November 4, 2017 - Monmouth Junction, New Jersey
Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey is a Big Ten school which has recently poured a lot of money into its sports programs in an effort to compete with the perennial powers of college athletics. Unfortunately hockey is not on the university's radar as Rutgers has hockey at the club level, competing in the ACHA's Division 1, at an arena that is a 20 minute ride down heavily traveled Route 1 from campus. Nonetheless, despite little attention from the sports fans and media which covers the school, the Rutgers Ice Knights, named differently than the school's Scarlet Knights NCAA programs, plug along as a decent hockey program. The Ice Knights previously played a bit closer to campus in Somerset, NJ, but relocated to Monmouth Junction a few seasons back. ProSkate Ice Arena is located on a dead end street a block off of US Route 1 in a quiet industrial park. The building itself looks more like a corporate headquarters or office building than an ice arena, and opened in 2000, serving mainly as a community arena. A small sign at the entrance to the parking lot greets patrons, and there is parking on both sides of the building, and a small tree-filled lawn in the front of the arena. The squarish building has a large glass facade in the front, and gray fluted concrete walls on the lower level, and silver metal siding near the top of the walls. Fans enter through one of the concrete stairways which flank the large glass facade. Nothing really stands out about the design of ProSkate Ice Arena, and without the small sign at the entrance to the parking lot hockey fans could easily pass by this place and think it was a corporate building rather than an arena. The Saturday afternoon game was taking place at the same time as a home football game, so most Rutgers sports fans had their attention on the gridiron rather than the hockey arena. Like many ACHA teams the Ice Knights simply rent space at a community arena, and ProSkate does not feel like "the home of" the Knights, but rather a venue which hosts the games along with other events on its busy schedule. You wouldn't necessarily call the Ice Knights the main tenant here, rather, they are simply one of the tenants.
Once inside ProSkate Ice Arena you find yourself in a lobby area inside the glass facade, which offers an elevated view of the small lawn outside the arena. Couches and TV screens, which were tuned in to the Rutgers football game going on 20 minutes up the road, are in the lobby. A pro shop sits just off the main lobby, as does an information desk. The lobby extends into a long hallway which straddles the two ice pads on site. The rinks are know as the "Olympic" and "NHL" rinks, although the Olympic rink looks to have regulation sized ice. Rutgers plays in the NHL Rink, which has more seating, albeit with a modest 6 rows of wooden bleachers on one side of the ice. The lobby hallway has a food concession stand at the end and seating in the lobby hallway which overlooked both ice pads. The arena has a low, flat ceiling, and plain white walls. A center ice scoreclock is present, but went unused, as the lone functioning scoreclock was on the end wall. A few banners from local teams hang on the far wall of the arena, as does a large red "R" banner, which is the only sign that this is the home of Rutgers hockey. Center ice is devoid of any logo or reference to Rutgers. The seating offers a good view of the ice, as the front row is elevated, although protective netting covers the entire grandstand area. Heaters above the grandstand and in place to keep patrons warm as the temperature gets quite cold inside the rink. Quite a few fans choose to watch from the upper lobby at the table seating in the concession area. There was no admission charge for this game against NYU, and a decent sized crowd was on hand, filling more than half of the grandstand. When you think of a big name school like Rutgers and then realize that their home hockey arena is a modest community rink like this you come away feeling underwhelmed, but the Ice Knights seem to attract a decent following in their out of the way location in relation to campus.
The game day presentation at ProSkate Ice Arena for a Rutgers game is basic but sufficient. A good PA announcer keeps the fans aware of game situations, and music is played during stoppages. As we have seen a couple times before with ACHA games, the listed start time of 3pm came and went as warmups ended up starting at 3. We are not sure if this was due to an error in the schedule that was posted or earlier events at the arena running long. Overall, despite the crowd being made up mostly of friends and family and some older Rutgers supporters, the crowd was rather lively and into the game. Unlike a lot of college hockey venues there was very little student presence, which is understandable due to the hockey taking a backseat to most other sports at Rutgers, and the arena being located rather far from campus and in an area that often sees heavy traffic on the roads. The game itself was very entertaining, although NYU carried a large shot advantage to a 5-2 win. The turning point of the game was a major penalty that saw NYU score 3 goals on the same powerplay. Like many ACHA venues, ProSkate is busy with many community hockey and skating activities, and the college hockey team is just another paying customer. Still, fans in the area can catch some entertaining and physical hockey here when Rutgers takes the ice. We were in the area primarily to attend a game at Princeton's Hobey Baker Rink, which sits 10 miles down the road, so the afternoon start of many Ice Knights games provides a great opportunity to catch 2 games in a single day. Unless major changes take place at Rutgers and they build an arena for NCAA hockey, fans will have to be content with ProSkate Ice Arena as the team's venue. Overall the arena provides a decent experience for hockey fans, and the free admission provides a great opportunity for fans to bring their families to a game. Rutgers hockey will likely continue to fly under the radar, but a stop here to catch a game is worthwhile.