Feel like traveling with your team as they move towards a berth at Lake Placid? Don’t know what to do while you travel? Don’t know what to look at in the arenas you visit? Don’t know what to do to kill time before the game starts? Don’t know where to eat? I’ll answer those questions for you in the next few pages.
I’ve been traveling with the RPI hockey team for five years now, and I’ve experienced every road trip in the Northeast. I’ve gotten to a point where I know where to eat, what not to eat, what to visit, where to stay, and what to avoid when you’re on the road. Come with me as I fill you in on things to do while traveling the ECAC road circuit.
The RPI-Union Trip
Let’s start somewhere I’m very familiar with — the Capital District of New York State. For those of you coming here in 1998 for the NCAA East Regional, keep this in mind.
Where to eat: Of course, there’s the usual selection of national outfits, but for food and drink, you definitely need a car at RPI (it’s a little better at Union). Check out the Troy Pub & Brewery: decent food, and one of the better microbreweries I have patronized. There’s also Famous Lunch in Troy — miniature hot dogs with chili and onions. My mouth is watering as I write this. [Editor’s note: Diligent readers may have noticed that bets between Mr. Moy and Hockey East writer Dave Hendrickson tend to be measured in Famous Lunch’s fare.] Then there are Sutter’s and the Eldorado, where wings and beer are the finest.
At Union is Geppeto’s, which is within walking distance. For those of you in the mood for a heart attack, try Morette’s on Erie Boulevard, about a mile from Achilles Rink — steak sandwiches like you’ve never had. There is also a great hot dog place across the street from Morette’s.
What to avoid: The chain restaurants. You can get that stuff anywhere. What you want is local color, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Right?
The Arenas: At the Fieldhouse, there really is no bad seat, unless you get stuck behind a pole in the corners. Wide open and airy, and if you look up towards the ceiling, you can see me by the WRPI sign. Go ahead, wave to me. If you want to beat the crowds to the game, come at least a half-hour early, and leave directly afterward.
At Achilles Rink, stake out what’s important first — the restrooms. There’s precisely one facility for men and women in the entire building. Also find the emergency exits; you’ll understand why once you’re there. There isn’t much else in the arena to explore.
The Vermont-Dartmouth Trip
One of the most beautiful car rides you can take — unless you’re in the middle of a snowstorm. Enjoyable and relaxing.
Where to Eat: At Vermont, downtown Burlington is nice, and you can get good food and drink. In particular, try the Vermont Brewery downtown. I haven’t run across a place yet that I didn’t enjoy.
At Dartmouth, there’s a little strip of stores and restaurants that one can enjoy. I like a place on the main drag called Molly’s Balloons.
What to do: Take the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour in Waterbury, a must as you travel I-89 to either school. I never miss it; it’s a great way to kill time, and you get free ice cream. There’s also the Catamount Brewery tour in White River Junction near Dartmouth. If you’ve ever been on Busch or Miller’s tour, you are in for an enlightenment.
The Arenas: At Gutterson, get there just as the doors open and watch the General Admission seating. Don’t blink — it’s a sight to behold. Also, watch how the crowd interacts with the band. The atmosphere here is amazing.
At Thompson Arena, a unique experience awaits. You can watch the game from almost every seat in the house. Just move every 30 seconds or so, and you will have covered the entire place. It’s unfortunate that this great arena does not enjoy larger crowds.
What to avoid: Wearing opposing colors in the G.A. section at the Cathouse. Also, falling asleep at Thompson Arena.
The Colgate-Cornell Trip
The Finger Lakes of New York: I never saw the ground during my first three years as an announcer. Why? Six-to-ten-foot-high snowdrifts. This can be a real hard trip in inclement weather, because it’s a lot of one-lane highways.
Where to eat: Cornell is great. Collegetown has a variety of establishments, and downtown Ithaca has a great selection of food. You can’t go wrong here.
At Colgate, make sure you eat before you go. There is the Colgate Inn, Burger King, and a Chinese takeout. You choose.
Things to do: If you want to take a chance, head to Turning Stone Casino. Check out the lakes and the countryside as well. By the time you get on the road and travel from one to the other, there isn’t much time left for sightseeing.
The Arenas: The Lynah Faithful are back, and they are as entertaining as anything. The place gets loud and boisterous. A good time is always had at Lynah Rink. Try not to sit too high in the arena, as you will have a hard time seeing the scoreboard.
At Colgate, dress warmly. Starr Rink is not exactly the warmest place in the world. It is an interesting place to watch a game, as the seats are really close to the ice, except at one end of the arena. The sound system is not that good, so listen carefully to the announcements.
What to avoid: Staying at the Colgate Inn.
The Harvard-Brown Trip
It’s the greatest trip, culturally speaking, in the ECAC. It has Boston included, so what more could you want?
Where to eat: At Harvard, there’s plenty. Choose from anything, but get to Faneuil Hall if you can.
At Brown, you’re talking Providence, which boasts a nice selection of restaurants. The strip downtown near the Civic Center, and by Meehan, features a variety of stores. I personally like the barbecue joint on this strip.
What to do: Self-explanatory. It’s Boston and Providence.
The Arenas: Bright is a great place to watch a game. You’re on top of the action, and the band is original and creative. Check out some of the history on the walls of Bright as well.
Meehan is very open and airy. Not a bad seat in this house, unless you are sitting on the metal bleachers at the end of each side of the rink. It is also one of the warmest arenas I have ever been in.
