Top 10 college hockey rinks in New York and New Jersey
by Elliot Olshansky/Correspondent
With NHL owners and players still embroiled in bitter collective bargaining agreement negotiations as this issue of New York Hockey Journal went to press, hockey fans across the New York area were still forced to look elsewhere for their fix.
In November, Cornell and Michigan came to Madison Square Garden to contest the “Frozen Apple” game, but puck-starved fans will find that the college game is well worth following back to campus. With that in mind, NYHJ presents a look at the top college atmospheres in New York and New Jersey.
1. Lynah Rink (Cornell)
The hype that surrounds Cornell’s fabled Lynah Rink is hard to live up to, but the 55-year-old rink — and the 4,000-plus fans who fill it game after game — pass that test with flying colors … with the color in question being red.
From the pep band that’s in place and ready to go before pregame warm-ups, to the time-honored traditions that accompany pregame introductions, to the wall-shaking shouts of “RED!” that accompany that word during the playing of the national anthem, the atmosphere that coach Mike Schafer’s team enjoys in Ithaca, N.Y., year after year remains one of the best in college hockey.
While the hardcore fans may razz the “face-timers” among the student body and exhort the locals to stand up at critical junctures in Big Red games, the truth is that Lynah has remarkably little disconnect between students and other fans when it comes to cheering.
Add in the close quarters of the building itself to trap all that sound, and it’s easy to see how Lynah earned its reputation. The annual visit from Harvard makes the most headlines with the tradition of throwing fish at the visitors, but it doesn’t take a game against the Crimson to get “hooked” on Lynah Rink.
2. Ritter Arena (RIT)
For fans of anyone but Boston College, the 2010 Frozen Four will likely be remembered as a dud. From the lopsided scores of all three games, to the dead atmosphere at Ford Field, the NCAA’s experiment with a stadium-sized national championship was roundly panned.
The lone saving grace was the RIT student section, which showed the intensity, humor and passion that had previously been one of college hockey’s better-kept secrets.
The fact of the matter is that the Tigers’ famed “Corner Crew” are even more imposing in their natural habitat at the Frank Ritter Memorial Ice Arena in Rochester, N.Y. The small size (capacity of 2,100) adds intensity to the atmosphere, but the construction of the arena makes it easy to get around on the concourse that wraps around the rink.
The building is due to be replaced in 2014, when RIT is expected to open the 4,500-seat Gene Polisseni Center, but Ritter will remain open. Still, if you have the opportunity to catch coach Wayne Wilson’s team at the Ritter, do it.
3/4. Appleton Arena (St. Lawrence) and Cheel Arena (Clarkson)
The North Country rivals play their games just a few miles apart in Canton and Potsdam, although their arenas are a study in contrast.
Cheel opened in 1991, 40 years after Appleton. In many senses, St. Lawrence’s rink shows its age, as players — particularly goalies — often need to enter the ice sideways because the gates are too narrow. However, it’s the kind of historic barn that makes people say, “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”
Cheel’s greatest claim to fame might well be the horn that accompanies Clarkson goals, which is loud enough to blow an eardrum or two. The boisterous student section also holds its own in that regard. The two buildings are close enough together that a trip to both makes as much sense as a trip to one.
5. Houston Field House (RPI)
The fans at RPI have a great deal in common with their ECAC Hockey rivals at Cornell: national championships under the great Ned Harkness, loud and energetic pep bands, and an affinity for the color red.
However, the atmosphere at Houston Field House is noticeably different than at Lynah. For one thing, where Lynah is a bandbox that is inexorably linked to hockey, RPI’s home in Troy, N.Y., is much more spacious, a true multipurpose arena. Boxer Mike Tyson fought twice in the building in 1986 and, not long after, Ric Flair and Terry Funk staged an “I Quit” match on national TV that is still discussed with reverence among pro wrestling fans.
Still, hockey remains the main attraction at Houston, particularly during the annual Big Red Freakout! The RPI pep band enjoys its own stage behind the visiting goal, from where it leads a number of distinctive cheers, including the one that accompanies the last minute of every period: “One minute, and Clarkson still sucks!”
Still, whether it’s the Golden Knights, local rival Union, or any other team visiting Troy, coach Seth Appert’s team and its fans always manage to put on a show.
