Forget après-ski lounges and country inns. The coziest place on a frigid winter night is an old college hockey barn packed to the rafters with rabid fans.
From student sections chanting "Sieve" at opposing goalies to pep bands playing fight songs on frozen instruments to maniacal fans hurling invectives (and, sometimes, personal possessions) at hated rivals, college hockey's ancient arenas crackle with an energy as warming as a roaring fire.
A century in the making
For a gallery of images of the oldest rinks in Division I hockey, click here.
America's most venerable collegiate rinks -- with their trophy-filled lobbies and walls lined with black-and-white team photographs -- put the "old" and "school" in "old-school."
Scoreboards in these arenas actually -- get this -- keep score instead of broadcasting tic-inducing video montages or annoying kiss cams. Plus, the intimate configurations of these rinks allow even fans in the cheap seats to feel close to the action.
As Northeastern University's Matthews Arena, the oldest artificial-ice arena in the world, prepares to celebrate its centennial on April 16, we offer a salute to the oldest barns in men's Division I college hockey (based on information provided by the 58 Division I programs):
Matthews Arena, Northeastern University, Boston
Fenway Park may be considered the grand dame of Boston sports, but this historic athletic palace is actually 2 years older. This is where the Boston Bruins first laced up their skates in 1924 and where the Celtics first took to the parquet floor 22 years later. A recently completed multimillion-dollar upgrade modernized some fan amenities, but Matthews Arena, which first hosted the Northeastern hockey team in 1930 and also is home to Huskies men's basketball team, still retains a great throwback atmosphere. (Harvard played home games in Matthews Arena beginning with the 1910-11 season, after playing outdoors at Harvard Stadium. Boston University and Boston College played their first varsity games in Matthews Arena in 1917. All three schools have since moved on to their own rinks.)
Fans entering the rink from the magnificent, gilded Victorian lobby may feel as if they've been transported into a miniaturized version of the defunct Boston Garden. Formerly known as Boston Arena, it comes complete with an overhanging balcony circling the rink, steamy heat rising from exposed radiators, and, unfortunately for some of the 4,666 fans the old place can hold, obstructed views behind poles.
The first row of the balcony, which is almost directly above the dasher boards, may be one of the best perches for a hockey fan in America. The upper deck also is home to the Dog House student section, which cheers on the Huskies like a pack of canines going for the opponents' jugulars. The proximity of the Dog House, hovering above one of the goals, can make life very uncomfortable for visiting netminders, as taunts rain down from just a few feet away.
Hobey Baker Rink, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
From the outside, the gray, rough-hewn stone walls and arching roof of the Hobey Baker Rink resemble a Gothic church. That's fitting because the arena is a college hockey cathedral filled with relics devoted to the sport's patron saints -- Hobey Baker (Class of 1914) and Patty Kazmaier (Class of 1986), Princeton grads whose names are bestowed on the awards given annually to the most outstanding men's and women's college hockey players in the U.S. Cases in the lobby display photographs, trophies and memorabilia connected to the two Tigers stars who both died tragically young.
Like any divine structure, this bandbox features music from the balcony level, in this case courtesy of the Princeton band, clad in black-and-orange plaid blazers and boaters. Banners invoking a little holy inspiration -- "Make Hobey Proud!" for men's games or "Make Patty Proud!" for women's games -- are strung beneath the student section in the balcony. With seating for just more than 2,000 fans, it's impossible to get far from the action in Hobey Baker Rink, no matter how hard you try.
Houston Field House, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.
If Houston Field House's high ceiling and spacious interior are reminiscent of a warehouse, it's for good reason. The building was once a Navy warehouse in Davisville, R.I., before being reassembled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute following World War II. (Leave it to a bunch of engineers to figure that project out.)
The biggest date on the RPI hockey calendar is the Big Red Freakout in early February, when the rink is filled to its capacity of 4,800 with students, alumni and fans clad from head to toe in red to cheer on the Engineers. The horns distributed to spectators for the 1987 Big Red Freakout against Brown were so disruptive that it prompted the "RPI Rule," which prohibits fans from using certain artificial noisemakers during games. (Megaphones are OK, according to school officials, because they aren't as loud, and so is handing out one "thunderstick" ... but not two.)
RPI fans still make plenty of noise on their own while rooting for the home team to engineer a victory ... although it's not always G-rated. For instance, after the public address announcer declares "one minute remaining" toward the end of each period, the legions shout, "Ooone minute and Clarkson still sucks," no matter the opponent.
In addition to a hatred of Clarkson, RPI fans get fired up by their mascot Puckman, a giant anthropomorphic hockey puck sporting an engineer's helmet.
Appleton Arena, St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y.
Hockey is undoubtedly the biggest athletic draw at St. Lawrence, which competes in Division III for every other sport. Although Appleton Arena may not be particularly large -- with 2,365 seats and standing room for another 500 fans -- it has more than enough space for each of St. Lawrence's 2,200 undergrads to come in from the North Country cold and cheer on their Skating Saints.
Appleton's rows of stained-wood seats and arcing, wooden ceiling add a rustic touch appropriate for an old barn amid the farms of upstate New York. Memorabilia inside the arena honor not only teams of the past but loyal fans as well. Small plaques at select locations around the rink pay tribute to fans and parents who used to stand there to watch games.
If the yells of the crowd and the stomping on the wooden bleachers aren't loud enough, Appleton's screeching siren -- donated by a local fire chief and complete with the decibel level of an air-raid horn -- leaves ears ringing. The siren is particularly painful to opposing goaltenders when it blares after every St. Lawrence score.
Lynah Rink, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Lynah Rink may not be a charming architectural gem, but it offers perhaps the biggest home-ice advantage in college hockey thanks to the raucous Cornell fans who flex their vocal chords to support the Big Red. The boisterous Lynah Faithful are college hockey's answer to Duke's Cameron Crazies. Students camp out overnight to score coveted season tickets, and a capacity crowd of 4,267 files through the turnstiles for nearly every game.
There is a Web page devoted to the Lynah Faithful's rituals, songs and chants, which are delivered with military-style precision.
Even before the first puck drops, the Cornell crowd makes its presence felt. When Harvard comes to town, players skating onto the ice are greeted with a deluge of flying fish. Colgate players are welcomed with a barrage of Colgate toothpaste boxes. When the enemy is introduced, the Lynah Faithful hold up newspapers and chant "Boring" in unison before tossing the crumpled papers onto the ice.
After Cornell scores a goal, the fans serenade the opposing goalie with a chant of "It's all your fault," complete with accusatory finger wags.
Given such a hostile environment, it's no surprise that Cornell has won more than 70 percent of its games at Lynah Rink since it opened its doors.