For years Roaming The Rinks has been publishing arena reviews from around the world of hockey. Why? Because we think each arena is different and unique, with its own character and history. We've often wondered whether our obsessive infatuation with the different vibes that each arena holds is unique to fans, or whether similar thoughts are shared by those on the ice. We decided to delve deeper and reach out to a professional player and get some more insight and a different perspective. So we will now take you on a journey around the rinks...from inside the glass.
Jordan Pietrus of the Elmira Jackals not only excels on the ice, but in the community as well. Over his 3 years in Elmira he has become the face of the franchise in the community, and reaches out to fans to represent not only the team, but the sport of hockey. Many a child in the Elmira area has been helped by his reading initiative in local schools, and those kids who attend games may have been lucky enough to catch a puck after warmups, as watching Pietrus toss pucks over glass to appreciative fans has become a pregame ritual in Elmira. Playing a smart but gritty game throughout his career, he helped his team to a USHL championship and later earned an Ivy League degree along the way. Now, as an experienced pro, he takes on the role of assistant captain for the Jackals, and is a leader on and off the ice. Jordan also has a deep love of the game and an understanding of its history. We spent some time chatting about arenas with Jordan and he willingly shared his thoughts and insight from all levels of his hockey career with us. Read along as we learn more about the role that the often simple structure known as a hockey arena, and the fans that fill the seats, have on the game we all love.
RTR - From a player's perspective, what makes a great arena?
Jordan - There are different elements to it for sure. I would say that one element is definitely the locker rooms. We spend a lot of time getting ready for the games before, and in between periods, and after, so your experience in the locker room definitely has an effect on your view of the arena, whether or not it's spacious, or comfortable, and if the amenities are good. The second part of that would definitely be the fans. How many people normally attend games at this arena, is it a loud arena, do the fans get on you, and how crazy are the fans all play a major role in it. The third part of it is the ice surface itself. Each arena, each building, is a little bit different and has a different character, and different feel to it. Things like if the roof is higher or lower, help make the sound louder, or lead to more echoes. How big the benches are also has a part in it. How high is the glass, is it seamless glass, are the boards new, all those things play into the role of what makes a great arena.
I've been in some arenas that are really small, but they are old, and have a ton of history, and they get packed and are a ton of fun to play in. I've also been in some new arenas that have the video scoreboard and all of the cool special effects and there is a ton of people. Again, I think the most important element is the crowd and how many people are at the games. That really effects what you think of that arena as a player. If there is nobody showing up to the games then the atmosphere is really tough to create no matter how big or small the arena is. So those are the three key elements to a good arena from a player's perspective.
RTR - That takes us into our next question, which is how big of a factor is the noise level? Do you get more pumped up when the crowd is into it?
Jordan - It's a hard thing to describe, but when you are playing in a loud arena, whether at home or on the road, it just makes everything more intense. It's harder to hear your teammates, and it's harder to hear your coach. Every time there is a big hit people explode, so when you are playing in arena with a lot of people that are really loud the intensity level and adrenaline that is flowing through your body gets elevated. It makes it much, much more exciting for the players, and it makes it more exciting for the fans as well.
RTR - Yeah. I think sometimes an arena that holds 3,000 people and has 2,800 fans can make for a better atmosphere than someplace that holds 10,000 but only has 5,000 fans, even though there are more people in the second arena.
Jordan - Yeah, definitely.
RTR - So is that the case too, that even as visiting player trying to take 2 points out of another team's barn, that when the fans are loud and supporting their team that it still gets you guys fired up?
Jordan - Yeah, both teams use it. If we go on the road and there is a ton of excitement it makes things more intense and everything seem more important. The other side of that though is that when you are at home and you get a scoring chance or a big hit there seems to be a lot more positive energy, but when you are on the road and the home team makes a big play the fans get excited, so you have to manage your panic level, because it can be very easy to feel like things are not going your way. If it is a loud arena both teams get excited, but as a visiting team you have to manage your emotions more and work on keeping a level head. If you are on the road you talk about managing the game and keeping the crowd out of it. If there is 5,000 people there cheering for the home team and the home team is losing 3-0 there is not much to cheer for. My Junior coach used to call it "flat-lining it". Don't get too high, don't get too low, and that is how you manage a game.
RTR - That's interesting. Let's get a little more specific here and talk about your impressions of playing for the Jackals at First Arena, and how that experience varies from some of the other buildings around the league.