6. Achilles Center (Union College)
Call it the Achilles Center, call it Messa Rink, but just don’t call it boring. The home of the Dutchmen (and Dutchwomen) has become the place to be in the Capital District as first Nate Leaman and now former Rangers forward Rick Bennett have built the former Division 3 program into a Division 1 contender that is coming off of its first trip to the Frozen Four.
The building is on the small side with a capacity of 2,225, but the wooden bleachers are great for making noise, and the wood in the domed ceiling really adds to the charm of the facility. A team that contends nationally and within ECAC Hockey, however, remains the main attraction.
7. Starr Arena (Colgate)
While Colgate often plays second fiddle in central New York to its ECAC travel partner Cornell and Lynah Rink, the Raiders’ home at Starr Arena deserves its own mention among the top college rinks in New York, both for a link to history and a fun little quirk.
In the 1970s, Starr Arena played host to Paul Newman, the Hanson Brothers and the rest of the Charlestown Chiefs during the filming of “Slap Shot,” one of several New York rinks that the Chiefs visited in the making of the cult classic.
While arenas in Syracuse and Utica (see below) also can claim that link to history, Starr may well be the only arena in New York (and possibly the country) where you can attend a college hockey game AND go bowling. Starr is part of Colgate’s William A. Reid Athletic Center, which includes a four-lane bowling alley just steps from the arena doors.
Bowling is an everyday attraction at the Reid Center, but come Friday and Saturday night, it’s coach Don Vaughan’s Raiders who are ready to “strike.”
8. Utica Memorial Auditorium (Utica College)
Like Starr, “The Aud” was the setting for several scenes in “Slap Shot,” in keeping with its history as a pro building. The Devils’ AHL team called the Aud home from 1987 to 1993, followed by three other minor league teams (most recently the UHL’s Mohawk Valley Prowlers).
The building also hosted the 1962 Frozen Four and continues to host the New York State high school championships, but the Division 3 Pioneers are the main attraction at the Aud these days, and they know how to fill the building, averaging 3,500 fans per game in the 4,000-seat facility.
When the Aud was built in 1959, it was one of just three arenas without obstructed views, and the building was designated as a historic landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2011 for its cable-suspended roof. In the last 50 years, of course, many more rinks have risen without obstructed views, but all of them would be hard-pressed to compete with Utica when it comes to the “Teddy Bear Toss,” as the Pioneers run that promotion as well as any school in the country.
A number of other Division 3 rinks are worthy of mention here, including Hamilton’s Sage Rink (the second-oldest building in college hockey after Hobey Baker Rink at Princeton), Elmira College’s Murray Athletic Center, Plattsburgh’s Stafford Ice Arena and Oswego’s Campus Center Hockey Arena.
However, if you make just one trip to a Division 3 barn, the Aud is the place to see.
9. Tate Rink (U.S. Military Academy)
For New York Rangers fans looking to the college ranks for their hockey fix, West Point is the closest Division 1 option, and January brings one of college hockey’s longest traditions to Tate Rink.
On Jan. 26, Army will host the 75th installment of its series with Canada’s Royal Military College, billed as the longest international rivalry in college sports. The series between the Black Knights and the Paladins was restarted last year after a brief lapse, but the atmosphere remains as intense as ever.
Week in and week out, Army’s game-night production makes for a fun atmosphere, especially when there’s a strong cadet presence in the building. The trip to West Point also makes for a scenic drive, which is also a highlight of a trip to see the Black Knights in action.
10. Hobey Baker Rink (Princeton)
Frustrated New Jersey Devils fans can head south and turn their attention to the oldest facility in college hockey, home of a Tigers team that’s given local fans something to cheer about in recent years (although second-year head coach Bob Prier hasn’t found the same success as predecessor Guy Gadowsky).
From the outside, the stone and glass building that the Tigers call home doesn’t look much like a hockey rink, but on the inside, fans are always close to the action in the small, homey arena. The history, meanwhile, is just as much of an attraction, as college hockey’s greatest legend is well-represented in the building that bears his name.
From the skates that Baker wore, to the puck that surrounds them, to the “Make Hobey Proud” banner that hangs from the balcony, the spirit of Hobey Baker is very much alive in Old Nassau, making Baker Rink well worth a visit.