We all miss fans in the stands, so what better way to be sad about a full year away from live hockey by reliving the good and not-so-good experiences at rinks around Hockey East?
We surveyed our staff and asked them to rank the experiences at Hockey East venues from best to worst, on the basis of atmosphere, arena quality, and just overall enjoyment of going to the venue.
14. Whittemore Center, New Hampshire (Avg. Rank: 14)
Unanimously chosen by our staff as being the worst experience in Hockey East. Ouch. When their fans show up, they are annoying and unpleasant to be around; generally speaking, they don’t really often show up anymore (can’t really blame them given how bad the team is); you have to go through a ridiculous ice-strewn parking lot to get to a single bottlenecked ice-strewn staircase to get to another ice-strewn parking lot before you finally get to the rink; and then once you get inside the best thing the Whitt really has to offer is Dippin’ Dots as an amenity.
At least they did finally fix the weird buzzing sound that used to emanate through the arena, and they finally got rid of the Lite-Brite scoreboard in 2018, 20 years after the widespread adoption of HD technology in most arenas.
One contributor says “it’s very weird that 30-year-olds line up to beat out undergrads to sit in the best seats of their student section.” Another comment adds: “Fish are gross.”
13. Hart Center, Holy Cross women (Avg. Rank: 12.6)
I don’t think any of us have actually been to the Hart Center, so maybe it deserves a higher ranking. If so, we are sorry. You’re brand new. Give us some time.
12. Frietas Ice Forum, UConn women for the most part (Avg. Rank: 11.6)
Frietas is basically Merrimack except none of the big/atmospheric men’s games are played there and also it is in Storrs. Given that all the bleachers are metal it would probably be reasonably loud if they did play any good men’s games there. But alas.
One contributor says “this is barely a hockey arena. It’s more like an Amazon warehouse or an airplane hangar that has ice inside. At best, it would be a nice community rink to skate around counterclockwise for a while.”
11. Lawler Arena, Merrimack (Avg. Rank: 9.8)
It’s honestly not that bad of an experience given what it is, but the sightlines are not great because of the way the risers are positioned (kind of like going to a high school game). They used to have Fuddruckers and they still have beer, so some positives to report.
They did give themselves a fresh coat of paint a couple years ago, too. So that’s nice.
10. Walter Brown Arena, BU women (Avg. Rank: 8.8)
The joy here is getting to go to a historic venue that has been home to many great moments in college hockey history, conveniently located if you’re Boston-based and still rocking a pretty great atmosphere even with just the band and a smattering of fans there because of the bandbox environment. Because of the super-low metal roof, the place actually gets pretty loud.
The con is obviously that it is a dump. But it’s college hockey, so that’s charming.
One contributor, who rated the arena highly, adds “legitimately a fun place to watch a women’s hockey game, particularly for BC vs. BU when an admirable group of BU fans shows to make some noise. Unfortunately the sightlines stink and the lighting feels like you’re watching through a natural blue light filter or something. But still, this has a good college hockey feel. Men’s games here must have been nuts.”
9. XL Center, UConn men (Avg. Rank: 7.8)
It is what it is: an AHL arena in an AHL city. It’s reasonably proximate to some decent food options, it’s fairly clean and modern, etc., but it’s very cavernous for a college game.
A writer notes: “One of the important things about UConn is that you have the opportunity to to see Jonathan the Husky, who is a Very Good Boy.” True. Another notes that “UConn fans have done a truly admirable job in filling seats for the big games here and giving the games an impressive atmosphere. I didn’t think the XL Center could work, but it certainly has for them in the short term.”
8. Schneider Arena, Providence (Avg. Rank: 7.6)
What’s most disappointing about Schneider is that when you first walk in, you think “hey, this looks like a good, fun, atmospheric little rink, with lots of team colors everywhere. I like this!” But you can’t see the game from pretty much anywhere, so, y’know, bad. The only word anyone who hasn’t been there needs to hear is “railings.” The band is elite, though.
God, those railings. The place is like an Escher painting.
7. Mullins Center, UMass men (Avg. Ranking: 7)
Weirdly some of us have become a little more fond of the Mullins Center now that UMass has been consistently good and is attracting normal people from Western Massachusetts to the rink rather than just drunk students. That said, it is cavernous and not very atmospheric even on a good day. Amherst is a fun place to spend some time pregame though, so points for that.