What to avoid: At Harvard, the drivers. At Brown, the Greek restaurant on that little strip.
The Clarkson-St. Lawrence Trip
The shortest, in terms of distance, between two arenas in the ECAC. Unless it’s November or late February, prepare to be cold.
Where to eat: Oh, boy, it’s tough up here. Besides the chain restaurants, the only selections are on the main drags in town. I’ve eaten a few times at the pizza joints in the two towns, Sergi’s. There’s also Uncle Max’s in Canton. There is also a decent bagel on Main Street in Potsdam.
What to do: Ottawa is real close by, so go check it out. Venturing into Canada is always a fun thing to do, just to see if you can buy things cheaper than in the States.
The Arenas: Cheel is new and looks it. Great sight lines, and a great scoreboard. The pep band at Clarkson is fun, and the other noises in the arena are fun as well. The train whistle and the bell are two that annoy visitors without fail. Check out the history on the walls of Cheel Arena.
Appleton Arena is a rustic-looking barn. Recently renovated, it can get real loud, especially with that bothersome air horn. Always be alert at Appleton, as a puck can wind up in your teeth really easily.
What to avoid: Getting stuck in the snow. It can happen, and has to me. Also make hotel arrangements early, or else you’ll be stuck way out of town, and if it’s snowing, the drive can be a real bear.
The Princeton-Yale Trip
The other metropolitan trip on the ECAC docket. There is a lot for both places to offer.
Where to eat: At Princeton, a plethora of restaurants reside in the shopping district, which is right off the campus. You really can’t go wrong. And of course, on the way down from Troy, I always stop at that classic hot-spot of fine dining — White Castle.
At Yale, it’s hard to say. I’ve never actually eaten in New Haven, except at Ingalls Rink. This is because we always have White Castle hamburgers left over from the Princeton half of the trip.
What to do: At Princeton, you can kill a day by walking that strip of stores by the campus. There are a lot of interesting things to do there, and some interesting things that stores sell. Check it out. On the ride to or from Yale, you can always stop in New York City. Of course, it’s only a short time to experience it, but you can hit some things on the way back and to.
The Arenas: I love Hobey Baker Rink. I don’t know why, but I like the atrium walkways, the coldness, and the open-air feel of the arena. Unfortunately, it’s a tough place to watch a game; especially in the balcony, which looks like it’ll fall down at any moment.
Ingalls Rink makes me seasick with its sloping walkways. There is no bad seat in the house, but it is one cramped arena to watch a game at.
What to avoid: Making a left turn in New Jersey and venturing too far into New Haven at night.
That’ll do it for our tour — but wait, there’s more. What about eating in the arena, and some best/worst lists? Here you go:
Best Hot Dog: Hembold's Hot Dog, RPI Fieldhouse
Best Coffee: Appleton Arena
Best Pretzels: Starr Rink
Best Popcorn: Starr Rink
Cheapest Eats: Starr RInk
Best Hot Chocolate: The Sweet Shop, RPI Fieldhouse
Best Sightlines: Thompson Arena
Coldest Rink: Starr Rink
Warmest Rink: Meehan Auditorium
Most Strategically Placed Restrooms: Bright Hockey Center
Worst-Placed Restrooms: Achilles Rink
Best Fans: Lynah Rink
Best Show: Gutterson Fieldhouse
Hardest Arena to Find: Thompson Arena
Best Ice: Hobey Baker Rink
Worst Ice: RPI Fieldhouse
Easiest to walk up and buy a ticket: Thompson Arena
Hardest to walk up and buy a ticket: Cheel Arena
Worst Hot Dog: Achilles Rink
Worst Coffee: Ingalls Rink
Worst Pretzel: Achilles Rink
Worst Popcorn: Achilles Rink
Most Expensive Eats: Ingalls Rink
Hardest Parking: Appleton Arena
Easiest Parking: Thompson Arena
Best Pep Band: Cheel Arena
Most Knowledgable Fans: Cheel Arena
Best Pre-Game Extravaganza: RPI Fieldhouse
Best Place To Watch A Game: RPI's Catwalk (if you can get there)
Thompson Arena, center ice
Worst Place To Watch A Game: RPI Fieldhouse, behind a post
Place You'll Miss Part of the Game: Achilles Rink
Most Hostile Crowd: Lynah Rink
Most Apathetic Crowd: Thompson Arena
Needs To Be Torn Down and Rebuilt: Achilles Rink
Place You'll Leave Humming
the Opposition Fight Song: Gutterson Fieldhouse
And finally, my ranking (in descending order) of the arenas in the ECAC:
12. Achilles Rink — Small and cramped, but enthusiastic crowds.
11. Starr Rink — Cold, small, bad speakers, but you can go bowling.
10. Ingalls Rink — Those walkways just do not do it for me.
9. Meehan Auditorium — Not intimate at all.
8. RPI Fieldhouse — Too big at times, but it’s loud a lot.
7. Appleton Arena — A nice feeling, but uncomfortably noisy.
6. Bright Hockey Center — Smooth and fun to watch a game here.
5. Thompson Arena — Great venue, but needs bigger crowds.
4. Hobey Baker Rink — I like the architecture.
3. Cheel Arena — Atmosphere here is great, and the band is phenomenal.
2. Lynah Rink — Annoying, hostile, loud. A great place to be.
1. Gutterson Fieldhouse — Total fun watching a game.