September 24, 2017 - Oswego, New York
There are lots of arenas in the hockey world filled with history. Matthews Arena in Boston is billed as the oldest hockey arena in the world. Maple Leaf Gardens is an iconic structure that still stands, although in a reconfigured state. Galt Arena Gardens in Cambridge, Ontario is the oldest continually operating hockey arena in the world. Anthony J. Crisafulli Arena in Oswego, New York is filled with history in its own right, although the different reasons. Having opened in 1973 as Fort Ontario Skating Rink, the arena can more simply be known as building 32 on Fort Ontario's grounds. The arena's lobby and main entrance is actually a structure dating back to at least World War 2, and was once a part of the fort's infrastructure. The fort has been standing in one form or another since the French and Indian War, protecting the New York shores from an attack from the north. It has been destroyed, occupied by the British, and even served as an interment camp for European Jews fleeing the Nazis in World War 2. The red brick structure is attached to a simple metal pole barn that makes up the arena's seating and ice surface. The gray metal siding is a contrast to the brick walls and shingle roof of the lobby area. Simple signage sits on the end wall of the arena, and there is a parking lot on site between the walls of the fort and the arena. More commonly know simply as "The Fort" Anthony J. Crisafulli Skating Rink has seen junior hockey before, as the OPJHL's Oswego Admirals called this venue home in the mid-2000's. The place looks a bit rough from the outside, but blends in well with the nearby buildings on the grounds of the fort, and provides a unique atmosphere for fans to enjoy hockey. Hockey is huge in the city of Oswego, with Oswego State's Lakers drawing large crowds at their on-campus arena, but with its snowy winters and decent population size the area is a good place to host junior hockey, with the NA3HL's Syracuse Stampede moving from their home in Morrisville to the shore of Lake Ontario this season. Upon approach to the arena a small sign directs patrons to the main entrance, which sits at the middle of the red brick building, which looks much like an old fashioned schoolhouse, but was explained to me as being part of the fort's horse stable facility in the 1940's. Although more of a simple community arena than a big event venue, The Fort provides an interesting and gritty place for fans to check out some high quality hockey, and the unique setting makes the place memorable.
This early season contest featured the Stampede taking on the Jersey Shore Wildcats on a Sunday afternoon with outside temperatures in the high 80's. Upon entering the arena there is a Stampede ticket table set up in the lobby along with temporary team signage and the league logo. The concession stand was closed for this game, and fans works their way through the brick lobby to the arena itself. The lobby features some trophy cases, including large displays dedicated to Oswego native and former NHL'er and Olympian Eric Cole. The interior brick walls are painted white and feature large painted murals with the town's youth hockey logos. At $5 admission NA3HL hockey is a great deal for fans, although a small crowd was on hand on this warm afternoon. Once into the arena itself the building looks completely different than the historic lobby. A high peaked ceiling and tan metal beams hold up the roof, and all of the arena seating is made up of aluminum bleachers. The end seating offers the best views, and is made up of 12 rows. The sides of the rink have 3 rows of seats, with the first row at ice level so sight lines are not that great. A scoreclock sits above the goal on one end of the ice, and underneath that is a section of a couple rows of bleachers as well. Despite the small footprint the arena found a way to cram seating into just about every possible area, so we'd guess the capacity at close to 1000. The benches and penalty boxes are situated underneath the press box, and aside from the blue trim on some of the support beams, the place looks rather stark inside. Protective netting covers the entire seating area. Anthony J. Crisafulli Skating Rink is certainly nothing fancy, but is the type of place you picture hosting junior hockey in small towns across the USA and Canada.
The game day experience for a Oswego Stampede game at The Fort is typical of Tier 3 junior hockey and rather laid back. The PA system pumps loud music during intermission and stoppages, and the crowd on this day was largely a family and friends crowd with a few locals in attendance as well. The PA announcements are loud and echo through the building reminiscent of the old days. The hockey itself was very entertaining, with Jersey Shore having a large shot advantage but only winning by a score of 4-2. The city clearly takes pride in its hockey history as banners for local youth hockey teams hang on the walls, and, in addition to the Eric Cole display in the lobby, there are banners commemorating the jersey of each NHL team he played for in addition to the US National Team on the arena glass in one corner. Watching a Stampede game here is a simple yet refreshing experience as the hockey is the main attraction. Intermission features the ice being resurfaced. That is it. There is no need for contests or other fanfare at this level of hockey, and the fans on hand are very knowledgeable. The arena itself certainly has its drawbacks, as the sight lines are not ideal, and the hockey aroma familiar to everyone who has ever opened a hockey bag is evident in this building, although that was likely magnified by the summer-like outside temperatures. Nonetheless, Anthony J. Crisafulli Skating Rink does not pretend to be more than it is. It is a solid building for community use, and has a lot more history than your average community barn. We would suggest checking out the grounds of Fort Ontario and the museum if it is open, and taking in the breathtaking view of Lake Ontario while you are there. Oswego is a place that just feels like a hockey town, and with the addition of a team in a quality junior hockey league The Fort gives fans an opportunity to root for a hometown team and watch some hardworking players take the ice. The setting of the period era building and adjacent fort make Anthony J. Crisafulli Skating Rink a fun stop on anyone's hockey travels.