As one contributor said, “it’s fine idk”; another notes that UMass has good in-arena ice cream options. A third says “Operation 8,000 is at least pretty raucous for the first period or so. Otherwise, this arena is basically a carbon copy of Conte Forum but not as nice and with a far more neanderthal-ian clientele. “
6. Gutterson Fieldhouse, Vermont (Avg. Rank: 6.6)
A weekend trip to Burlington is one of the most delightful road experiences in Hockey East from a tourism/things to do/places to go standpoint. The rink itself does not have great sightlines, especially in the road section, but it is a charming, classic old barn and the big, single-terrace student section gives the place a surprisingly above-average atmosphere.
One contributor called it “very ECAC,” which we think is a compliment.
5. Conte Forum, Boston College (Avg. Rank: 4.8)
Definitely some hometown bias here, but honestly, a bit underrated as a venue after recent upgrades. While it is too big for what it is now — attendance has generally declined across all sports since it was built — it still draws pretty big crowds and can get as loud as anywhere (short of Maine) for a big game, especially if there’s a big road contingent in the house. The concession options are truly awful though; big yikes.
Ironically, has probably moved up in the atmosphere rankings just by virtue of other places moving down. Nobody really has loud rollicking student sections anymore (except for Maine), so BC’s quieter environment is pretty much on trend with most of the rest of the league.
4. Matthews Arena, Northeastern (Avg. Rank: 4.4)
Matthews is one you either love or you hate, so it usually ends up closer to the upper-middle than you might expect once you compile people’s rankings. Like Schneider, there are a lot of seats that just have really terrible sightlines — obstructed views, weird angles, missing parts of the ice, etc. Though there are also seats with great views. On its day the atmosphere rivals anywhere in the league short of Maine, but those days are increasingly rare, even when BC is in town.
The contributor responses were very polarizing. “Matthews is just Fenway Park with none of the charm and history, so it sucks.” “Matthews is the s---.” “Please specifically include that Laura personally thinks Matthews is Bad.” “The bad seats are bad, but the good seats are tremendous, and the renovations over the years have kept pace nicely with the times.”
3. Agganis Arena, Boston University (Avg. Rank: 4.2)
Agganis still feels like a missed opportunity all these years later — they spent a lot of money on it and it’s nice but it just feels a little… disappointing, like it should either be a little more full of bells and whistles, or have been built to be a little more charming. But it’s an objectively very nice facility with good (albeit expensive) concessions and nearby entertainment, and the BU band is easily one of the two best in the league.
One contributor echoed the dismay in how the facility was built: “The inability to see the ice from the concourse from anywhere is really disappointing. But besides that, it just does not feel very ‘college hockey’ watching a game here. It could have been so much more.”
2. Tsongas Center, UMass-Lowell men (Avg. Rank: 3.8)
Lowell’s band is the other of the two best in the league. Tsongas is pretty similar to Agganis, but preferable in a few ways like their slightly better concessions and wider concourses. Atmosphere at both Agganis and Tsongas is pretty similar for non-rivalry games; Agganis is a little better for a BC-BU game, obviously.
On contributor added “Tsongas gets ranked highly because it doesn’t do anything bad. It’s strong on all fronts.”
It’s funny that Tsongas is ranked #2, because it could not possibly be more different from our #1.
1. Alfond Arena, Maine (Avg. Rank: 2)
The classic. It’s old, and while the sightlines can be hit or miss, it’s the last place in the league with a truly classic, historic, rocking atmosphere. Plus, baked potatoes!
There’s nothing quite like fearing for your life while sitting underneath the student section’s balcony — not so much because of the be-mulleted cavemen standing mere inches above your head, though that’s certainly a factor, but because, structurally, there’s no way that balcony should still be standing. What an experience.
Interestingly, and coincidental to the writing of this article, UMaine announced massive athletics renovations yesterday, including big updates to Alfond. Looking at the plans, it looks like they will do a good job of keeping the charm while enhancing amenities. As one contributor put it, “it’s basically still gonna be s---ty inside but they’re gonna build a real concourse. Perfect.”
Alfond Arena is college hockey; may it live long past us all.