The Madison Capitols’ plans to move home games to Hartmeyer Ice Arena have fallen through.
The United States Hockey League team instead will play at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton after an agreement couldn’t be finalized with Hartmeyer owner Madison Ice Inc.
The USHL was reviewing the new plan to play at a facility that has a seating capacity well below league standards, but there isn’t much time to change course now. The preseason opens Friday and the regular season starts Oct. 6.
After three seasons playing at the Dane County Coliseum, the Capitols announced their intended move to Hartmeyer in July. Officials at the Alliant Energy Center said the Coliseum’s availability decreased because of more concert and event bookings.
The Capitols, meanwhile, were seeking a better fan experience. In the Coliseum, upper sections behind the goals were closed because of poor sight lines, and fan parking costs were a concern to team officials.
The team saw potential in making upgrades to Hartmeyer, but had to announce a venue change for the second time in seven weeks.
Capitols president Andrew Joudrey said the team had a tentative agreement with Madison Ice, but discussions between team chairman Ryan Suter and the group reached an impasse in the last few weeks.
“Ryan wanted to do some things with renovations and updates over the course of time to the arena,” Joudrey said. “And I think it was a question of those renovations, when they were going to be done, how they were going to be done, the financing of them.”
Representatives from Madison Ice Inc., which bought the facility and Madison Ice Arena from the city of Madison in 2004, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
The main rink at Capitol Ice Arena holds 1,300 fans, which is well below the league minimum (3,500). The Chicago Steel’s Fox Valley Ice Arena, with a capacity of 3,000, was the USHL’s smallest venue last season.
The USHL has a set of arena regulations designed to ensure the league stays as the country’s top junior hockey organization. Among them are requirements to provide infrastructure for internet broadcasting and statistics.
Suter is the majority owner of Cap Ice, which opened in 1999 and was named for hockey legend Bob Suter — Ryan’s father — in 2015 after his death the year before. The two-rink facility is home of the Madison Capitols AAA Youth Hockey Association, Middleton Youth Hockey Association and Middleton High School hockey, and it also has hosted practices for the Capitols USHL team.
The Capitols have heard from USHL administrators that Cap Ice is “a short-term solution in its present state,” Joudrey said.
He said work has already started on improvements to locker rooms, audio systems and plumbing in preparation for this season. A more extensive renovation could be in the works for the summer of 2018, or Suter and the team could look for another arena construction opportunity.
The Capitols announced their planned move to Hartmeyer on July 28, and the team was studying ways to improve the 56-year-old arena.
The head of the Madison Patriots youth hockey program, Hartmeyer’s biggest user group, said the organization was disappointed with the agreement being called off.
“The Patriots were very much looking forward to having the Capitols play at Hartmeyer, and a collaborative relationship was already being built between our organizations,” said Sarah Moriva Genschaw, the Patriots’ president. “Our skaters all look up to the Capitols players and were very excited to share the rink with them.”
Suter once played for the Patriots program, which has about 250 skaters between the ages of 4 and 14 from the Madison East, Madison La Follette and Monona Grove high school attendance areas.
Moriva Genschaw said having the Capitols play at Hartmeyer would have given a boost to hockey on Madison’s east side and would have brought “some much-needed improvements to the rink.”