One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Cheel Arena - Home of the Clarkson University Golden Knights
January 20, 2018 - Potsdam, New York
The North Country of New York may be best known as a destination for snowmobiling, hunting, and outdoor getaways, but hockey is important here, and the pair of NCAA Division 1 programs which sit a mere 10 miles apart (St. Lawrence and Clarkson) both receive lots of local attention and a great fan following. Despite the small town setting hockey is big here, and attending a game at Cheel Arena when the Clarkson Golden Knights are at home is a happening and an event, not just a game. Sitting at the edge of campus near other athletic facilities, Cheel Arena's large brick walls make for an impressive sight. The brown nearly windowless brick exterior is topped by a green metal roof. The most noticeable feature of Cheel Arena is the entryway on the corner of the arena, which features white stone columns, and a glass facade near the entry doors. A statue of a Golden Knight indicates this is the home of the school's hockey programs, and banners affixed to the exterior walls pay tribute to both the men's and women's recent hockey success. Small trees sit on a narrow lawn in front of the building, and a nearby parking lot fills up quick with both students and hockey attendees. Cheel Arena was named after university benefactor Helen Cheel, and has been home of Clarkson hockey since opening in 1991. The building has a large, and stately, albeit rather bland look, but is certainly more than adequate for Division 1 hockey. The fact that the Golden Knights have had on ice success as well as a great fan following is remarkable given the school's small enrollment of only about 4000 students and its rural location. This Saturday night contest against ECAC divisional foe Dartmouth ended up a sellout. Fans can purchase tickets at the box office which is in the main lobby of Cheel Arena, and the ticket prices of $13 for reserved seats and $10 for general admission are certainly a good deal. College hockey provides both students and local residents with a great outlet for entertainment during the long, cold, North Country winters, and hockey is certainly the marquee sport at Clarkson, gaining most of the attention here when it comes to athletics.
On game nights Cheel Arena becomes a very busy place a couple hours before game time. Many fans and students choose to dine at the arena, as there are multiple dining options in the large lobby of the building, including a pizza shop, a food court with several different options, and a restaurant upstairs that offered a buffet on this game day. The lobby features a high ceiling, and banners honoring success of past teams, as well as a trophy case which had the NCAA women's hockey championship trophy on full display. Near the box office is a sitting area and lounge complete with some comfy chairs and a fireplace. Further down the hallway of the Cheel Arena lobby is a nicely stocked Golden Knights merchandise store. Fans seem to flock to the building well before game time and socialize with friends and take in all of the pregame atmosphere on site as a Golden Knights hockey game has a big event feel. The arena itself is through a set of doors from the lobby, and features seating circling the entire ice surface. A high, relatively flat ceiling is white and has exposed metal beams. With a capacity of 3000 the arena fills up quickly, and was packed for this teddy bear toss game. The seating is comprised of green molded plastic seats on metal frames similar to what you might find in a bowling alley. The seats are stationary and do not fold, making it a bit difficult for fans to pass by other patrons to get to the middle of a row to reach their seats. There are 9 rows of seats on the sides of the ice, 10 rows on the ends, and 11 rows in the corners. An older center ice scoreclock features an electronic message board, and there are a pair of makeshift video screens placed high on the corner walls. The arena walls are white painted cinder blocks with green stripes in keeping with the school colors. A rather narrow concourse aisle runs above the seating and goes all the way around the arena. The team benches are on opposite sides of the ice, a layout we always enjoy. The seating is comfortable enough but is not very steeply pitched. Like all college hockey games should have Clarkson has a well oiled and robust band and a vocal student section which take their rightful place at the end of the arena situated behind the visiting goalie for 2 periods. Three concession stands are situated in the corners of the concourse to serve hungry fans. With Clarkson entering the weekend's action ranked #2 in the NCAA polls there was a definite air of excitement and anticipation which was present in the arena. With its on campus location and small town setting Cheel Arena offers a solid experience for hockey fans, and the team's first place ECAC record had the place buzzing with excitement. .
The game day presentation at Cheel Arena for a Clarkson Golden Knights game is largely focused on the game itself, although there are some intermission activities including a chuck-a-puck contest and the Knight mascot skating around the ice tossing t-shirts into the crowd. With its on campus location there is a good turnout of students looking to make some noise and have a good time. The pregame introductions feature all of the arena lights being dimmed and fans being asked to turn on their cell phone flashlights to provide a lighted backdrop. This feels like the type of thing that has a small town feel, and fans really get into this. The overall noise level in the building gets quite loud, despite the high ceiling. Fans are into the game and supportive of the Knights. The goal horn is also extremely loud, nearly shaking the building when it sounds. Aside from the large crowds and supportive fans Cheel Arena also exudes a sense of history. The concourse is filled with memorabilia and displays honoring the team's past. One corner of the concourse features a display of an old push behind bucket used a ice resurfacer in the program's early days. Just inside the main entrance is a display case with the NHL jerseys of former players who went on the play in the NHL. There is also a photo on the concourse of each and every Clarkson hockey team dating back to the 1920's. Another display on the end wall behind the student section pays tribute to the former players who have won the Stanley Cup, including Erik Cole and Willie Mitchell. In addition to the tradition and history which is displayed in the arena the fan behavior has a sense of tradition in itself. When the Golden Knights score an old iron bell is rung in addition to the goal horn. The student section does their part with cheers and heckles, and the Clarkson band is among the best in college hockey. Fans at this game were shocked a bit as Dartmouth upset #2 ranked Clarkson by a score of 3-2. Golden Knights fans would consider this an off night at Cheel Arena, but the atmosphere was still electric and there was a ton of energy in the building. Cheel Arena is not remarkable from an architectural standpoint, and has the typical style of a early 1990's arena. The seats could be steeper to provide an optimal view, but the arena does have the intangibles that make for a great arena. With a sense of history and tradition captured in the building, great fan support, and the feeling that each game is an event and a happening, attending a game at Cheel Arena is certainly a great experience for hockey fans.