Behind the Venue: An ode to Ingalls Rink and a collective history of “The Whale”
A series of former players, announcers, coaches and arena staff members offer anecdotes and a collective history of Ingalls Rink, the renowned architectural wonder and home of Yale’s ice hockey teams since 1958.
“Behind the Venue” is a series of feature-form articles that dives into the history, character and most memorable moments of Yale’s various athletic forums — from stadiums and fields to pools and boathouses. While not all articles in the series will resemble one another, all attempt to take a deeper look into how these places came to be and how they have fared over time. This article is the second in the series.
Ingalls Rink, renowned architectural wonder and home of Yale’s ice hockey teams since 1958, stands out not only as “The Whale,” but as the site of great wins, heartwarming memories and a vast range of stories — from a mid-concert bombing to game-changing mechanical errors.
A series of former players, announcers, coaches and arena staff members spoke with the News about their personal connections to Ingalls Rink over the course of 40 years, giving detailed accounts of their time spent within the rink, from their first encounter to their last visit. Designed by Eero Saarinen ARC ’34, The Whale features a 76-foot-tall arch and a 300-foot backbone. It provides a 200-by-85-foot playing surface to Yale’s current ice hockey teams and intramural broomball enthusiasts.
Teddy Werner ’98, the former voice of Yale hockey on WYBC Radio who called games from The Whale as a student and is now currently a vice president with the MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, expressed a sentiment shared by many who have had the chance to visit The Whale.
“There are very few sports venues today that allow you to watch a game while feeling like you are going back in time,” Werner said. “Ingalls Rink — with its stunning architecture, intimate charm and rich history — is one of those unique facilities.”
For hockey alums, The Whale came “to life”
Ingalls Rink was named after David S. Ingalls, class of 1920, and David S. Ingalls Jr. ’56, both former Yale men’s ice hockey captains who funded the bulk of its construction. It hosted its first game on Dec. 3, 1958 — Yale played Northeastern, losing 3–4 — and has welcomed fans and players ever since.
The Whale is home to the Yale men’s and women’s varsity ice hockey teams, club hockey, intramural hockey and various other skating groups and events. Many varsity members who had the chance to skate on its famous surface went on to pursue professional hockey careers, such as Ray Giroux ’98, a former All-American at Yale who proceeded to play in the NHL for the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils.
“On its own, Ingalls Rink is a building full of tradition and character,” Giroux said. “However, if you have been to Ingalls on a Friday or Saturday night in the winter, you have seen and felt The Whale come to life.”
Brian O’Neill ’12, a former Yale Bulldog who is tied for a school-record 138 games played and ranks second at Yale with 163 career points and 94 assists, also spoke about his experience at Ingalls. O’Neill is in his fifth year based in Helsinki, Finland, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, and he spends nearly 110 days a year on the road in Russia.
He first encountered The Whale during a recruitment visit in 2007 and later joined the team in 2008. He recalled how he felt during his favorite game there as a first year against Cornell in the regular season. Yale beat the Big Red 4–2 and went on to clinch the Eastern College Athletic Conference regular-season title.
“It’s just a very intimate setting is the best way to describe it,” O’Neill told the News in a phone call from Russia. “Every single spot … is a good spot to watch the hockey game, and it seems like when you’re there, the game is probably going a lot faster than it is, and because you’re so close to the action … it’s one of the best environments you’ll get to witness in college hockey.”
With a capacity of 3,500 people, Ingalls is known for its incredible environment, especially during sold-out games with the sound of jam-packed crowds reverberating off the insides of its timber roof and the cable net that stems from its famous concrete arch.
The bench, the structure and big games: Yale coaches and Ingalls
Yale men’s hockey head coach Keith Allain ’80 said that he was awed by the “deafening” sound, structure of the building and sightlines from any seat during his first time in The Whale as a recruit in February 1976 during a Saturday game against Dartmouth.
“[Another] game that stands out to me as a player was a 3–2 OT win vs. Cornell my sophomore year,” Allain said. “We were an up-and-coming program, Cornell was a national power, the building was absolutely jam-packed and it was so loud you could barely hear the referee’s whistle. It was an incredible college hockey game: fast, physical, intense.”
Allain mentioned some other highlights from within Ingalls Rink during his 14 seasons as head coach, including a 2013 overtime victory over Colgate during the Bulldogs’ final regular-season weekend that featured a winning goal scored off of a “fortunate bounce” from a broken stick. Yale won the NCAA Division I championship that same year.
Assistant coach Grant Kimball, who joined the Yale staff for the women’s ice hockey team for the 2019-20 season, also attested to the energy that Ingalls inspires, noting that he had never stepped foot into The Whale until he became an employee but has appreciated its great sheet of ice, architectural history and his favorite part, the bench.
“I would say [my favorite spot is] the players’ bench because that’s where all of the work that we do throughout the course of the week and the season [is],” Kimball said. “That’s where we get to see the fruits of our labor.”
Women’s hockey head coach Mark Bolding, who came to Yale in April 2019, had also never visited the facility prior to taking the Yale coaching job, and he described his awe at its “tremendous character” and unique architectural design.
