March 25, 2017 - Wall Township, New Jersey
Despite bouncing around various incarnations of leagues including the Northern States Hockey League, the NA3EHL, and ultimately the NA3HL, the Jersey Shore Wildcats have been a model of success in the Tier 3 junior hockey world since their original season as the Wildcats in 2013, after previously being known as the Trenton Habs. Jersey Shore Arena is a utilitarian building which has given fans on the Shore a good opportunity to enjoy high quality hockey in the area. The sprawling arena complex, which opened in 1991, houses 3 ice pads and has a unique look to its exterior. A large sign greets fans at the driveway entrance. The large building's gray brick and concrete walls, and colorful exterior accents, including blue metal roofing, and curved corner sections, give the place a bit of a castle-like feel. Red sections of striping sit about half way up the exterior walls, and a curved sign at the main entrance, which sits in front of the center of the 3 ice pads, denotes the venue's name is large white block letters. The place has a retro feel to it, and the interesting architectural features seem different in the world of cookie-cutter modern community arenas. The place has a bit of a dated feel to it, but is different, and fun. The arena serves the local hockey community well and plays host to local youth hockey teams as well as the Wildcats. Jersey Shore Arena is more of a community rink than a big time event arena, but it serves as a good home for the successful teams the Wildcats have put onto the ice in recent years. Inside the main entrance is a lobby area complete with an information desk, a well stocked pro shop, and quite a few banners lauding the success of the Wildcats. The Wildcats play in the main arena, which is the center rink in the building, and there is no charge for entry to the games. This playoff game against the Binghamton Junior Senators drew a large crowd of fans from both teams. The NA3HL has found a home in arenas such as Jersey Shore Arena, bringing high quality hockey to some of the smaller venues in the U.S.
Once inside the main arena at Jersey Shore Arena you are in what could best be described in the hockey world as a band box. The rinks sits in front of a small grandstand which stretches from blue line to blue line, and features 5 rows of wooden bleachers on metal risers. The stands are elevated a bit offering a decent view. A single scoreclock sits at the far end of the ice, and the peaked roof is covered in silver ceiling insulation panels, and the peak meets the walls at a low height so that the walls behind the team benches, which are across the ice from the stands, are very close to the ceiling. Protective netting covers the entire seating area, and fans also choose to stand along the glass in the corners of the rink. A unique feature is the dressing room configuration, which finds the Wildcats heading upstairs after each period along the narrow concourse (referred to as the catwalk by arena staff) to the team dressing room which is on the second level next to the team offices. A very narrow aisle on the catwalk runs behind the grandstand and finds fans standing along the railing to get a good view of the action. The interior walls and floor of the arena are a bright blue, and overall the inside of the building has a bit of a weathered, or rather a well-used, look to it. The arena restaurant sits upstairs above the lobby and features a very large seating area with many seats overlooking the ice. We don't usually pay too much attention to the food at the arenas, but have to remark on the excellent pizza served in the restaurant, known as the Penalty Box Cafe. It is legit and as good as most local pizza parlors that you would find in Jersey. With a small capacity that we are guessing at about 300 seats it would be hard to cram in more than 500 or so fans including standees here, but the place was nearly full and fans enthusiastic for this Saturday night playoff contest.
The game day atmosphere at Jersey Shore Arena for this Wildcats game was raucous as a trip to the Silver Cup Tournament in Chicago was on the line and a large crowd was on hand. The presentation was rather laid back, but features songs at intermission and during stoppages. A couple busloads of fans from Binghamton made the place loud, and the game itself was intense and hard hitting. The homey feel of the rink and gritty setting make this arena have an old fashioned vibe. The championship banners make this feel like home for the Wildcats, and a large group of local youth hockey players were on hand to support the Wildcats and also hope to cash in on the intermission giveaway open to local youth players. We imagine that the normal regular season game in January would bring a much smaller crowd, but the excitement level of playoff hockey was high in both the stands and on the ice. The Wildcats scored first and led 1-0 after 2 periods in this intense game but Binghamton blew things open in the third, taking a 5-2 win. Jersey Shore Arena is not the type of place that most hockey fans would choose as a destination, and with the NHL within a couple of hours in both Philly and New Jersey, most casual fans probably pay attention to the big leagues more than juniors, but locals along the Shore have a great opportunity to watch some quality hockey here, and with free admission the Wildcats provide an excellent experience for hockey fans who don't mind watching hockey in a gritty old-school environment. .