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The University of Wisconsin's new LaBahn Arena is comprised of a single seating level for a more intimate spectator experience, picture here on Monday, 10/1/12, in Madison, Wisconsin

The difference between a luxury and a necessity is all about your perception.

In the case of LaBahn Arena, which opened for business Monday, it's understandable why some view it as an indulgence for the six University of Wisconsin sports programs directly affected by its construction.

From the modern offices for women's hockey to the new dressing rooms for the hockey, swimming and basketball teams, from the expanded sports medicine area to the practice and competition rink for the hockey clubs, it's a state-of-the-art venue that's consistent with its $34 million price tag.

When members of the UW men's hockey team began moving into their new digs Sunday night, senior defenseman John Ramage had a look of awe that belied the fact he was exposed to many first-class accommodations while growing up as the son of a NHL All-Star.

"I can't believe this is our locker room," the UW captain said to no one in particular.

But make no mistake. LaBahn Arena is more of a necessity than any other recent capital project underwritten by UW Athletics.

The reason: The safety and well-being of the student-athletes that use it.

For years, members of the men's hockey team were asked to trek to the Bob Johnson Hockey Facility, located three miles off campus, to practice because the Kohl Center was decked out for basketball. For some, that meant climbing on scooters and negotiating busy passageways like Park Street and John Nolen Drive. Some did so with unwieldy equipment bags slung over the shoulders. And they did so in the middle of winter when all travel dangers were heightened.

There were times when circumstances dictated the men's team skate at the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center. While the Shell is located on campus, workouts there involved players dressing for practice at the Kohl Center and making their way down congested Dayton Street via car, truck and scooter.

Members of the women's hockey team, which was headquartered at the Shell, made similar journeys when ice time was available at the Kohl Center. They were also known to venture out to the Eagles Nest in Verona.

The longer UW went without a place like LaBahn, the more it risked dealing with something tragic.

Even now, members of the swim teams will utilize the Natatorium on the western edge of campus as well the Southeast Recreational Facility, which is attached to LaBahn via an enclosed skywalk.

Many of the upgrades UW has made to its facilities in recent years — including the ongoing Student-Athlete Performance Center, an $88 million project at the north end of Camp Randall — are mainly about keeping up with the Joneses.

LaBahn certainly allows the two UW hockey programs to keep up with the Joneses — the men will practice there, while the women will practice there starting today and play their games in the beautiful 2,273-seat facility — but its greatest benefit is keeping their student-athletes out of harm's way as much as possible.

Detail work continued inside LaBahn on Monday, but it's easy to see why its residents are in awe of its amenities. Many could be categorized as luxuries — from the immense dressing rooms and coaches' lounges to video theaters and storage rooms — but they take a backseat to function.

LaBahn Arena will be a safe haven for those who work, study, coach and play there.

Contact Andy Baggot at or 608-252-6175.