College Hockey:
Commentary: The highlights and rankings from a trip to 13 college hockey arenas

Northeastern now calls Matthews Arena home, but Boston College, Boston University and Harvard all got their start there, too (photo: Northeastern Athletics).

With the goal of catching a game at all the NCAA Division I venues by the time I reach the half-century mark (aka, the Big 5-0), I hit the road last season for the Northeast to check off many of the venues I hadn’t been to.

I’ve been lucky enough to soak in the great atmospheres at North Dakota, Wisconsin, Air Force, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska-Omaha and Miami. Previously, I’d also enjoyed games at Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Boston College, Harvard, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Yale and Rensselaer, among others.

So this trip was about checking off some more places. Whoever says 13 is an unlucky number needs to channel their inner Bill Guerin and just get out there. I was driving to 13 different men’s college hockey venues across five states in the Northeast.

The schedule included visits to Dartmouth in New Hampshire; Brown in Rhode Island; Quinnipiac and Connecticut in Connecticut; Cornell, Union and Army in New York; and Boston University, Northeastern, Massachusetts, Massachusetts-Lowell, Merrimack and Holy Cross across Massachusetts.

Here’s a recap, with a few awards, followed by my top five from the journey:

The Cracker Box Award

To Lawler Arena, Merrimack. I always thought the king of the college hockey Cracker Box was Cornell, but Merrimack is a close second. With a low ceiling and cramped seating, this arena packs ‘em in. But Lawler Arena can’t carry Lynah Rink’s jockey strap for game day atmosphere on a good day. The crowd was less than engaged. At its highest point above the team benches, there’s a suite level where many fans spent more time stuffing their faces with nachos than cheering on the Warriors.

They Definitely Need A New Arena Award

To Freitas Ice Forum, Connecticut. The Huskies join Hockey East in 2014-15 and it’s hard to imagine their tiny on-campus venue will be a suitable host. My high school hockey venue was nicer. Granted, UConn will play Hockey East games at the XL Center in downtown Hartford, but the beauty of college hockey is the on-campus experience, plus Hartford is more 30 minutes away from campus by car.

The I Love Throwbacks Award

To Northeastern’s Matthews Arena. While the atmosphere for the game I caught was sub-par (a Sunday night affair), I just love this place. Opened in 1910, it’s so old that it hosted the NHL’s Bruins before the original Boston Garden was built. And I can still see my late father driving up from Hartford, where I was born and raised, to catch the old New England Whalers of the WHA play here in the early 1970s.

BC, BU, Harvard and Northeastern — Boston’s four Division I college hockey programs — all started here. So why not hold a Beanpot here once every four years? What, a home-ice advantage for Northeastern? Please. Tradition calls for it — a Beanpot at its original home every four years.

And finally …

The Bad Karma Award

To me. I wasn’t the greatest karma for many of the home teams on my trip, with the hosts recording just a 7-5-1 mark.

Here were my top five places from my journey to 13 schools:

5. Messa Rink, Union — Schenectady, N.Y.

I loved this place. It has a barn feel and cowbells reign supreme. During the national anthem, fans bust out with a unison cheer of “U!” And the campus? Beautiful.

Dartmouth’s Thompson Arena opened in 1973 (photo: redjar via Flickr).

4. Thompson Arena, Dartmouth — Hanover, N.H.

Let’s just get this out of the way. I always enjoy visiting Dartmouth and Hanover. To me, it’s the Mayberry of a New England college town. The campus is gorgeous, too, and I love how the school has blended in its sports venues into the campus, including Thompson Arena, which opened in 1973. The Big Green’s basketball team was playing across the street at the same time the hockey team was, but I snuck a peek across the street between periods and you could literally count the number of fans at the hoops game. Dartmouth loves its hockey and Thompson was packed. The Big Green jumped out to a lead and then held off a late surge to win. It was one of the better atmospheres on my trip.

3. Agganis Arena, Boston University — Boston

I caught an awesome matchup, BU hosting BC. The last time I caught a BU home game it was at Walter Brown Arena, which is still used by the Terriers women’s team. I wondered if this new arena might be too big and too corporate for the men. Well, for the game against the cross-town rivals Eagles it certainly wasn’t. I had a grand time. The students were loud and proud and the place was jumping — and there’s not a bad seat in the house. BC went home a winner, though.

2. TD Bank Sports Center, Quinnipiac — Hamden, Conn.

When I was growing up in Hartford as a kid, Quinnipiac was considered an afterthought for just about everything — academics, athletics, you name it. Today, this school 40 minutes south of the state capital has everything going for it. The academics are outstanding; the campus, impressive; and the college hockey venue? Awesome. The student section was pretty wild, too, to say nothing of the team. I caught the Bobcats capturing yet another ECAC Hockey victory.

