December, 18 2011 - Dayton, Ohio
A trip to the west side of Dayton for some minor league hockey at Hara Arena is likely much like it was in the 1960's and 70's, and thankfully for old school arena fans the building was summoned back into action in 2009 after sitting without hockey for 12 years. You see the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL moved across town to the campus of Wright State University at Nutter Arena in the mid 1990's. After folding and having the Gems re-emerge in 2009 and join the Central Hockey League hockey was back at the classic, albeit a little outdated, Hara Arena. The Hara complex was opened in 1964, and includes multiple convention halls and meeting rooms in addition to the arena. This part of town looks like it has seen its heyday at least 20 years ago, but that adds to the charm of seeing a game at Hara. The exterior is classic 1960's, and has a large block letter sign on the upper end of the building bearing its namesake. There is an older sign out by the road at the edge of the large parking lot that seemingly surrounds the entire building. I arrived a couple hours before game time and did not have to pay to park, although it looks like they were charging closer to game time. There is one main entrance, which sits below a brown awning,and is part of a brick addition to the boxy shape of the arena itself. Behind the doors is an outdated box office lobby, complete with an old fireplace. The color scheme in the lobby seems to be unchanged for many years, possibly dating back to the building's opening, and that is a good thing in my book. You can show up for a game here in 2011, and the experience is likley very similar to seeing a game in 1971.
The outside of the building and grounds seem to be lacking a little maintenance, but once inside the seating bowl itself you see an almost perfectly preserved hockey barn. Wooden seats circle the entire ice, and are painted yellow for the lower rows and navy blue for the upper rows. There are almost too many cool things to list about the arena. The glass is as low as you will find at any arena south of Canada, the sight lines are great, and the 5,500 seat capacity makes for an awesomely raucous crowd if this place were anywhere near full. There is a small center ice scoreclock, although they did add a large video board on one end. Save the video board everything else says "this is how hockey was 40 years ago", and that just makes Hara Arena a fun stop for hockey fans. There are no luxury boxes, and with Dayton being a big Air Force town there is just about the largest American flag you will see anywhere. As with any old barn it has its negatives, including the seating sections being extremely wide between its aisles, up to 32 seats wide in the corners. The odd numbered sections are on one side of the ice with the even sections on the other. Underneath the seating bowl the concourse is a little worn out, and features vintage tiles on the wall, and could use a good sprucing up. There were not many concession stands open, but a small crowd of only 1,200 was on hand for this Sunday afternoon game against the lowly Bloomington Blaze. In keeping with the local flair the concession stand served Cincinnati style chili, as we are only about 45 minutes up the road from Cincy.
The game experience at this game was as close to awesome as you can get in a 75% empty arena. The crowd was small, but from my experience here I can certainly draw the conclusion that with a full house there are probably not too many places to watch hockey that would be more fun. The Gems have priced tickets very reasonably at $10-$14, which is good. It is the intangibles, however, which set this place apart. The glass is so low that you can literally reach over the glass if in the front row. This makes for a hecklers dream. The Dayton fans are also not shy about dishing it out to opposing players, coaches, and officials, and honestly with the building being so empty on this day anything yelled by any other fan could be heard by the rest of those in attendance. If the fans can hear the heckles, you know the guys on the ice can too, thus giving more bravado to those inclined to toss harsh words toward the players or refs. The PA announcer also does a great job, and seems to always have an appropriate, albeit sometimes corny, song to play for each situation. The Cindi Lauper "Girls just Wanna Have Fun" which is played as the visiting team enters the ice is just one example. You can see very well from any seat in the house, and with the pitch of the seats you always feel right on top of the action. As mentioned this is a great example of what a hockey arena should be, but what is a good arena without a unique feature? Yes, Hara Arena has that too as the arena is configured with the most unique locations for the team benches I have ever seen. The benches are completely inside the team's defensive zone for 2 periods. The benches don't even start until 2 feet inside the blue lines, and extend to the faceoff circles. This makes for some crazy strategy, and clearly a home advantage for the Gems. The second period of the games features probably the longest changes anywhere in hockey, and if you are gonna change you better dump the puck far into the other team's end. Conversely, you can get fresh legs on the ice while in the attacking zone during the second period. The other cool aspect of having the benches spread apart is that there is now room for front row seating at glass level between the 2 benches. Couple that great seat location with glass so low it would barely protect a seated fan and you have one of the best vantage points to watch a game in all of hockey. You don't see a setup like this everyday, so it is refreshing to see that despite closing in on having seen games at 100 arenas there is still new things to experience. The Gems whooped Bloomington 6-2, and the game was essentially over in the first minute as they scored 2 goals in the first 48 seconds. If you have chance to see a game at Hara Arena you should do it, and rest your voice because you have a great chance to heckle the refs.
Other information about the Dayton Gems is available at: Gems Home
Other information about Hara Arena is available at: Arena Home
More photos of Hara Arena are available Here