ceremonies. Special guests will include members of the building committee (chaired by Shepardson), alumni hockey players, and donors. Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy will also attend.
Doors officially open Thursday, Feb. 15, so students, staff, and faculty can tour the facility. On Feb. 17, tours of the arena will be held from 1 to 3 p.m., the “Experienced’’ alumni game will get underway at 3 and the “Young Guns’’ alumni game at 4, followed by a reception. A comedy show is scheduled for Feb. 18.
Briand, managing partner at Silverlake Wealth Management in South Burlington, Vt., recalled that as a club team player, he and the Bentley squad lugged their equipment to the long gone Waltham Sports Center on Bacon Street at 5:30 in the morning for practice.
“I had always hoped over all these years,’’ said Briand, a Bentley Hall of Famer, “that this day would finally come.’’
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