October 28, 2018 - Sunbury, Pennsylvania
Bucknell University is a prestigious institution in Central Pennsylvania which makes the list of the top 50 most expensive colleges annually. The school's Bison sports teams are known best for their frequent appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament. One would think that with such a pedigree that the school would have a modern and outstanding hockey arena. Actually, Bucknell does not have a hockey arena at all, and the school's ACHA club hockey team plays their contests about a 20 minute ride away in the nearby town of Sunbury. Sunbury Ice Skating Rink sits not far form the Susquehanna River, and is, as the name would indicate, a simple community rink used by local residents. This region does not have a whole lot of hockey tradition and the game is unknown to many area residents, but Bucknell manages to ice a competitive team at this level. The arena is a basic one, nestled next to a baseball field and immediately adjacent to the town pool. The exterior is made of tan metal siding, and the entrance on the side of the building has a bit of stone work around the corners of the lobby and there is residential style siding on that portion of the building as well. The whole building has a very low-rise look, and is about as visually unappealing as an arena can get. This late October contest attracted some additional attention from the media and community as this was the annual "Pink in the Rink" game to benefit breast cancer awareness, and featured a matchup against geographic rival Susquehanna University, who also play out of the Sunbury Ice Skating Rink. The Susquehanna campus sits about 5 miles south of the arena, so it is actually closer to the rink than Bucknell is. The SU teams used to be known as the Crusaders, but, as in much of the higher education world, political correctness has taken over and the team is now known as the River Hawks. With the Bison listed as the official home team we also considered it their home event as well. Having opened in 1960 as an outdoor rink, Sunbury Ice Skating Rink was built to be a modest but functional place where locals could enjoy skating and some hockey. In 1976 a roof was added, and the rink was finally enclosed with walls in 1996. This place is clearly not meant to be a spectator-oriented hockey venue, and certainly would not be confused for anything other than what it is, a utilitarian town rink. With admission being by donation only, and a food truck outside to feed local patrons this was quite the event, pitting 2 local colleges against each other for a good cause.
Once inside the main entrance of Sunbury Ice Skating Rink fans find themselves in the small lobby area. A plaque near the doorway honors the construction of the rink nearly 60 years ago, albeit in its original outdoor form. The lobby features quite a bit of stone work and a fireplace and has the look of a ski lodge. The lobby was crowded on this day with tables set up for a silent auction of donated goods to benefit the breast cancer foundation. The building's food concession stand is in the lobby as well, as a simple window serves basic fare, although the food truck outside got more attention from patrons than the arena's usual concession stand. The lobby features some windows that overlook the arena itself, and once inside the arena you find a quirky setup that is not at all spectator friendly, but they do the best they can with what the have. There are 3 or 4 sets of small 5 row high aluminum bleachers set up next to the ice surface. Large tan steel pillars sit next to the seating, making for major obstructions of the views depending on which end of the ice you are looking at. Behind the bleacher seating is an open area complete with a few benches and a couple vending machine, giving the place a rather thrown-together look. Additional seating is found in one corner, as a single set of small bleachers sits in that area. With the seating being very low rise, and placed at ice level the first couple of rows are hard to see out of, and the poles also block the view from the seating on the side of the ice. Banners displaying both the Susquehanna and Bucknell logos are hung from the wall above the team benches, which are across the ice from the seating area. A single scoreclock sits on the wall behind one goal, and the lighting is rather dim inside the arena. The interior walls are a mixture of cinder block and gray metal siding, and the low ceiling has insulation panels affixed to it. Sunbury Ice Skating Rink is an older venue, dating back nearly 60 years, yet is does not seem to hold a whole lot of character or charm, and just has the feel of a drab community rink with the styling of a mid-1990's arena, which it largely is due to the enclosure of the rink at that time. Still, with the nearest ice rinks more than an hour away in each direction this venue serves its purpose, and the locals seem to be pleased that there is at least some sort of option to enjoy hockey, as basic as the venue may be.
The game day atmosphere at Sunbury Ice Skating Rink for this Bucknell game against Susquehanna had a festive feel and lots of community support. We suspect that the crowd on hand was much larger than a normal Bucknell game, and the Sunday afternoon contest seemed to be a community event, with lots of fans on hand well before game time taking in the food truck fare and checking out the tables in the lobby for the live auction. As the inside of the arena was very cold most fans chose to hang out in the lobby until the game started, and came back to warm up during intermission. In overhearing the small talk in the lobby quite a few attendees were discussing how they had never seen hockey in person and discussed watching the NHL on TV. A hearty group of Bucknell students were on hand numbering 2 to 3 dozen, and they were as rowdy as any student section in college hockey, and stood next to the small bleachers on the side of the ice. The crowd filled all of the seats and stood along the glass, making for a standing room only and overflowing crowd. The game day presentation was as basic as it gets, and not very spectator friendly. There was a PA system and before the game a representative from the cancer society welcomed fans and then a live version of the National Anthem was sung. After that the PA was silent as there was no music played during stoppages, and no announcements of goals or penalties at all. This basic community arena does not hold a lot of tradition as there is very limited youth hockey in the area, although banners for some of the youth teams, and also the 2 college teams were inside the rink. The lobby also featured both a Bucknell and Susquehanna jersey hung on the walls, as well as a Bucknell team schedule on the bulletin board in the lobby. With the lack of PA announcements as well as the difficult sight lines and lots of obstructions from the low rise of the seating and the large pillars the arena provides a fan experience that pretty much only the hardcore hockey fan or friends and family members of the teams would enjoy. As mentioned earlier, many of the fans on hand were in attendance to support cancer awareness, and the crowd had dwindled in numbers significantly as many fans left well before the end of the game. There was no merchandise from either team on hand for sale at the arena, although at the ACHA level that is the norm. Still, if one is going to hold a community event as a fundraiser we certainly of approve of having a hockey game as the attraction, and in this area, with a populace somewhat unfamiliar with the game. it was an opportunity to attract new fans. Bucknell took a convincing 8-1 win over Susquehanna, and judging from the fan base on hand there were more Bison supporters in the crowd as well. Sunbury Ice Skating Rink is certainly not the type of place that would be a destination for hockey fans, as its basic exterior and cumbersome layout certainly does not provide the ideal fan experience. It is, however, a place that locals can learn to skate and enjoy hockey, and on this day served as a great place to hold a worthwhile community fund raiser for a good cause. Bucknell is not a hockey school, this part of Central Pennsylvania is certainly not a hockey rich area, and Sunbury Ice Skating Rink is certainly not a state of the art or well appointed arena, but with all of those obstacles mentioned above the experience of watching Bison hockey here just seems to work and feel as though it is the way it should be. The place has come a long way since its beginnings as an outdoor rink, and the fact that the rink has been in use for 60 years says a lot. It was great to see a large crowd on hand supporting the area's only college programs, and hopefully the arena will have a long future.