September 28, 2018 - Kent, Ohio
At many colleges in the U.S. hockey at the club level flies under the radar and is often played in front of small crowds during late night hours. Kent State is different however, as this school in northeast Ohio once had NCAA Division 1 hockey, and the modest Kent State Ice Arena housed the NCAA Golden Flashes from its opening in 1970 until the school disbanded its NCAA squad in 1994. Infamously known for the anti-war protest gone wrong in 1970, which led to the famous lyrics "4 dead in Ohio" penned by Neil Young, the Kent State campus is a pleasant setting, and the Ice Arena is in a location easily accessible to students. The exterior of the arena says 1970's all the way, and the building looks small from the outside as it is built into a hill and the roof has a rather low profile. The windowless brick exterior is rather drab looking, and the grounds looked like they could use some sprucing up, but this brown brick building with eight sides and a flat roof is usually a hopping place when the Golden Flashes take to the ice against ACHA opponents. There is a large parking lot adjacent to the arena and the ice arena actually houses 2 ice pads, with the main arena where the team plays having a seating capacity of 1500. A Cleveland Monsters van was outside the arena on game night as this was a promotional game for the AHL team who plays about 45 minutes away. Kent State has had a good amount of success at the ACHA Division 1 level and the program is professionally run and receives a good amount of support from the school, and a good following among the student body and local area fans as well. This Friday evening contest against Robert Morris was also the home opener for the Golden Flashes. On-campus arenas usually provide great atmospheres for college hockey, but we were not sure what to expect as this was at the club level in an area where hockey is not exactly a well known sport. Despite never having claimed a ACHA national championship, the Golden Flashes are frequently ranked in the top 20 and usually one of the more competitive programs in the country.
On game night fans enter through the modest main entrance of Kent State Ice Arena and are welcomed into the main lobby which sits between the 2 ice pads. Golden Flashes tickets are on sale at the main information desk, and the lobby itself has the look of a small community arena, complete with rustic wood walls, a fireplace with bench seating, and the arena's main food concession stand, which sits elevated a bit from the main lobby floor and has blue and yellow signage in keeping with school colors. When checking out the small hallways in the lobby you will find several photos and items on the walls dating back decades and honoring players and local hockey supporters of the past. There was a merchandise table set up selling Kent State hockey gear just inside the main entrance door, and tickets for the game were a reasonable $7. Once inside the arena itself you find a somewhat odd layout that seems to be thrown together a bit, with entry from the lobby on the side near the penalty boxes. A decent sized grandstand sits across the ice near the team benches and is comprised of an aluminum grandstand with 6 rows of seating and a small press box area at the top. The seating has plastic surfaces on top of the aluminum bleacher benches. The near side, above the penalty box, has elevated seating featuring 8 rows of aluminum bleachers which provide a good view of the ice, although they are obstructed by netting in front of the seating, as is the main grandstand. Oddly, the elevated seating is not centered with the ice pad, but sits closer to one end and extends into the corner area. A pair of small scoreclocks are attached to the walls in opposite corners and the ceiling is rather low giving the arena a small feel to it, and as the ceiling approaches the walls in the corners and ends it slopes downward magnifying the small feel the arena has. In addition to the grandstand seating many fans chose to stand at ice level along the glass all the way around the arena, save the area near the team benches and grandstand on that side. The interior of the cinder block walls are painted gray, white, and blue, and keep with the school theme of the rest of the building. Kent State Ice Arena is clearly not up the the standards of today's NCAA Division 1 arenas, but it is neat to reflect on the fact that this place at one time housed a Division 1 team, and the drop to the lower level of play does not seem to have hampered the support from the fans and community, as a Kent State hockey game has the vibe you would find at most other on-campus hockey venues.
The game day experience at Kent State Ice Arena for a Golden Flashes hockey game focuses on fun. With KSU students receiving free admission the place is packed, with many students on hand to have a good time before heading out on the town to party on a Friday night. The place is loud from before the National Anthem to the final buzzer, and the fans get into the action. Although many of the fans on hand don't follow hockey too closely and are not up on the intricacies of the game, when there is a goal or a big hit they let out a huge roar. The presentation is laid back but mostly professional, with the PA announcer making the faux pas of calling the Robert Morris team the Colonels (like Colonel Sanders) instead of the Colonials, but no one seemed to notice of care. There is team merchandise available in the lobby, and the crowd is comprised of 70% students and 30% local fans and friends and relatives of the players, providing for a raucous mix. There is not designated rowdy student section per se, with not a whole lot of organized cheers or chants, but the kids on hand are loud and supportive. The fans are there to have a good time all evening, and there is a fan shootout contest at intermission, and a fun give and take between the crowd and the zamboni drier as the ice is being resurfaced as the crowd cheers and yells to get the zamboni driver to flash the lights, followed by a "thank you" chant and a loud cheer once the driver obliges. The game itself was very entertaining and a great example of smash mouth hockey as there far more players being leveled with big hits than their were dangles and great passing plays. Kent State came from behind to ultimately claim a 5-2 victory and send the fans home happy with a home opening win. Northeast Ohio is not known as a hockey hotbed, and unless fans want to drive to Cleveland there is not a whole lot of high level hockey options for spectators in the area. Kent State fills this niche nicely and has good support among area fans, and a great student following as well. With a crowd at more than 80% of the arena capacity, and with such a low ceiling the noise levels get pretty high here, and the drab look and visually unappealing design of the arena becomes much less important than the energy that the building contains when the fans get into the action here. Kent State Ice Arena is a place filled with character that has a feeling seemingly unchanged since the 1970's. The fact that the Golden Flashes are not a NCAA team competing at the highest level of college hockey does not seem to be a concern to anyone in attendance here, and the Kent State hockey team has a level of student and community support inline with quite a few smaller D1 NCAA schools. A trip to Kent State Ice Arena for a Golden Flashes game is all about fun and entertainment and the old school atmosphere that this relic of a building provides is a big part of the enjoyment of the experience.