Lynah Rink has been the home of Cornell hockey since 1957 (photo: Chris Waits via Flickr).

1. Lynah Rink, Cornell — Ithaca, N.Y.

It’s the Fenway Park of college hockey, which is to say, if you like your space, this ain’t your place. The roof is low, the seats tightly-packed together, the aisles cramped, and standing room is few and far between. And the students? Well, they’re nuts. I snuck down to the student section and let my ears soak in all that makes the Lynah faithful the best student section in all of college hockey.

In a few years, I look forward to coming back to this region to see new, on-campus arenas at Penn State, Colgate and Rochester Institute of Technology, and who knows, possibly UConn, too. But before then, I’ve already got my trip planned for next season — I’m looking forward to getting back to the Land of the Irish to see their still fairly new pad, plus hit up Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and across into Minnesota to soak in the great game-day experience that is college pucks.

Joe Connor is a freelance college hockey writer and author of the annually-updated online travel companion, “A Fan’s Guide to the Ultimate College Hockey Experience,” which is available for purchase exclusively at his web site, www.mrsportstravel.com.

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  • YuppieScum

    Lawler can be a real pressure cooker when a meaningful game is being held there vs the iron of the HEA.

  • StuartEWeiner

    Nothing like a game at Lynah. Thanks for the article. ’77 Cornell

  • hockeyman41

    Beanpot at Matthews every four years? How and when do I enter the ticket lottery? That building is a terrific hockey venue.

  • DutchOven

    Thanks for recognizing Messa. Yeah, the bathrooms suck and the bleachers hurt, but there is an electricity in the air. And spot on w/ the campus. Gorgeous. If it weren’t in Schenectady, the school would be impossible to get into.

  • Collin Mockery

    You missed Clarkson in both trips! Talk about energy at that place. Cheel has as good of energy as Lynah does, and they don’t threaten to arrest the opposing teams fans for standing during the game.

    • sde4

      Lolz. Cheel? It’s pretty noisy in there when Clarkson is having a good season or when they’re playing one of their rivals, but otherwise, it hardly has energy.

  • Michael Tucker

    Looking to start my own Div 1 Hockey tour. I’m in Oswego, seen plenty of great D3 hockey. Looking for something different. I’ve seen games already at Niagara, RIT, Cornell, Clarkson, Vermont, and BU. While I’ve been to Union and RPI, it was for Minor Hockey games, so I never got to experience the atmosphere, though I thought Union was great as well. I was thinking about making a trip Vets Day weekend. Many options are available. I was thinking Friday night at either RPI or Union, Saturday either Maine or Dartmouth(depending on if I want to trek all the way to Orono), and then finishing up with Army/BC at Conte on Sunday.

    • siouxpthr

      I might be a bit biased here being a student and all, but if you get the chance come out and see North Dakota’s arena… it’s not quaint by any stretch nor really intimate, but the grandeur of it is breathtaking… it is by far the nicest arena of any kind I’ve been in, better than NHL arenas

  • bronxbomberz41

    I still need to get my way to Matthews. Been to BC (boring, clearly also a basketball arena), BU (very nice), Lowell (also very nice, if the atmosphere isn’t as great as some others) Merrimack (people seemed more concerned with the Denver/Baltimore playoff game last season than the MC game), and Maine (roudy, good atmosphere usually, but is kind of a dump and the fans can be terrible to visitors). UNH still is good (never went to the lively snively) but the Whit is showing its age now (pushing 20 years). Could use a face-lift…or at least a new scoreboard without those silly orange lights.

  • Vinnie Vega

    Funny that even though you were there, the Tsongas didn’t leave a remarkable impression. 1st class facility packed with over 5k a game.

  • HeyKurtz

    I’ve played, coached or attended youth, beer league, college, minor league and NHL hockey games in more than 50 buildings and nothing comes close to my experiences at Lynah. LET’S GO RED!!! Cornell ’87

  • ChuckGandCrew

    Not even an honorable mention to the Tsongas? Slightly disappointing, great venue for hockey, in my opinion the nicest in HE. You can’t mention history without taking about Watson rink. Dead on with Merrimack and UConn, but you should mention Merrimack is in midst of an athletics department renovation.

  • alaskabear

    Great job Joe! It’s a bummer that here in Anchorage the new “Alaska Airlines Arena” on the University of Alaska campus will be open Spring 2014, and it has everything but ice in it! The university said recently that they plan to address an on-campus ice arena soon — but you know how that goes. “Soon”.. :0/ If they had put ice in the sports arena currently being built, it would’ve been awesome for you to add Anchorage to your travel list. For now though, I think we also rate as a member of the “they need a new arena” club! (An ON-campus arena!) :D

  • really

    How can the Tsongas Center not be on your list? It was named one of the best arenas in North America and its average attendance is one of the best in college hockey.

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