One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Slater Family Ice Arena - Home of the Bowling Green State Falcons
November 2, 2018 - Bowling Green, Ohio
The world of college hockey is full on older, character-filled on-campus venues that truly capture the spirit of the game and provide great fan experiences for attendees. One such venue that flies under the radar a bit sits on the campus of Bowling Green State University, few miles south of Toledo, Ohio. Toledo itself has a tradition supporting the city's local minor league clubs quite well, and has some rabid fans who know the game and know how to get rowdy. This tradition seems evident at Bowling Green as well, and the older Slater Family Ice Arena, which opened in 1967 as BGSU Ice Arena at a smaller capacity than its current configuration, was the catalyst for the school's hockey program making the jump from the club level to NCAA Division 1. Lots of NHL'ers have plied their trade here, and the Falcons even brought a NCAA Championship back to Northwest Ohio back in 1984. The arena sits on the edge of campus near other athletic facilities, and has the look of a 1960's arena. The rather drab looking exterior has brown and tan brick, and a flat roof. A large parking lot is adjacent, and bright orange trim, awnings, and signage let you know you are at the home of the Falcons as the school colors are evident. In addition to the main arena the building houses a second, smaller ice pad which was added on to the end of the building in a renovation a few years ago. The windowless exterior isn't much to look at but it is the kind of place that immediately evokes images of old time hockey and the way the game used to be in the 1970's. Tickets were secured in the main box office lobby a couple hours before game time for this Friday night game against WCHA foe Northern Michigan. A reserved seat on the side of the ice went for $17, and general admission seating was available for $13. Game time was slated for the unique time of 7:37. The lobby features trophy cases and other memorabilia honoring Falcons hockey teams of the past. Parking in the adjacent lots is $5 on game night, and those driving to the game parked here, whereas many students were able to walk to the arena with its location at the edge of campus. Bowling Green has a long tradition of hockey, and Slater Family Ice Arena provides a fun setting which is a throwback to the way things were decades ago.
Fans entering Slater Family Ice Arena on game night will find quite a few folks on hand early, even well before the doors open. Entry is through the main lobby, which features a food concession stand in addition to the box office. The entry process was rather slow, with security doing checks of any bags fans had, and a limited number of staff scanning tickets. Upon entering onto the main concourse from the lobby the school's pride in its hockey teams is evident, with displays and memorabilia on nearly every wall surface, including displays honoring past Falcons who made it to the NHL, past Bowling Green players who have competed at the Olympics, and a Wall of Fame honoring many past players. The concourse opens up at the end near the main entrance to contain a nicely stocked team merchandise shop which sits below the large video board at the end of the ice. The concourse also runs underneath the grandstands, and has more displays honoring school hockey history as well as a couple more food concession stands. Jerseys of Falcons alumni greats Rob Blake and Nelson Emerson are displayed on the concourse, and there is even a display honoring local figure skaters including Olympian Scott Hamilton. The seating wraps around the entire ice surface except for the lobby end. With an increase in capacity from about 2500 to 5000 in 1989 seats are crammed into the building all the way up to the ceiling, with 19 rows of orange plastic benches making up the seating configuration. There are 3 rows of chairback seating directly behind the penalty box, and some ice level table seating on the lobby end of the rink, but there are no suites at all, and this place provides an old school viewing experience. The flat ceiling feels very low, and the rake of the seating is not overly steep, making sight lines not ideal, but magnifying the sound inside the arena to make the place feel exceptionally loud. There is no center ice scoreclock, and a small scoreboard sits above the stands on the closed end of the ice. The general admission seating is mainly on the end and in the corners and those sections are separated from the side grandstands by railings. Orange is everywhere here, with the railings in the seating area and even the dasher boards bearing the color of the Falcons. The walls above the seats (which aren't very high as the ceiling can almost be touched from the top row) are covered in a mural featuring an orange background and photos honoring the Falcons' hockey history. The layout is a simple one, and it is hard to believe the quoted capacity is 5000 fans. With all of the team colors and history displays there is little doubt whose house this is, as Falcon hockey has called this place home for over 50 years.
The game day atmosphere at Slater Family Ice Arena is the near perfect mix of old school environment and modern presentation. The bones of the arena are old school all the way, and with a crowd filling 90% of the seats for this game against Northern Michigan the energy level in the building was high. The student section was vocal, and had many organized cheers and chants and were complimented nicely by the pep band, who provided 90% of the music in the arena once play started. From the typical holding up the newspaper while the visiting lineup is announced to loud heckles of the goalie the student section helped boost the energy of the fans on hand. There are some modern touches too, as the video board played a pump up video before the starting lineups were announced, and there were ice girls tossing t-shirts into the crowd. The Falcon mascot also entertained fans, and between period entertainment was similar to what you would find at a minor league venue, although both the students and fans from the community really seem to embrace the fun. Chuck-a-pucks sold out on this night. Despite the modern trappings of the video board and ancillary activities at intermission, the hockey is the main attraction here, and the crowd is knowledgeable and into the game. The low ceiling magnifies the noise, and you can hear the fans cheer on each rush, certainly making for an intimidating environment for visiting teams. This place has a true hockey feel, and captures the essence of college hockey quite well, as those on hand are the common man and the students as there are no fancy luxury boxes to cater to the corporate types. With banners hanging on the walls in plain view, it is clear that Bowling Green has had lots of success over the years. Although the seating is not steep enough to provide ideal sight lines there are hardly any drawbacks to attending a game here for fans who like a classic hockey experience. The arena also has quite a few interesting quirks that you would expect from a half-century old building, including the fact that both teams exit the ice from the same entryway at the corner of the ice. Also the zamboni drives across the concourse below the video board to get to and from the ice each time the ice needs to be resurfaced, and fans are simply kept behind a simple rope until it is safe to proceed across the concourse. There are quite a few remaining examples of 1960's and 1970's arenas in college hockey, but Slater Family Ice Arena provides one of the better fan experiences in college hockey, and the pep band, student section, and loyal area fans make attending a Bowling Green hockey game an event, not just a night out to a game. .