October 5, 2019 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh may be a little bit outside the traditional college hockey footprint, but college hockey is alive and well in the Steel City as Robert Morris University fields a very competitive NCAA team each season, with the club playing out of their small arena, now known as Colonials Arena. The arena location is geographically interesting, as the RMU Island Sports Center sits on a narrow island in the Ohio River just west of the city known as Neville Island. The Sports Center complex also houses some athletic fields, a sports dome, and more, with Colonials Arena being the centerpiece. The entire complex has a park-like feel, and there is ample parking near the arena. The river runs within 50 feet of the back of the arena, so this is truly a waterfront location. The arena exterior has a simple, but modern look, with gray blocks and tan metal siding making up the exterior. A peaked front facade has quite a bit of glass work, and the Colonials logo sits near the peak of the roof. A corner entrance known to the building leads fans to a VIP lounge known as the Hat Trick Club, and there were quite a few fans tailgating in this section of the parking lot on this warm September afternoon prior to the game. The arena opened in 1998 and holds a pair of ice pads, with the NCAA team playing on the rink with the larger seating capacity. A NAHL team known as the Pittsburgh Forge played here for a few seasons in the early 2000's as well. In addition to the 2 ice pads there are also 2 outdoor roller hockey rinks on site which are enclosed under a roof but exposed to the elements. Although RMU is far from a national hockey powerhouse, the team has won a pair of Atlantic Hockey championships and made a NCAA tournament appearance within the last 5 years. RMU hockey flies somewhat under the radar in a crowded Pittsburgh sports scene but it is a great alternative for fans looking to watch some competitive hockey in a fun setting.
Fans entering Colonials Arena and the Island Sports Center will find tickets available at the RMU table just inside the main entrance. Tickets for this game against Michigan Tech were $12. The lobby features a high ceiling and lots of Colonials logos and signage throughout the space, and the open floor plan features visible support beams painted a bright yellow color. There is an information desk as well as a nicely stocked RMU pro shop. There is also a large area where folks can sit and relax, and quite a few tables at the bistro style restaurant which also features a Starbucks. The lobby has quite a few windows which look out to the park-like exterior of the building which features quite a bit on landscaping in front of the arena. Entry into the arena itself is either through a door off of the bistro area which leads to ice level in the rink, or through an upper level entrance at the top of the grandstand. Patrons can also enter through the door near the Hat Trick Club on the far corner of the ice. The arena is simple, and, with a capacity of only 1200, is among the smaller in Division 1. The seating is comprised of a grandstand running the length of the ice on 1 side with 9 rows of dark green benches. There is a small, 3 row high set of bleachers behind one goal, and a set of peaked metal bleachers which extend to 10 rows high in the corner. Nearly every available space is taken up by seating as there is also table seating at ice level next to the team bench. A narrow aisle acts as the upper concourse behind the main grandstand and there is a small concession stand set up in the corner of the upper concourse selling snacks and beer for those who do not wish to head to the bistro in the lobby. Walls are white and the beams are yellow as they are in the lobby. RMU has made this feel like the Colonials home, with a sign stating this is home of the Colonials Crazies, and blue trim with stars lining the upper concourse. A pair of scoreclocks sit on the end walls, and, although the small layout is not that different from many small community arenas, the place has a professional feel to it despite being rather basic in its amenities. Colonials Arena is not what comes to mind when you think of NCAA hockey, but the school seems to find a way to make this simple building work.
The game day presentation at Colonials Arena for a RMU game is polished and professional, and inline with many of the top NCAA hockey programs. Pregame intros get the crowd pumped up, and a crisp PA system pumps loud music throughout the arena during stoppages. The sight lines are decent throughout the arena, and the crowd on hand filled about 3/4 of the seats for this early season non-conference game. A very lively mascot entertains the crowd, both in the stands during play, and on the ice during intermission. Intermission featured a fan hockey trivia contest as well as a chuck-a-puck contest. There is no organized student section and there was no band on hand. Students that were in attendance seemed to spread out throughout the arena, and, although the crowd was supportive of the Colonials, they were relatively quiet. A vocal contingent of Michigan Tech fans made the 13 hour trek, and definitely out-cheered the hometown fans, as chants of "Let's Go Huskies" could be heard frequently. Colonials Arena, although modern, has a sense of history to it in honoring past teams and traditions, with numerous banners in the arena, and lots of Colonials logos throughout the lobby and common spaces. The game itself was extremely entertaining, as Michigan Tech claimed a 2-1 win with a shorthanded goal in overtime. Colonials Arena will likely never be thought of as one of the must-see arenas in college hockey, as it is rather small and lacks the history and character of many of the buildings that college hockey has been known for. Still, with $12 tickets, a clean and modern arena, and a unique park-like setting along the river a trip to Colonials Arena is a worthwhile stop for hockey fans.