September 29, 2006 - Marlboro, Massachusetts
Preseason hockey is often looked down upon as not meaning anything because "the games don't count". This is true, and the games are referred to as exhibitions, but to the players trying to make the team the games mean a lot, and to arena fans such as myself it allows for some odd couplings of community rinks hosting some very high level hockey games. This was the case on my visit to the NESC for a Worcester Sharks preseason game. This was also the first competition at all for the Sharks as they were a new team starting the 06-07 season in the AHL. I was glad I got to take in a game here, in such close confines. The New England Sports Center is a "mega rink" housing 5 ice pads and having many creature comforts for the local participants of youth hockey, figure skating, and even houses a pretty fierce men's league. As you would expect with a rink in New England all 5 ice pads get plenty of use. This AHL game was an added attraction.
The arena itself sits back in an industrial park type area, tucked in behind a large mall. There is a big parking lot, but it was pretty well full on this night. From the front it blends into its surroundings and could be mistaken for a corporate headquarters, or warehouse of some type as its massive size yet low roof seems to not fit into the arena template of most ice rinks. There is a glass atrium at the entry way, and even a set of stairs leading to the rinks themselves which spiral upward. You immediately also notice how busy this place is as there are kids and adults alike coming and going with their gear bags for their skates and hockey stuff at all times. You may even bump into some Olympian figure skaters if you know who to look for. There is even a TV monitor in the entryway giving the schedule for each ice pad, and it reminds me of the screens at the airport which track arrival and departure times of incoming and outgoing flights. For this game the action was in the main arena, which holds about 2,000 fans, and is accessed from the entry along the large hallway on the carpeted concourse.
The concourse overlooks all 5 ice pads through a series of windows, and houses the snack bar, some tables, and some benches. There is a pro shop downstairs. A large turnout was on hand for this matchup against the Manchester Monarchs, with most of the seats taken by the time warmups took to the ice. You can't argue with paying 10 bucks to see AHL level players play in such a neat little arena. The arena itself is your basic 2 grandstand design, with 7 rows on the side of the ice near the concourse, and 7 rows on the other side, with 4 more rows above the aisle used to walk around the arena. There was also standing along the railing behind the goals, which basically was about 10 feet above the goal and offered an awesome, up close view. It would also be the ideal place to heckle the goalie if you are so inclined. The lighting in the place is rather dull, and there is a basic center ice scoreclock. The low ceiling makes the place look even smaller than it is. The sound system was pretty good. The seating consists of plastic benches which sit atop the concrete slabs which make up the grandstands, and honestly there is nothing remarkable about the building. It is very cool however that this place hosts AHL hockey at all, even preseason games, as it is hard to imagine this high of a level of hockey in a band box of an arena like this. That is exactly why I like going to games like this. The game itself was a blast as well, with lots of hitting, a couple very good scraps, and a general "big game" feel to the atmosphere inside the building. I am sure this would not have been the case had the game been in either Worcester or Manchester's normal arenas, as both places would have been 70% empty with the crowd they had on hand for this game. If you are interested in catching a game here they still hold AHL preseason games here, albeit for the Providence Bruins now, and the NESC is also home to Becker College's hockey team. I would suggest the AHL games however, as a little promotion combined with some highly skilled hockey players brings out the big crowd, thus making for a fun night (albeit likely a warm night) in September to catch some hockey.
* Note- These photos were not taken in 2006 when I attended the game mentioned in this review. Some were taken in November of 2008 when I returned to the Worcester area to see the Sharks play in the DCU Center, the rest were taken in August of 2014 when I was in the area and caught a little junior hockey summer tournament action. Little has changed though from when I attended the game and when these photos were taken.
A game report is available Here
Other information about the Worcester Sharks is available at: Sharks Home
Other information about the New England Sports Center is available at: NESC Home
More photos of the New England Sports Center are available Here