December 1, 2017 - Erie, Pennsylvania
Mercyhurst University is a small Catholic school not far from the shores of Lake Erie. Competing at the NCAA Division 2 level in all sports except for hockey and rowing, the Lakers have a hockey tradition dating back to the mid 1980's when hockey began as a club sport. The Lakers have moved their way up from the club level through Divisions 2 and 3, and in 1999 became a Division 1 hockey school. Mercyhurst Ice Center has been home of Laker hockey since opening in 1991, and the facility sits adjacent to the football stadium on campus, and not more than 100 yards from the Mercyhurst Athletic Center, which serves as the indoor sports home for the Lakers teams. Sandwiched between the sports venues is a series of on-campus student apartments, so student access to the Ice Center is easy. The building is a simple rectangular structure with a tan cinder block and brick exterior and a sharply peaked brown metal roof sits at the top of the arena. The corner of the arena finds the main entrance, which is up a set of stairs which lead into the lobby of the arena. Despite being a basic exterior design the architects did a great job with the window on the one end of the arena which is shaped like a ship's wheel and provides a great accent which goes along with the Lakers theme and ties the design together to make it feel like the home of Mercyhurst hockey, rather than a simple uninspiring cinder block community arena. The ship wheel design is also used as one of the logos for Mercyhurst Athletics, so this small detail makes for an interesting focal point. The lobby is laid out with a box office desk to the left, and a large trophy case to the right which features trophies garnered by past Lakers teams, including a Division 2 national championship.. This Friday night contest was against fellow Atlantic Hockey school Sacred Heart. Tickets for Laker hockey games are a bargain at $10, and among the lowest priced tickets of any Division 1 school. Erie is a hockey town, as the OHL's Otters play in front of full crowds downtown at Erie Insurance Arena, and Mercyhurst hockey is well supported as well, despite being at a school with only 4400 students. As the hockey team is the lone high profile sport competing at the NCAA's highest level it seems to get top billing and support among the sports offered by Mercyhurst. The on-campus location is obviously a plus as student support is good for the program, and Mercyhurst continues to try to improve their hockey program year after year.
Fans entering Mercyhurst Ice Center on game night will pass through the small lobby into the arena itself. Once inside the arena you will be at ice level about 15 feet from the ice. The layout of the arena is such that there is not really a concourse at all, and the small footprint of the building is evident, as there is seating on one side of the ice, comprised of 10 rows of aluminum bleachers, and additional seating at the far end of the ice, which features 4 rows of blue plastic chairback seating. That is it. There is a walkway at the end of the ice from the lobby across to the seating area, and a pressbox is suspended from the wall above the teams benches, which are situated across the ice from the grandstand. An older, but nicely kept, scoreclock sits above center ice, and the metal ceiling beams are painted blue and green below the white spray foam ceiling. The configuration is more that of a community arena than a big time Division 1 college arena, but it does the trick for the Lakers, and small touches have been added to make this place feel like the home of the Lakers. The single food concession stand offering a basic menu is at the corner of the arena, and above that is a structure which houses the team offices and a single suite room which also overlooks the ice. The previously mentioned ship wheel window sits near the peak of the roof on the end of the ice near the suites, and is a great accent. The sight lines from the stands are decent, with many fans choosing the comfort of the chairback seating on the end of the ice. The center of the main grandstand offers a clear view as there is only netting on the ends. With a seating capacity of only 1500, Mercyhurst Ice Center is among the smallest arenas in Division 1 hockey. Despite the size and simple layout it is obvious that the school takes pride in both the building and the hockey program as the place is kept immaculately clean and bright, as every painted surface looks as thought it was painted yesterday, and the entire facility is nicely maintained. With all tickets being general admission ones fans are able to find a vantage point that they like to watch the game and support the Lakers.
The game day presentation at Mercyhurst Ice Center when the Lakers compete is rather basic, but has some of the same feel as the games at more well known college hockey programs. The PA system is loud and clear, and intermissions, although not jammed with contests and sponsor plugs, do provide some entertainment. During this game there was peewee hockey during intermission as well as a t-shirt toss. As is often the case with on-campus venues, the student crowd was a bit late in arriving, but did assemble into a rowdy section in at the end of the large grandstand nearest the visiting goalie, and offered a good bit of heckling. There is no band at Mercyhurst games, and the crowd themselves provides the energy. Cowbells are plentiful here, and the fans seem knowledgeable and very supportive of Laker hockey. It was also nice to see a good student turnout, many of whom where apparently headed to some Hawaiian shirt themed parties after the game. The arena was about 3/4 full and the crowd was vocal, despite there not being many organized chants or cheers. The goal horn is that of a ship horn in keeping with the nautical theme. The small arena also does a good job paying tribute to the history of Mercyhurst hockey as there are plenty of banners celebrating past success at one end, and also a banner honoring All-Americans as well. The ship wheel window adds a lot of charm, and the fact that you can watch big time D1 hockey in such an intimate venue is refreshing as so many schools are opting to play in larger, often half empty, arenas rather than small on-campus venues. The game itself was about as good as it gets as the Lakers scored a shorthanded goal with 17 second left while trailing 2-1 to tie it up, and then scored in overtime to take a 3-2 win in front of a delighted crowd. Winters are long and it snows a lot in Erie, but Mercyhurst hockey provides the hearty fans in the region, and at the university, a solid experience at Mercyhurst Ice Center, as well as a decent on ice product. Division 1 hockey comes in many forms, from places like North Dakota and Boston College, but small schools like Mercyhurst have a place at the college hockey table, and the intimate little barn on campus proves to be a fun place to watch the game we all love.