February 10, 2017 - Watertown, New York
After attending a rare Friday afternoon game in Oshawa, Ontario at UOIT we headed back over the border bound for Watertown. This small city in the North Country seems like a good fit for minor league hockey, as it is in a very snowy climate, and has a large Army base nearby (Fort Drum) with soldiers looking for cheap entertainment on a weekend night. Factor in the proximity to Canada (a half hour away) and on paper you have a recipe for good attendance and strong community support. The FHL first set up shop in the area with the 1000 Islands Privateers playing half an hour up the road at Bonnie Castle Recreation Center in a converted horse barn. The Privateers then moved to Watertown in 2012. The Privateers became known as the Wolves in 2014 after new ownership took over and the team claimed the FHL Championship that same season. In 2015-2016 the Wolves were dormant as the arena underwent renovations and the team had nowhere to play. This season the Wolves returned to the spruced up Municipal Arena. Situated on a fairgrounds adjacent to a ballpark that has housed minor league baseball, this simple arena opened in 1973 as an open-air skating rink. Seating and walls were added by 1977, and last year's renovation gave the venue a new lobby and updated exterior and facade. Brick and tan stucco walls are accented by a strip of red metal siding along the upper edge of the building. When standing back you can see the peaked roof of this simple barn. A raised letter sign sits above the main entrance, and a small parking lot sits next to the arena with additional parking throughout the fairgrounds. A nice new sign sits in front of the building as well, and the roof now features white metal roofing panels. The overall look of the building, although now spotless and sharp looking, reminds you that this is a simple 1970's era arena, and the appearance is one that seems to fit with the small town hardworking populace of Watertown. We secured a ticket for this game against the Wolves nearest geographic rival, Cornwall, in the new lobby. The ticket price was $13. The lobby is decorated in a modern fashion and the food concession area is in the lobby as well as the ticket table and information desk. Stairways lead to an upper lobby that also overlooks the ice, and the place is rather inviting. The city of Watertown has done a lot to modernize this arena, but it is still an old fashioned barn, which is a good thing from our perspective.
With snow falling outside the crowd filed into Watertown Municipal Arena for this Friday night contest. The arena itself has a temporary look to its seating configuration. Aluminum risers are set up with 7 rows of gray plastic benches on each side of the ice. An additional small grandstand is crammed into the far corner on one end, and there is standing on an upper concourse on the side with the team benches. Protective netting covers the entire seating area making us think we were still in Ontario. Table seating is set up on the concourse and is considered the luxury seating for the Wolves games. The seats on the side opposite the benches are made up of individual bleacher sections with the same gray plastic bench type seats. Many fans choose to stand to watch the games as there is a standing rail along the glass with a drink shelf attached offering a good view at ice level through the crystal clear, brand new glass along the boards. Some fans also choose to stand along the end of the upper concourse on the bench side and in the corner. Ice level also finds a beer garden set up, and tucked away under the upper stairway is the Wolves Den merchandise stand which offers a decent selection of team gear. The ceiling is low, and open ductwork sits below the metal support rafters. A single scoreclock sits above the goal on one end. With seating capacity listed at only 1750 you can tell every effort was made to cram in seats wherever possible. Seating is general admission aside from season ticket holders, and the arena was 80% full for this game, and had a crowded feel to it. We are sure you could easily fit 2500 fans in here with standees, and it was nice to see a large crowd on hand, which is similar to our experience when we saw the Privateers play in Alexandria Bay. Watertown fans enjoy their hockey, and the upgrades to Watertown Municipal Arena make the place a bit more serviceable as a hockey venue despite still being a basic community arena.
The game day presentation and atmosphere at Watertown Municipal Arena for a Wolves game is professional and rather commercial as you often see at many minor league venues these days. A laser show takes place during player introductions, and music is pumped in during stoppages though a loud and clear PA system. A lot of sponsor mentions take place throughout the night, and anytime anything good happens in the game a Wolves howl is heard over the speakers. Intermission is full of contests, and there was even a fan shot contest during a media timeout. Intermissions are 20 minutes here as well, helping with the beer and concession sales, but adding to the length of the games. The fans on hand were a mix of local and military personnel out for a good time on a Friday night, and a much smaller portion of the crowd who were hardcore hockey fans. The intensity level on the ice was high as it is clear that the teams and coaching staffs do not like each other, likely resulting from playing the same opponent so often due to geographic necessity. Nonetheless it was an entertaining night of hard-nosed hockey with a couple scraps and some chirping between the benches. The crowd gets into the action and is very vocal, although it is interesting to observe military members on hand from different parts of the country ask questions and seem puzzled at some of the nuances of the game. A 5-2 Wolves win sent the fans out onto the snowy road in a good mood. Make no mistake about it, Watertown Municipal Arena is not one of the best laid out facilities in hockey. Sight lines are not that great, and the railings also get in the way of the view depending on where you sit. The facilities are basic are best, but serve the purpose, and the Wolves make good use of the arena, and have strong fan following. Folks looking for a fun night out during the long winters certainly enjoy the Wolves games. The place also feels like if it home of the Wolves with team signage and the championship banner hanging up as well. We also love the Federal Hockey League tradition of having players sign autographs for then fans immediately after the game. Everything seems to fall into place in Watertown though, as the Wolves make the best of their situation and arena layout, and no one has any false aspirations that this will be a OHL town or a big time minor league venue. The arena has come a long way since its open-air beginnings, and provides local hockey fans with a fun place to enjoy a night of hockey.