Wikimedia

There is always something special about watching a home game. Of course, it helps when the team is Yale men’s ice hockey and every home match is held in Ingalls Rink, acknowledged by The Wall Street Journal for having the best design across America.

With the capacity to seat 3,500 people, The Whale often finds its interior packed to the brim with hockey fans. In this past weekend’s game against Harvard, tickets sold out days before the match, while those who could not get their hands on a seat purchased standing room-only tickets to get a glimpse of the action-packed game. Yet few who walk through the rink’s front doors pause to appreciate the architectural marvel that is Ingalls Rink.

“Sometimes we take for granted how lucky we are to have the facilities we have,” forward Dante Palecco ’21 said. “The Whale is an unbelievable building, and we are fortunate to be able to call it home. It’s a perk of being a Yale hockey player that we have a program that really strives to give the players everything they need.”

Officially named David S. Ingalls Rink after ice hockey captains David S. Ingalls, class of 1920, and David S. Ingalls Jr. ’56, The Whale was designed by prominent architect Eero Saarinen ARC ’34 and was built in 1959. The rink’s innovative design includes a 90-meter concrete arch that rises over the ice — an architectural motif Saarinen replicated when designing the Gateway Arch of St. Louis, Missouri, a few years later. A cable net cascades off the arch, supporting a timber roof and giving the rink its famous, double curvature form. From the outside, Ingalls Rink resembles a massive whale with a humpbacked roof and tail rising over the central entrance. Breathtaking to behold, The Whale is more than just a functional ice rink. Like the works of many distinguished architects, it is also a sculptural masterpiece.

At the time, in support of the project, Saarinen recruited art historians to endorse the design for the rink. The professors, including legendary Yale figure, architectural historian Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49, were impressed with the diverse stylistic elements incorporated into the rink’s design. Saarinen’s vision pulled from Gothic, Roman and Asian roots but merged them together with pioneering technology.

“What impressed us all,” the professors wrote in a letter, “was the character and integrity of principle as carried out with Twentieth-Century means — quite up to date, yet never likely to go out of date.”

More than half a century after its initial construction, Ingalls Rink went through a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2009. The three phases of construction involved extensive work that fitted the rink with a new press box, refurbished exit doors, lighting along the ceiling and a 14,000-square-foot underground space that houses a new strength and conditioning room as well as lockers for the men’s and women’s varsity teams. Phase III included the establishment of a hockey heritage area in the interior of the main building on the upper and lower levels. A quasi-museum, the space showcases Yale’s hockey team through the years — beginning with the first intercollegiate hockey game ever played in America — Yale’s 1896 match against Johns Hopkins University. Already one of the most distinguished feats of architecture at Yale, the $23.5 million renovations helped The Whale elevate its facilities with the addition of new spaces, technology and cultural history.

Though constructed for the University, Ingalls Rink is home to more than just Yale’s varsity hockey teams. It serves as a venue for other recreational skating groups such as the Yale Figure Skating Club and Yale Youth Hockey as well as for the wider New Haven community, for whom The Whale hosts a wide variety of events in its space. A team of staff oversees the arena, which is in almost constant use.

“Just knowing that you are going to the rink with your 28 brothers is special, but getting to do that while being at The Whale adds a little more,” Palecco said. “It’s a really special atmosphere on game days and one of the best in college hockey.”

The Yale men’s ice hockey team returns to The Whale on Dec. 7 to face Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Lucy Liu | l.liu@yale.edu .