With an undergraduate degree in civil engineering, Bolding appreciated it for its structure, in addition to the features of its multimillion-dollar renovation completed in 2010 — including its new press box, a rink slab, varsity locker rooms, a strength and conditioning room and the incorporation of a new NHL flex-glass system.
“Everybody loves coming to The Whale,” Bolding said. “To see the concrete beam that kind of anchors the spine of The Whale … you almost can’t stop yourself from just sort of staring up above and going, ‘This is an unbelievable design.’”
The double curvature structural form that draws the attention of visiting architectural schools was engineered by Fred N. Severud, an American structural engineer who also worked on projects like the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Madison Square Garden.
Rink staff and “hidden gems” in Ingalls history
While he expressed that the rink is an “architectural wonder,” George Arnaoutis, the Ingalls Rink Operations lead assistant, spoke about his lifelong connection to the space. He grew up down the street, attending hockey games and skating there as a child, and he began his work there as a rink assistant in 1980.
“I love it here at Ingalls, you know, it’s home away from home,” Arnaoutis said. “There’s the building and the challenges and they excite, there’s games and even though it’s sometimes a routine, you never know what to expect or what can happen, [like] mechanical failures or something on the ice surface.”
Arnaoutis, given his long-term relationship with Ingalls Rink, described some of the events other than ice hockey games and practices that it has hosted in the past, such as antique book shows, antique guitar shows, the senior dance, the School of Management graduation ceremony and a rock concert as part of a series of New Haven Green protests against the Black Panther Trials.
During the concert on May 1, 1970, two bombs exploded in the rink’s basement, and Arnaoutis said that people spray painted on the walls and that the rink is “still marked” with one of those spray paintings.
One of Arnaoutis’ fond memories in The Whale is from a men’s ice hockey game against Harvard in 1982, where the Bulldogs were up 3–1 before he drove the Zamboni and it broke down in the middle of the ice. He described how the men’s team “got together to push it over to the Zamboni doors.” From there the crowd pushed it back into its usual spot, and the Bulldogs went on to win 5–3.
Greg Zullo, the director of Third Party Rentals and Events, also grew up in New Haven County and first experienced Ingalls as a kid skating during a youth hockey game. He thinks that the rink’s Schley Room, featuring team photos from every season of Yale hockey and individual accolades players received over the years, is a “hidden gem” in the rink.
“My favorite non-Varsity event that I was a part of was the SOM Harvard vs. Yale Hockey game in 2019,” Zullo wrote in an email to the News. “The night before “The Game,” SOM showed up with over 1,000 students to support their classmates compete vs. Harvard at 11 p.m. on a Friday.”
Ingalls has a long history of holding such events and has also hosted the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Hockey Championships, in addition to the Bulldogs’ regular home games.
A view from the press box: the student beat reporter
Daniel K. Fleschner ’01, former radio voice of Yale hockey who covered the team for the News as a student and is now the NBC Sports Group vice president of content and programming for the Olympics, was involved in public address announcing for the women’s team while he was in high school. He called his first game on the radio in March of 1998, when Yale clinched the ECAC Cleary Cup, awarded to the team with the best record in league games at the end of the regular season, for the first time.
“That ’97-’98, it was just a magical year,” Fleschner said. “They came, basically from nowhere … and went to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1952. … Ingalls Rink was sold out almost every night.”
Fleschner started going to games as a kid in the New Haven area and started working in the Athletic Department in the sports publicity office under Yale’s Senior Assistant Director for Strategic Communications Steve Conn during his freshman year of high school. Later, while attending Yale, he became the lead game announcer.
He highlighted the first-round ECAC playoff series in 1998 against St. Lawrence, where Yale had to pull the goalie both nights to score the tying goals and the game where they beat Cornell 11–0, both of which he watched and reported on from the press box.
“For me, the press box was sort of my home and sort of my office,” Fleschner said. “It just makes me think of the community that I felt like I was a part of. … I would say the press box [is my favorite spot] for the warm feelings that it brings.”
Following his graduation from Yale in 2001, Fleschner, a history major, set out to write a book about the history of Ingalls Rink. The book, published in 2003, was titled “Bulldogs on Ice: Yale Men’s Ice Hockey.” He credits much of his career path to his time in Ingalls Rink, working the games and “being part of that community.”
While the beloved Whale has a significant amount of history ingrained within its backbone and arches, and a bit of graffiti, too, the spirit of past games and events lives within the thousands who have entered its front doors on Sachem Street and have taken in its unparalleled atmosphere.
The rink sits silently this winter due to the cancellation of Ivy League sports and the COVID-19 pandemic. But given what Ingalls Rink has witnessed since 1958, one cannot help but wonder what is to come.
“What intrigues me most is to imagine archeologists 5,000 years from now digging in New Haven and first coming across prehistoric bones in the Peabody Museum and then not so far away from there finding this huge dinosaur-like skeleton,” Ingalls architect Saarinen said in Fleschner’s book, referring to The Whale. “What kind of history will they reconstruct?”
The original construction cost of The Whale was $1.5 million, twice the original budget.
Amelia Lower | email@example.com
Correction, Feb. 23: Arnaoutis started working at Yale in 1980, not 1988. The story has been updated.