Jordan - My first experience was as a visiting player (with South Carolina) coming to Elmira, and Elmira was a very difficult place to play. The fans were into it. It was loud, and things seem to happen really quickly as an opponent in Elmira. Now being here for 3 years I've felt that as a home player. It's a great arena. We have great fans, and because the arena is not huge when people get cheering it gets loud and things happen fast. The boards make big noises, and the glass echoes, so it is a very exciting building to play in as a home team.
RTR - One thing that Elmira does that is unique in pro hockey is frequently having a pep band. Does that add to the atmosphere compared to other buildings around the league?
Jordan - Yeah, I think it is a cool thing, especially for us college guys. It makes it feel like you are back in college again. I've kind of gotten used to it, but you are right, it is unique to Elmira, and having the live music and big drums it ads a special element, especially when the building is nearly full, it adds a ton to the noise level and excitement of the game.
RTR - Yeah, as a fans I enjoy when the band is there as well. It seems to get the crowd going. Let's talk a little bit about other arenas in the ECHL. Is there one arena in particular that seems like a tough or intimidating place to play?
Jordan - Like I said earlier, I think each arena has its own unique feel to it and own unique challenges, and your impression of each arena can depend on the night. If you play at an arena on a Tuesday, or play on a Saturday for dollar beer night you are going to get a completely different experience. The fans in Reading and Wheeling, because they are in our division, are pretty ruthless to us, but it is definitely fun. We've had some battles with Florida the last couple years, so when we go into that building it is definitely not an easy place to play for us. One of the most exciting buildings we played in was Orlando. Last year when we played them it was close to a sold out crowd with nearly 10,000 people there, so that was really neat. When I played in South Carolina my first year they have great fan support. One night they have a Pack The House night, and there's literally 12,000 people in North Charleston Coliseum. It was incredible, but they don't get crowds like that on a regular basis. Fort Wayne's got a great building, Toledo's got a great building, Evansville, same thing. Cincy has got a great building. There really are a lot of great buildings in our league, and I think they each have their own character and their own feel.
RTR - That is a great point that you bring up about how playing in different places, depending on the night and the crowd size, has a different feel to it.
Jordan - One time we played in Cincy for a makeup game on a Thursday or a Wednesday and there was no one there. That's a big building, so when there is not a lot of people there, as a player, it is not as interesting, but when you play in Cincy and it's dollar beer night you are like "man, this place is jumpin'."
RTR- Jordan, would you rather play in a building where the fans are loud and on your case as a visitor, or would you rather play in a building that is quiet on the road?
Jordan - When it comes down to it it doesn't really effect how you approach or prepare for the game. It just makes it fun. When people are heckling you, you just want to be able to come off the ice and kind of laugh. I don't think it changes things, though. If you are thinking about that stuff you are not focused on the important things, and that is just playing the game to the best of your ability.
RTR - If you don't mind I'd like to back-track a little bit in your career and talk about your time playing at Brown University and Meehan Auditorium in the ECAC. How did the college arena experience differ from being in the pros?
Jordan - Well, in professional hockey there's a ton of turnover in players, in organizations, in leagues to where there is not a lot of continuity, whereas in college there's a ton of history. Brown is hundreds of years old and they've had a hockey program for probably a hundred years. The arena is fifty years old, so there is just a lot more history with the college game and because of that you have the bands, and you have the student sections, and there are rituals that have been around for years and years, so that is a huge difference. There's also a personal connection, whether it is alumni, or the students who go to class with each other and are there to support their buddies, so there is a little bit more of a connection there and more loyalty. In professional hockey, especially the ECHL there is a extremely high turnover of players, not just from year to year, but from week to week sometimes. Often fans don't even know the guys on their team that well because of that. Because of the turnover in players and teams and leagues and all of the changes that go on it effects the fan following of teams. For example if you move the teams in the ECHL to the AHL there would be changes in personnel and staffing and things would be done completely differently, whereas when Vermont was in the ECAC all of the students supported their team and had all of their cheers, and when they switched to Hockey East they still had all of their same cheers and the same support level.
RTR - What are some of the memorable arenas that you played at in college? Are there a couple that stand out that you were glad to be able to take to the ice at?
Jordan - Yep. I think the first one would be Lynah at Cornell. That was a great arena. The atmosphere there is second to none. They sell out every night. They've got the newspapers to read during lineup. Somehow one time their student section got our goalie's cell phone number posted up for all the fans to see. They've got the clap and all of these traditions, so Cornell is very memorable. The ECAC has a ton of great arenas. You've got St. Lawrence, its like an old match box with all of the dark wood in the arena. It's small, so that was one of my favorite places to play. You've got RPI, which I don't know whether it is true, but the rumor is that it used to be an old airplane hangar. That had a real cool feel to it. Dartmouth, and Princeton's Hobey Baker Arena, any of the Ivy's have a ton of history. Meehan was great. There's a ton of history with the big white dome and the brown bear out front in the lobby. We had a huge rivalry with Yale, so I was really lucky to play in the ECAC.
