November 30, 2019 - Irving, New York
On the Seneca Nation Indian Reservation sits a modern and well appointed community arena known as the Cattaraugus Community Center. The arena sits along a stretch of road that crosses through the reservation, and sits in close proximity to the tribal headquarters. Although the arena is busy with hockey in the winter months, it serves mainly as a community center, complete with basketball courts and a fitness center as well as meeting rooms. The main game in town is not hockey, but rather box lacrosse, and the CCC as it is known, is home of one of the top Junior lacrosse teams in North America, the Seneca War Chiefs, and also has hosted several Can-Am Lacrosse League teams over the years. The Buffalo Thunder moved their operation here at the start of the season, after being known as the Niagara Falls Thunder in the past. The area, although rural, is about a 45 minute drive from Buffalo, and hockey is also popular in area as well. The arena has a tan block and stone exterior, and features tribal designs across the front of the building. A green metal roof covers the top of the facility, and a pair of entrances lead into the main lobby of the building. Athletic fields sit outside the complex, and the entire property is nicely kept and modern looking. Since opening in 2011 the Cattaraugus Community Center has been at the heart of the Seneca community, and also home of area youth hockey teams as well. With the USPHL Premier's Buffalo Thunder coming to town area residents have a solid level of hockey that they can enjoy at an inexpensive price.
Fans arriving at Cattaraugus Community Center on game day will enter into the main lobby, where there is an information desk. The lobby features a high ceiling and open floor plan, with a snack bar in the lobby as well that was closed on this day. The lobby features a sitting area with leather chairs, and a tile floor with the tribal crest displayed on the floor. The arena itself, named Nelson "Bally" Huff Arena, is off to the left and is accessed through an entry door. A ticket table for the Thunder games is set up at ice level inside the entry door, and tickets for the 4pm Saturday contest against the Pittsburgh Vengeance cost $5. A dollar discount is offered for those with a tribal card. As the main building concession stand was closed there was a makeshift table in the arena selling chips, candy, and drinks, as well as chuck-a-pucks. The arena features a large grandstand on one side of the ice, with 11 rows of green plastic benches offering a good view of the ice surface. The front few rows of the stands feature the benches removed and casino-style leather chairs in their place, offering a comfy seat for those who choose to sit down low. The high, flat ceiling makes the arena feel big, although the listed capacity is 750. Additional seating on the end of the arena near the lobby features chairback seating in a pair of rows, which is designated for tribal elders, although with the tribal community mainly attending the lacrosse games other patrons watched form this vantage point. Netting covers the entire seating area, and a single scoreclock sits at the far end of the ice complete with a digital message board. The tribal heritage is evident throughout the building, with animal murals painted on the walls above the grandstand, and much of the signage in the arena also listed in the tribal language. The tan walls of the arena seem to fit nicely with the rest of the building, and this modern arena is certainly a more than adequate home for a Tier 3 junior hockey team.
The game day experience is similar to what you would find at other Tier 3 junior hockey venues in the U.S. Music is played during stoppages, although the volume was way too low throughout the game. The Thunder staff does a good job keeping the crowd engaged, and the chuck-a-puck contest at intermission is different in that since there is netting in front of the entire grandstands, contestants are directed out into the main lobby and back into the rink on the far side, where they toss their pucks from the team bench. Despite being a first year tenant at the arena the team has built up a decent fan base and a good sized crowd was on hand for this Saturday afternoon game. There is little evidence of the Thunder's presence here, as there is not a single piece of signage or logo in the arena, and the ice does not feature any indication of the team being there either as there is no logo on the ice. A small printed schedule on the arena door does announce the upcoming games. This is clearly a venue used as a community center, and, as lacrosse is king, multiple displays in the arena honor players from the Seneca Nation who have gone on the play lacrosse at higher levels, including the NLL. The sight lines are good and the arena is modern and well laid out for a community rink. The fans on hand to support the Thunder were a bit disappointed with the outcome as the team fell 6-1, although a goal with less than a minute left broke the Pittsburgh shutout. Cattaraugus Community Center will always be primarily a box lacrosse arena, but is is a good place to enjoy junior hockey in a modern setting that is unique.