One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Steele Hall Ice Arena - Home of the Fredonia State Blue Devils
December 2, 2017 - Fredonia, New York
SUNYAC hockey is some of the most competitive and most entertaining hockey in New York State. Schools like Oswego, Plattsburgh, and more recently Geneseo draw huge crowds and generate a lot of support from their community. Tucked away a few miles from the eastern shore of Lake Erie, in the snowy town of Fredonia, the Blue Devils also have a solid hockey tradition dating back decades. Steele Hall Ice Arena opened in 1984, and Steele Hall houses the school's indoor track, basketball arena, swimming pool, and other athletic facilities all within its walls. The building is sprawling, and has a very large footprint. The on-campus location is convenient for students who want to attends the games, and there is also ample parking on site for area fans who drive to the games. Fans enter the arena through a modern entrance on the upper end of the building. The swimming pool sits off of the upper lobby, as does a statue of Neptune. The floor of the upper lobby features the school crest, and fans attending hockey games head to the main concourse, where they can purchase a ticket at the box office window at the entrance to the concourse. Blue Devils hockey tickets are $5, and this game featured a matchup against perennial SUNYAC powerhouse Plattsburgh. The exterior of the building looks like you would expect from a 1980's era design, and the layout of the building, with the indoor track laid out end-to-end with the ice rink, makes for a very large, long exterior wall. The exterior wall is brick, and windowless, magnifying the appearance and grandeur of the building. Renovation in 2013 included interior upgrades, and we felt the glass entryway and upper lobby looked quite modern and appealing. The overall shape of the building is a rectangular one, and the flat ceiling adds to the boxy shape of the facility. With a location 45 minutes from both Buffalo and Erie, Fredonia is far enough away from the bigger cities to where the hometown college teams are an attraction. The architecture and brick exterior of Steele Hall blends in with the surrounding buildings on campus, and the large size of the building is certainly noticeable. If taking a walk around the perimeter of the building, or coming in from what is the back side, you will notice a small lower entrance leading to the ice level of the arena. A curved wall and opaque glass mark this lower entrance, and a simple campus sign sits outside this rear entrance displaying the name Steele Hall. The Blue Devils have been a respectable hockey team as far as on ice results go, and Steele Hall Ice Arena is a solid, although unspectacular, venue to house the team.
Once fans pass the ticket booth on game night they are on the wide outer concourse of the arena. This area is closed off from the rink itself and does not provide any view of the ice. The outer concourse is essentially a single hallway that runs above the ice rink. The concourse hallway contains the venue's lone concession stand, which is a Tim Horton's location, which does not serve the full restaurant menu, but is nicely stocked and is an interesting option at a small college arena. There are trophy cases in the concourse hallway as well, and many fans congregate here between periods. Once inside arena doors fans are atop the seating area and you find a layout containing a grandstand with 9 rows of blue plastic benches on metal bleacher risers. The stands run the full length of the ice and wrap around into the near corners, where the seating extends up another 3 rows higher. A narrow concourse aisle runs above the grandstand. The flat ceiling is rather high, and the ductwork is exposed giving a modern look. Walls are white and the flat ceiling is held in place by white metal rafters. Navigating the upper concourse aisle can be a bit tight as many fans choose to stand above the grandstand along the railing. Fans will notice that the view is good, and there is no netting in front of the seating except in the corners. The glass is especially high here however, even in front of the seating area. Team benches and penalty boxes are on the far side of the ice, and a pair of scoreboards sits on the end walls above the goals. The design of Steele Hall Ice Arena is a basic one, and with a listed capacity of 1100 all fans are close to the action here. The rafters are full of banners celebrating past Blue Devil success, and one of the banners pays tribute to the SUNYAC championship which was claimed by Fredonia. The grandstand was a key component of the arena's 2013 renovation, and the place feels much newer on the inside than the nearly 35 year old brick exterior lets on. Although certainly a rather utilitarian building, this arena serves as a more than adequate home for Division 3 hockey.
The game day experience for fans attending a Fredonia State hockey game at Steel Hall Ice Arena is a good one. The presentation is professional but laid back. The music over the PA is very loud, and gets the crowd into the game. Intermission features the ice being resurfaced, and no additional entertainment or on-ice events. There was a fan pizza giveaway during a stoppage in play, and the crowd on hand, which consisted of quite a few students was out to have a good time. The crowd was very loud and into the game, supporting the Blue Devils with lots of noise. There was no organized student section, and the students intermingled in the crowd in small groups, but filled most of the center of the grandstand. A crowd of about 2/3 of capacity was on hand. The energy level in the building was very high, and the home team took a 7-4 win over Plattsburgh, who despite having a off year, are always one of the best recruiting schools in all of Division 3. Although the fans on hand provide much of the energy and atmosphere on game nights the venue itself does its part to recognize the tradition of Blue Devil hockey. On the walls of the concourse behind the grandstand are photos of every prior Fredonia State team to take the ice in the history of the program. There is also an interesting display titled "Blue Devil Pros" which features a series of photos and jerseys of the former Fredonia players who went to play pro hockey. Many of the photos show players in the low level minors and in European pro leagues. There is even a game worn Indiana Ice Miners jersey from a former Blue Devil who played for the MAHL championship team in their lone year of existence. The small pieces of hockey trivia on display are actually quite interesting to hockey fans who enjoy the history of some obscure teams in often forgotten leagues. The banners bring recognition to the hockey program's achievements, and, like many college hockey venues, Steele Hall Ice Arena has large flags displaying the logos of conference opponents on display. For $5 Fredonia State hockey is a bargain, and with all of the SUNYAC schools located in Upstate New York there are natural rivalries within the conference. Attending a Blue Devils game is an enjoyable experience from the venue's on-campus location, to the small touches such as the display honoring past players who went on to higher levels. Although hardly one of the more well know arenas in New York, Steele Hall Ice Arena is a fun place to enjoy some entertaining hockey, especially on the cold snowy nights often found in the snow belt.