February 18, 2018 - Ithaca, New York
Ithaca, New York is a college town on the shore of Cayuga Lake that has an eclectic and diverse population. When it comes to hockey in Ithaca there is no question who gets top billing, as the Cornell Big Red sell out every game and have one of the most electric atmospheres in all of hockey. Ithaca College is the other college in town, and is a fine instutution in its own right, but Ithaca Bombers hockey flies below the radar. The Bombers play their games at Community Recreation Center, about a 10 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the main drag in Ithaca. Better know and The Rink, or also The Rink at Lansing for the closest town of Lansing, this small community arena opened in 1995 and serves as a community facility for hockey, skating, and also field sports such as lacrosse, soccer, and baseball as the Recreation Center also houses an attached indoor sports field. Despite being closer to Lansing the arena has an Ithaca address. The venue sits up on a hill not far from the lake shore, and sign at the parking lot entrance bears all 3 names including Community Recreation Center, The Rink, and The Field. The layout features a main entrance in the center of the structure which features a doorway up a small flight of stairs, and some windows and dark gray cinder block walls. The entrance lobby sits between the ice rink and indoor field, which are arranged perpendicular to each other. The exterior of the rink is a plain gray metal one, with a peaked roof and some more exposed cinder blocks on the lower level of the end. The Ithaca College Bombers compete at the ACHA Division 2 level, and primarily play opponents in the UNYCHL conference made up of Upstate New York teams. This Sunday noon contest was a playoff matchup against the Onondaga Community College Lazers. Admission was free for this game, and many ACHA schools provide a very laid back atmosphere to their games, with primarily a friends and family crowd in attendance. We doubt Ithaca College hockey will become a major draw for fans anytime soon, but the solid level of play and entertaining on-ice action make Community Recreation Center worth a visit to check out a Bombers game.
Upon entering the Community Recreation Center fans will find themselves in the large, squarish lobby that is between The Rink and The Field. Some benches and chair seating sits around the perimeter, and a snack bar concession stand sits in the lobby as well as a pro shop which sells hockey and lacrosse equipment. A banner sits above the concession window honoring Ithaca native and LA Kings captain Dustin Brown. Various plaques and photos adorn the walls as well. Skylights in the ceiling of the main lobby let in light, and the lobby floor is a gray rubber skate floor as well. To get to The Rink you head through a small inner lobby complete with benches for skaters to tie their skates and a rubberized floor. Glass from the inner lobby overlooks the arena itself, and some fans chose to stay in the warmer confines and watch the game from there. The rink itself is very basic, with 7 rows of wooden bench seating on 1 side of the ice. A scoreclock sits above the net on the wall opposite the lobby. Penalty boxes are directly in front of the stands, and the team benches are on the far side of the ice. Large metal beams hold up the rather low ceiling and the place has a bit of a weathered look about it, but is typical of a community arena you would find in many towns. Thankfully, there is no protective netting in front of the seating, and the stands provide a clear view, although the bleacher benches seem very low to the ground. Some signage inside the rink recognizes local youth programs and yellow stripes offset the white cinder block walls and add a little bit of color. A good crowd showed up to support the Bombers for this game, and with Onondaga's campus being only an hour away there was a good sized contingent of Lazers fans on hand as well. With a listed seating capacity of 600 Ithaca Recreation Center is an intimate setting for college hockey, and the fans on hand were quite supportive and into the action despite the early hour on a Sunday.
The game day presentation at Community Recreation Center for a Ithaca College Bombers game is about as laid back and basic as it gets. With ACHA teams being largely student-run clubs it takes volunteers to pull together anything but the most basic presentation. With free admission the games are certainly enjoyable. Music is played during warmups. That was the last we heard of the PA system as no music, announcements, starting lineups, or national anthem were presented. Nonetheless, the crowd on hand made for a decent organic fan atmosphere. We were surprised with the turnout of fans and students, especially considering that Ithaca College is on the far side of town, and nearly a 20 minute drive away from the arena. Fans were very attentive and paid close attention to the action. There were no penalty announcements nor any goal horn, but knowledgeable fans had no trouble keeping up with the action. The fans were loud and the feel of the game was one of a definite playoff atmosphere. There were a couple of oddities which we have never encountered in our hockey travels to over 200 arenas, including a female referee, and also a female player who skated for the Bombers and had quite a few shifts. The arena layout also offers a few quirks including the entire Bombers roster having to walk through the inner lobby to get to and from the dressing room while fans heading to grab a coffee wait for them to pass. While the team gets ready to re-enter the arena to start a period they wait in the lobby with fans as well, often carrying on a quick conversation. The game itself far exceeded our expectations as the play was intense, and the action was fast paced and exciting. After 2 periods Ithaca trailed 3-2, but a flurry of 3 goals in the first 4 minutes of the third period saw the bombers take a 5-3 victory on home ice. With its location rather far from campus, and the arena's primary use as a community facility there was not much signage or indication that this arena was Ithaca College's home rink. Fans on hand knew they were not going to get any minor league type entertainment between periods, nor any fancy pregame introductions, but everyone on hand seemed to have a good time and the action on the ice did not disappoint. It is great to see that there are more hockey options in Ithaca than just taking in a Cornell game, and a Ithaca Bombers game at Community Recreation Center provides some low-key fun and solid entertainment for fans heading to The Rink.