January 1, 2011 - Rochester, New York
When most people thinks of Division 1 College hockey schools like Boston College, Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin come to mind. Although not one of the big name schools, Rochester Institute of Technology captures everything that college hockey is all about. This square brick building sits on campus and could easily be mistaken for a biology hall, or a dining hall for that matter. The nearly windowless exterior is built into a hill and gives little indication of the hockey madness which takes place inside every time the Tigers take to the ice. There is a large wall of windows on one end, through which you can see the Canadian and American flags flying, but otherwise this could be any other building on the campus. Frank Ritter Memorial Arena opened in 1968, and this 2100 seat band box is a must see for hockey fans.
Ritter Arena is uncommon in a few ways in today's world of new arenas for many college programs. Yes it is small, but it is almost guaranteed to be full. Ten dollar tickets are also a great bargain. The most striking thing about the way RIT hockey does business is that aside from a small section in one corner all seats are general admission. Now I have been to plenty of places where general admission is the norm, but here they pack 'em in so that its standing room only every game, yet somehow it all works out without assigned seats. The doors are opened an hour and a half before game time, and it is cool to see the stands full when warmups start. Fans enter the game through a set of doors off of a hallway where there is a small box office and a will call table, all set up across from a basketball court. The arena itself is spartan, with wooden bench seats circling the entire ice, except for directly behind each net. The concourse runs behind the top row and there is standing along the rail above the seats. There are 7 rows of seats on the sides and 5 rows in the corners. There is a single food concession stand in one corner, and no real merchandise booth, although there was a table set up near the entrance selling programs. The outer walls of the concourse house trophy cases of past RIT success. On the end near the main entrance there is a glassed in pressbox, and what appears to be some sort of luxury seating area, although it is very small. The other end has a large wall of windows and a secondary entrance to the building. The grade of the outside landscape is such that fans enter from the outside on a level even with the top of the seating bowl. This is a bare bones facility. The architectural feature which stands out is that the ceiling is very high for a building with such a small capacity. There is a functional, but not super high tech, score clock above center ice. Team benches are on opposite sides of the ice. The ceiling sports many banners from RIT's past success as a Division 2 and D3 school, as well as a banner from last year's Frozen Four performance after their move to Division 1 in 2006. As you would expect every seat is close to the ice and fans are on top of the action.
Although this is a bare bones arena the fan experience and atmosphere at Ritter is amazing. Fans, including the famous Corner Crew, are all in place for the start of warmups and cheer heartily throughout the entire night. Sure other schools have their rowdy cheering sections, but the Corner Crew's spirit and organization rivals any other. The Corner Crew is actually part of the fan experience here, from their raucous heckling of refs and opposing players, to their support of the Tigers, win or lose. During the national anthems the Crew unfurls a large flag and sings along boisterously. Throw in a few cow bells, a guy with a goalie mask on and a sea of orange and white and you have the recipe for a fun time. They also have a very large bell which is rung after goals. As this New Years Day game was before classes resumed for the semester the pep band was not there, but the atmosphere did not lack at all despite that. When you add in a standing room only crowd with such a rowdy bunch the atmosphere is electric. Hockey East opponent Merrimack got the best of the Tigers 5-3 in front of a crowd that was standing 2 deep in some places. Despite the loss the fans showed their spirit the entire game and I had an amazing time. This arena must be an absolute blast for RIT players to play in, and a nightmare for opposing players, especially goalies. The game presentation is good, and not overly commercial. There was a brief contest during intermission, but hockey is the focus. It seems apparent that the recent success of the RIT program means that they are outgrowing their current home, and there are talks of a newer and larger arena to be built in a few years. It doesn't matter though as if the new arena has a similar type of crowd as Ritter does then fans will be in for a treat either way. Nonetheless, if you haven't caught a game here make plans to do so, and arrive early if you want a seat. Don't worry about being bored from getting there early as the Corner Crew will keep you entertained.
Other information about RIT Tigers hockey is available at: Tigers Hockey Home
Other information about Frank Ritter Memorial Arena is available at: Arena Home
More photos of Frank Ritter Memorial Arena are available Here