RTR - It is interesting that you comment on the different atmosphere of college vs. pro. That is what we pick up as fans going to a lot of places too. You talked about the fans at Lynah and the organized cheers and heckles. Are there any other schools that stood out as far as the student section goes?
Jordan - Well, it depends on what team you are on because each school has their own rivalry. When Princeton plays at Dartmouth they throw tennis balls onto the ice. When Colgate plays at Cornell they throw toothpaste on the ice. When Cornell plays at Colgate they throw Big Red gum on the ice. So it depends what team you are on. In a lot of ways it is similar to pro in that it depends on the importance of the game and if there is a history behind the rivalry.
RTR - I'd like to back-track just a little bit further to your USHL days. That is a big time league out in the Midwest. How did the arena experience there compare to coming out of Junior A in Manitoba?
Jordan - Oh man, that was eye-opening. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We used to call the rink in Cedar Rapids "The Stable" and that was a great place to play. We had unbelievable fans and it was incredible. That league is run extremely professionally and there is a ton of support for these teams in the Midwest. The one rink that will stand out for the rest of my life is the Lincoln Stars arena (the Ice Box). They have the best pregame shows I have ever seen. They have a huge star that come down from the ceiling and the place goes dark, and they have the lights synchronized to AC/DC. It's a great experience and an incredible show. Cedar Rapids was awesome. You had a 4,000 seat arena with people just going crazy. We had a huge rivalry with Waterloo. That was an Olympic sized rink. It is a horseshoe with seats on only 3 sides, but the roof was really low so the place was really loud. The capacity was only about 3,000 but it was probably one of the loudest arenas I have ever been in because the roof was so low. If you look at the arenas in that league they are all really nice, first class, and that is definitely a great league for any young player to advance his hockey career.
RTR - We talked about college hockey and obviously they don't play a ton of games, usually only 30 games or so, but in the USHL and in the pros you play 60 to 72 games in a season. In those leagues you play the same teams quite a few times each season. Does being familiar with the rink you are going to make a difference in how you approach the game?
Jordan - It actually helps quite a bit to have been to an arena before, just to be more comfortable, and know what to expect in terms of the boards, the ice, the fans. Once you've been to an arena you know what to expect and it makes you more comfortable. Everyone knows that once you are comfortable you are able to be more confident, so there is definitely an advantage to going to an arena more than once. Even in terms of the fans, the travel, the locker rooms, it makes a big difference.
RTR - With the ECHL schedule the way it is you have seen quite a bit of Reading and Wheeling the last couple seasons.
Jordan - Yeah we've spent quite a bit of time on the bus traveling to Reading and Wheeling the last few years, but it just builds the rivalry. If you play a different team every game and the fans only get to see the team one time you don't build up any dislike for the other team. When you play the same team 15 times in a season not only do the players not like to opposing team, but the fans don't like them. They remember big hits, dirty plays, big goals, and that just adds to the intensity.
RTR - I wanted to touch on your experience in Junior A in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. What was your experience like out there as a young player?
Jordan - It was great. It was definitely a smaller level with not quite as much money involved as far as the organizations and arenas go, but there were some great arenas in some of these isolated small towns, and there was great fan support. I played in the city for the Winnipeg Saints, and we didn't have a huge arena, but I remember come playoff time they sold that thing out and it was pretty cool. It is a little different in that a lot of these arenas double as community centres, but there was a lot of great arenas with a ton of history and character behind them.
RTR - What arena were you in when you had the most memorable moment of your career?
Jordan - When I played in Cedar Rapids we won the Clark Cup on home ice, so that was pretty incredible and that is something that I will never forget. Being at Brown for 4 years, and graduating from there, and all of the stuff you go through playing 4 years for one team is also something I'll never forget. Some of the big games at Meehan Auditorium are also things that I will always remember, so I guess it is all about the home rinks I have played at. Even in my first year in pros in South Carolina and playing in Pack The House Night with 11,000 people, or scoring my first pro goal there have been a ton of great games. Lots of games here in Elmira, with some big comebacks, made for great memories, so all of the home rinks I have played in hold a special place in my heart.
RTR - Jordan, I wanted to thank you for sharing you experiences as a player and giving your input on how different arenas play a role in how the game is enjoyed. As a fan I appreciate the insight, and am sure the readers will too. We appreciate you giving us a look at things from inside the glass. Thanks again and good luck!
Interview conducted by Andy Ritter of RoamingTheRinks.com