Roaming The Rinks

One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America

Messa Rink at Achilles Center - Home of the Union College Dutchmen

December 31, 2016 - Schenectady, New York

College hockey's ECAC conference is filled with older venues dripping with tradition and character.  Union College's Achilles Center is one such arena, and is a place that gained a little more attention starting in 2014 when the Dutchmen claimed a memorable National Championship, bring notoriety to the small school in Schenectady, New York.  Hockey fans here flock to the arena, filling it to the brim on most game days.  This New Year's Eve contest found the students away on break, but a capacity crowd on hand to see the Dutchmen do battle with the famed North Dakota program.  The arena is a circular structure with windowless stucco walls and a domed shingle roof which sits on the edge of campus near the football stadium.  The arena is built into a hill, and entry into the arena is via a small entryway half way up the side of the building.  The unique look of the building reminds one of a Roman Coliseum, and the side of the exterior is covered with darker colored stucco arches adding to the Roman look.  Despite the look of the building it is really not that old, having been constructed in 1975.  Tickets were hard to come by and we secured a standing room ticket online for $15 the day before the contest.  Fans gather in the tiny lobby before the doors open and can get a peak at the NCAA Championship trophy in a small trophy case in the lobby.  A jersey auction was going on as well as the team was wearing unique jerseys for the game paying tribute to one of the historic buildings on campus.  The venue is now formally known as Frank Messa Rink at Achilles Center as Mr. Messa, an alumnus, was a major donor who contributed to  renovations which took place in 2004.  The name above the entryway of the building is "Achilles Center" so that name is good enough for us.  College hockey is full of tradition, slow to change, and overflowing with school spirit and pride, and that is one of the selling points of the game.  Although the Achilles Center has some unique charm in its design, it is the fans who make the venue come alive on game day. 

Once the doors open up on game day fans pass from the small lobby into the arena itself, with a program stand just inside the entrance.  Once inside you are at ice level and see the beautiful wooden dome which makes up the ceiling.  An elaborate pattern of dark wooden beams holds up the ceiling planks which are  a much lighter wood.  All seating is on the sides of the ice, with seating that nearly touches the peaks of the ceiling at the center of each side.  The seating is separated with an aisle that runs above the first 6 rows of seats, and 12 rows of wooden bleacher seats make up the top section of seating.  The lower seating on the bench side of the ice has chairback seating, whereas the seating on the penalty box side is bleachers like the upper seating.   Banners hang from the rafters, including the 2014 championship banner, and a simple older scoreclock sits above center ice.  The press box at the Achilles Center hangs above the end concourse, and a glassed in lounge seating section sits in one corner of the rink.  A very well stocked Dutchmen merchandise stand is set up at ice level in the corner of the arena, and features racks and tables full of all the merchandise you could need to support the team.  The venue is certainly intimate, with a seating capacity of 2225, and standing fans line up well before game time to watch from ice level at the ends of the rink and in front of the stands on the penalty box side.  Fans are kept back about 5 feet from the glass itself.  Additional standing room is found on the upper concourse which runs behind and next to the upper grandstand.  The circular cinder block walls are painted maroon and white, and are covered with photos from teams from the past and pictures that celebrate the team's history.  Concession stands can be found in the dark hallways on the upper concourse behind the seating, and the menu is kept simple here.  With most of the seating essentially made up of fold-out bleachers the place is hardly luxurious, but fans don't seem to mind as they are on hand for the action on the ice and the fun atmosphere that is generated by the crowds in attendance at a Union hockey game.

On game day things get loud under the domed roof of the Achilles Center when the Dutchmen take the ice.  With the standing room only crowds filing in early things start out loud and stay that way throughout the game.  The students were on break for this game, but the noise level and passion of the fans was still at a high intensity level.  The tradition and cheers start right away as, like many schools, the Union fans tweak the workds of the National Anthem to get things started as the singer sings "Oh say can "U" see", the entire crowd (or at least those that know the drill) shout ":U" at the top of their lungs in honor of the Union teams. There was no band on hand, nor many students for this game, so we can imagine that the fun atmosphere gets even better when students are there. Fans enjoyed the contest, although North Dakota took and early lead and hung on for the win, which quieted the crowd a bit early.  Buildings like this are full of tradition and are always enjoyable places to watch hockey.  With the team's success in recent seasons the arena is frankly too small, and does not have enough capacity to meet the demand for tickets.  That does make for a raucous environment however as the arena is packed to the gills.  The interesting architectural features such as the domed wooden roof and circular footprint make the setting rather unique, and the design of the building makes it feel older than 40 or so years old that is actually is.  We are not really a fan of the pull-out style bleachers for seating, but in this case the overall vibe of the arena is a fun one that ties in a sense of tradition. Despite the rather simple and old fashioned layout of the arena there is a fairly upbeat and modern presentation of the game.  Intermission is filled with on ice fan contests, and the crowd has a good time.  You also can't help but recognize the underdog factor that Union holds and the small liberal arts college that few have heard of outside of the hockey world has become a powerhouse on the ice in recent seasons.  The crowd enjoyed the action which featured 2 nationally ranked teams and a number of legit NHL prospects.  Although there are plans to once again renovate the Achilles Center in the near future, there is no sign that it will be replaced anytime soon, so fans can continue to enjoy hockey here in the crowded confines of this unique arena for years to come.  Watching the Dutchmen skate at this old arena is one of the hottest tickets in town, and watching a game here is enjoyable, even if the confines are a bit cramped.  
A box score of the game can be found  Here
Other information about the Union College Dutchmen can be found at:  Dutchmen Hockey Home
Other information about Messa Rink at Achilles Center can be found at:  Arena Home
More photos of Messa Rink at Achilles Center can be found Here