One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Appleton Arena - Home of the St. Lawrence University Skating Saints
October 14, 2016 - Canton, New York
College hockey is the blue chip stock level of hockey when it comes to the hockey world. Consistent, slow moving, dependable, and filled with tradition, college hockey has a ton of older arenas that are brimming with the flavor of days gone by, and that one can look upon as monuments to the longevity of the game. Appleton Arena is one such venue. Tucked away on a back street on the edge of campus, this building sits much the same as it did in the 1950's. Having opened in 1951 this iconic arena is among the most recognizable structures in the North Country. The simple fieldhouse style building has cream colored cinder blocks making up it lower exterior, accented by brown and red stripes. A curved arching roof is held up by dark stained board-and-batten siding on the end exterior walls. The main entrance sits at the end of the building, and has a small awning above it with a simple raised-letter sign bearing the building's name. The arena sits near the school's athletic fields, with one side of the arena overlooking the small grandstand of a field which was set up for field hockey when we were in attendance. From the outside Appleton Arena looks rather small and low to the ground. A gravel parking lot sits across the street. This simple building has been home of one of the better NCAA hockey programs over the years, and the sleepy town of Canton comes out in support of their Skating Saints. Winters are long and cold here, and Saints hockey gives everyone a distraction from the grind that the Winter season brings. The Saints have had a solid product on the ice over the years, with 9 Final Four appearances (they have been around long before the Frozen Four title for the tournament), although only one since 1988. The women's program has also seen success with Frozen Four appearances in the last decade, although neither team has earned the national crown. Appleton Arena is the kind of arena you don't just stumble upon. With its location in rural Northern New York you have to intend to go there, and over the years the arena has been a destination for thousands of hockey fans each time the gates are opened for a Saints game.
Once inside the entrance doors to Appleton Arena you find yourself in a small box office lobby. Fans line up well before the doors open to get into the arena, and with this being the home opener for the season the excitement level was high. Students were on break, so those on hand were mainly made up of local supporters. Tickets are a bargain compared to Division 1 hockey in New England as reserved seats are $12 and general admission is only $8. Once past the ticketing lobby there is a large main lobby at ice level which is filled with trophy cases, photos of past teams, and other memorabilia. A red tile floor and cream colored walls indicate that this is home of the Saints. Entry into the seating area of the arena is via a pair of stairways that lead to the upper concourse. At first sight of the arena layout you are taken aback by the overwhelming sight of wood. The curved ceiling and support beams are wood. The floors and aisles which run behind the seats are wood, and the seats themselves are wooden benches with backs similar to church pews. The setup is similar to several arenas we have attended in Quebec, however in Quebec the benches are always painted bright colors, whereas here they are simply finished with a stain, maintaining their natural wood color. The seating wraps around the arena with 8 rows of seats, although the far end of the arena finds a couple rows of seats directly behind the goal, a wall behind those seats, and then a few rows above the wall. The corners do have some additional seating added above the concourse level. With a capacity of 3200 spectators Appleton Arena is an intimate venue where fans are right on top of the action. The arena itself exudes history, and its simple design is a throwback to an era decades ago. A simple scoreboard sits on each end wall. There is no video board here, and it would seem out of place if one were installed. Banners of past Saints' success hang above the ice. There is a narrow aisle above the seats which also offers a standing rail, and behind the narrow aisle is a separate hallway that runs the length of the arena on each side, and more trophy cases and memorabilia adorn the striped cinder block walls, including a display paying tribute to former St. Lawrence players who have gone on to the NHL. A food concession stand sits in the upper hallway on one side and gets quite crowded during intermission. At the entrance end of the upper concourse is a small merchandise shop which is sectioned off from the rest of the concourse by the use of walls made of arena dasher boards and glass. The lighting inside Appleton Arena is rather dark, and the brown tones of nearly every surface inside the arena aside from the ice make the place feel even darker, but you can't help but feel the history and character that the arena exudes,evenwhennofansare presentandtheice isempty.Thisisaclassicbarn,andattendingagamehere providesaveryoldschoolfeel.
The best word to describe the game day presentation for a Skating Saints game at Appleton Arena is "classic". The PA announcer has an old-fashioned cadence and demeanor. There is not a lot of flash here, and before the game as the team skates onto the ice the announcer says the simple phrase "Here come the Saints". The atmosphere is festive, and fans get into the games here. This game featured a Hockey East opponent in UNH, and we imagine that the excitement level gets turned up further against ECAC opponents. With students on break the crowd was made up largely of older folks, but they are a knowledgeable fanbase, and support the team well as the arena was 80% full. There was no band, and the students that were in attendance spread out among the crowd. Things still get loud here though, as the "SLU" chant could be heard quite often, and the singing of "The Saints Go Marching In" could be heard without any musical accompaniment. The sight lines in the arena are decent, with the end seats on the far end seemingly perched above the goal. Team benches are on opposite sides, a feature we always enjoy seeing, and the overall presentation and vibe has a classic feel to it. A goal siren sounds when the Saints score instead of the more common horn we are all accustomed to Intermission features the ice being resurfaced. That's it. There is no need for fan contests here. The environment is one of pure hockey, and the wooden church-like bench seating reinforces the notion that this is indeed a hockey cathedral. The crowd enjoyed the contest as the Saints took a 6-2 win, with both UNH goals coming on 5 on 3 powerplays. Sure, Appleton Arena is hardly the most modern, certainly not the most comfortable, and definitely not the easiest to get to for traveling fans, but that adds to the mystique of the building. Having a successful team over the decades has helped cement this small school in the rural North Country as a household name in college hockey. Just like in much of the college hockey world things are slow to change at Appleton Arena, and the historic Skating Saints program keeps hockey tradition alive, and does so in a venue that is a throwback to simpler times. Enjoying a game in a setting like this is becoming more and more uncommon these days, and we are thankful places like this still exist to remind folks of how hockey was experienced in past generations.
A box score of the game can be found Here Other information about the St. Lawrence University Skating Saints can be found at: Saints Home Other information about Appleton Arena can be found at: Arena Home More photos of Appleton Arena can be found Here
A hockey fan's guide to college, pro, and junior hockey arena reviews. All photos and text copyright Andy Ritter 2007-2017