The inside of locker room No. 1 at the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center is a blank slate right now, empty wooden stalls with hooks and spots for name plates, but soon Worcester State players will settle in with their sticks and skates and helmets, and there will be more blue and yellow adornments to match the Lancer logo already decorating the locker room door.
The Worcester State hockey team and Becker's men's and women's programs will play and practice at the two-rink Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center this season. The $18 million arena, built by Worcester Railers owner Cliff Rucker and nearly complete, is another great addition to the city's Canal District, and the Lancers and Hawks are proud to call the building home.
"We're excited," Worcester State coach Shayne Toporowski said. "This is something to take pride in. This is our players' home away from home. It's a huge step for our program."
The Railers, Worcester's new ECHL entry, began training camp this week at the Worcester Ice Center. Worcester Academy, the Junior Railers and the Junior Crusaders will play their home games in the building, which also includes Nonna's Restaurant, Steam Café, Peak Fitness, Reliant Medical Group Physical Therapy, ProSharp and a Railers merchandise shop.
"It should really send our program to the next level," Becker men's coach Mike Chartrand said. "It's a beautiful facility. I'm really impressed with the attention to detail. It's spectacular."
Worcester State director of athletics Michael Mudd, the former Worcester Sharks president, was involved in initial discussions about building an ice arena with the Worcester Business Development Corporation seven years ago. To see the project come to fruition seems like a bit of a dream come true for Mudd.
"Cliff was really the final piece that got it done," Mudd said. "He came in with the financial support of getting it done, and he has been nothing but first class. It's been a great partnership with the Railers."
Worcester State and Becker have held several captains practices on their new rinks. Team practices begin Oct. 16. Both schools' logos are painted on the ice, and team banners hang above it and outside the building.
"We're excited to be here and excited they've incorporated so much of our logo and our brand and embraced us being here," Becker women's coach Eliza Kelley said. "Our team embraces the Railers being here, and it will be a good mutual partnership."
Kelley brought recruits to the not-finished building this summer.
"Once there were walls up, we went down there," Kelley said. "We called it the 'imagination tour.' Recruits come to campus, and they like the campus. They meet the team, and they like the team. They come to the rink, and their eyes light up. It's kind of a deal-sealer."
Likewise, the new ice center combined with Worcester State's state-of-the-art Wellness Center, which opened on campus last year, is a bonanza for Worcester State's recruiting efforts.
"To be able to show them our beautiful campus and now our (ice) facility and our locker room, that will make the return phone call much easier," Mudd said. "Every school is trying to upgrade its infrastructure to retain student-athletes. (Associate head coach) John Coughlin does most of our (hockey) recruiting, and when he walks into an arena now, he definitely gets recruits looking in his eyes now when he's talking to him because the word is out about our beautiful campus and facilities, our coach and getting our program where we want it to be."
The Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center also benefits all three programs logistically.
Worcester State previously practiced at Horgan Rink in Auburn and played its home games at Holy Cross' Hart Center. Now, the Lancers will do both about two miles from campus.
"Players would have to drive to Auburn to get their equipment," Mudd said, "pack it in the trunk and drive to Holy Cross to play the game, sometimes starting at 9 or 9:30 at night, then put the stuff back in the car and drive it back to Auburn. The folks in Auburn were great to us, and playing at Holy Cross was a beautiful place, but here, this is one-stop shopping. We'll have (7 p.m.) starting times, which will be better for student-athlete welfare, and hopefully we can increase our fan base here, too."
The Becker teams practiced and played at New England Sports Center in Marlboro.
"That's one of the biggest improvements," Chartrand said, "eliminating that one hour of travel a day. Now, (Becker's Worcester campus) is approximately one mile from the rink, and that will help students with their academics, just eliminating the travel time and being stuck on (Interstate) 290. Now, they're literally going around the corner."
Chartrand said most Becker hockey players live on the Worcester campus. Over the years, though, several have lived on the Leicester campus, which doubled travel time to practice for them.
Mudd said Worcester State is also looking at utilizing the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center for its general student population through intramural and educational programs and open skating sessions. He said discussions for adding a Worcester State women's hockey program, whether on the club or varsity level, are in their infancy stages.
The Lancers open the season at home at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 against Johnson & Wales. Mudd hopes to fill the 750 seats in the building's Blue Rink, where Worcester State and Becker will play, as well as the area around the boards for the first game of 2017-18.
"We're going to try to blow it out," Mudd said. "We're going to involve the Junior Railers and make it alumni-based and make it very Worcester State-centric. It's the start of a new era, and we're excited."
The Becker women host Franklin Pierce at 7 p.m. Oct. 28, and the Becker men face Curry at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 in their home opener.
"We couldn't be more excited," Kelley said. "Our program as a whole, it just elevates us to a new level, and it's a place we really want to be."