Elmira, New York - My home arena
Some things just feel comfortable- that old worn out pair of sneakers, the comfy chair in the corner of the living room, and in this case the place I call home for most of the hockey season. I moved to nearby Mansfield Pennsylvania in late 2005, and took in my first Jackals game at First Arena shortly thereafter. For me this was a reawakening of sorts as growing up in the Boston area I had tons of great college hockey nearby, as well as the Bruins which I was lucky enough to see in the old Boston Garden. Unfortunately, I moved to Northeastern PA in the early 90s and pretty much had not been to more than a handful of games for the ensuing 15 years. I tried to get into going to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins when they opened, but found the hour plus drive, awful post game traffic, and overly corporate arena not to my liking. Aside from that I would make the 2 hour drive to Binghamton a couple times a year, and also took in a couple of New Jersey Devils games during that time period. Being a half hour from Elmira finally meant I could get back into the game I so loved-Hockey! First Arena was built in 2000 for the Jackals inaugural season in the UHL. From what I have heard the building drew quite well in its first few years, even selling out frequently. In reality it is a twin pad facility as there is also a recreational rink under the same roof. The arena sits in downtown Elmira, and there is ample parking in nearby lots or the parking garage, which will set you back 2 bucks. I opt for the garage for the ease of exit as over the last 3 years I can count on 1 hand the amount of times it has taken me more than 5 minutes to exit the garage after a game. With the arrival of new arena GM Robbie Nichols in 2006 the arena seems to be on the upswing with better crowds and also more non-hockey events being booked into the building.
From the exterior the building has a mix of a modern look along with a classic design. Windows on the street give a glimpse of the concourse inside. Inside the building is nothing special as it seems to have been built somewhat on the cheap as the concrete concourse is very narrow and gets very crowded between periods. The rest rooms are located in several spots throughout the concourse, although the lines almost always build up for both men and women. There are no actual ceilings in the rest rooms, just high walls which seperate them from the fans passing by on the concourse. The concession choices are nothing special either, with the usual game fare, and a couple other vendors including pizza and space man ice cream. There is also a bar known as the Jackals Den located just off the concourse near the main entrance. A peeve of mine is that the lines to the main concession stands run perpendicular to the pedestrian traffic on the concourse, thus having people stacked up waiting to order food blocking the entire path through the concourse. No biggie though as I have come to deal with it. There is also a very nice merchandise store located off the concourse. Despite the spartan design the building is sufficient for ECHL hockey. If you go to a game here check the seating chart before hand as I have seen many a person puzzled by the fact that the concourse does not run all the way around the building. It actually dead ends on end of the arena where the locker rooms and zamboni entrance are located. This probably adds to the congestion on the concourse as you cannot walk all the way around the arena, and have to go back to your seat the way you came. Despite the basic set up I love this place as it has character.
The arena itself holds 4000 including the luxury suites, which runs along one side of the building and across the end near the main entrance. Press boxes and a handicapped seating area take up the rest of the upper level. The seats are the usual plastic folding chairs, and are all purple. It was told to me that the arena was hoping to woo the Elmira College hockey team to the arena, thus choosing their signature purple, but the EC team still opts to play their games on their own rink 10 miles north of town despite the campus being walking distance from First Arena. Looking around you will immediately notice the asymmetry of the seating. Most of the seats are in a typical bowl fashon, but at the end near the locker rooms the seats are only about 8 rows high. Also in the one corner (the corner I actually sit in) the seats come to a peak such that the top row of one section has only 3 or 4 seats. I am not sure the reason for this, but it gives the arena a somewhat unique flair. Looking up from inside it almost looks as if you are in a warehouse or a pole barn as the roof peaks over the middle of the ice. The steepenss of the seats is good, and the fact that this is a relatively small barn makes you feel like you are on top of the action. Despite being less than 10 years old this place has the atmosphere of older buildings. The fans can get quite loud and are into the game. I have had a couple visiting fans from Reading (Boo Reading!) ask me where the video screen is located. There is no video screen or fancy scoreboard here. That is just fine with me as the game presentation is all business. I do very much like the pre-game introductions which started at the beginning of the 2006 season. Yes the team comes out of the stereotypical inflatable Jackal head, but they play a good selection of music to get the crowd pumped, have a good light show, and introduce EVERY player on the team. I never understood why teams introduce the "starting lineup" in hockey as the guys are just gonna have a shift change in 45 seconds or so anyways. Hockey is a team game and the Jackals recognize that. The PA announcer does an excellent job, and generally has appropriate song selections to go along with the game situations. There are the usual minor league between period contest and give aways, including a car give away or 2 each season, but the game is the main focus and I like the fact that although sponsor plugs are mentioned throughout the night I dont feel like I am at an AMWAY meeting and am being sold something every second. The roaming crowd announcer can get pretty annoying, and his pregame ride across the ice on his ATV adds little to the entertainment, although the first few games with the new routine my Dad and I were taking bets on how quick the ATV would get wrecked. Luckily it was still in one piece at the end of the year. I would like to comment on the fans in Elmira. They seem like a genuinely passionate bunch. (Go ahead and call me a homer!). The fans are into the game here. They are loud, and the place can get rockin' if there is a fight or a goal. The place will get even louder if there is a bad call by the ref as the crowd is merciless in their disdain for the men in stripes. They can heckle a ref with the best of them. The fans are also loyal as although the team is drawing significantly higher this year than the last couple years the faithful fans had to put up with 3 awful years of hockey before this, and they still would sell 3000 tickets for a non-playoff UHL team. The move to the ECHL, along with the return of playoff hockey, helped attendance grow this year. I would also like to mention one thing which is done at Jackals games which I have not encountered too many other places. If a member of the military is home on leave and attending the game the PA announcer gives them a special mention. Not only this but the fans give the soldier a standing ovation. Did I mention that I love this place? This review is different than any other on this site (and more difficult to write) as most of the arenas reviewed here I have only been to 1 or 2 times. I consider this my home, but would love it if you would take in a game here and hopefully you will like the place too.
Other information about the Elmira Jackals is available at: Jackals home
Other information about First Arena is available at: Venue home
More photos of First Arena are available Here