It’s been a very cold and snowy start to the winter here in the East, so I felt fortunate to squeeze this trip in as it is rare to get a schedule to cooperate for two games in the Lake Effect Snowbelt. My drive up to Rochester was uneventful and timing couldn’t have been more perfect as I arrived at RIT’s Gene Polisseni Center right as the gates opened at 5:30 PM. That gave me plenty of time to take a tour at this beautiful facility built in 2014. The entrance is my favorite part of the arena as you enter into an atrium at ice-level that is accented by orange walls and a holographic-like Hall of Fame display. Given that this is the Rochester Institute of Technology, it was cool that they showed their stuff by having a pretty neat Virtual Reality experience. Upstairs, the area above the seating allows more room to walk around, view displays, get food or use the standing rail to watch the game. It’s probably one of the best concourse set-ups I’ve seen for a small hockey arena. The bowl itself rounds the rink in standard fashion and it is adequate, though the seats are a little tight.
The most enjoyable part of the arena experience is the Corner Crew, RIT’s student section. While the rest of the crowd was surprisingly sparse and quiet, these guys and gals in Section 118 made their presence known. They were full of chants and choreographed cheers with my favorites being their rendition of “Happy And You Know It”. Their arm-bopping to “Jump Around” was great too. I got to see their post-goal traditions three times and it involves a siren, bell and “We want _#, It’s all your fault”. I’ll have some videos up on YouTube after the official review. The section doesn’t quite reach the level I saw at Michigan last year, but RIT has a noteworthy solid group nonetheless. The action on the ice was great as Sacred Heart went back and forth with the Tigers. RIT’s goals were quite entertaining, while the Pioneers were quite fortunate. They had a fluky goal in the 2nd period that came from a hot rebound off the backboards. After RIT lost the lead in the 3rd, the game went to OT and with less than 10 seconds to play, Sacred Heart was the benefactor of a bouncing puck that hopped into the air, bounced around, and eventually landed on the goalie’s back, where it barely fell over the goal line. Rough loss for RIT, though Sacred Heart did carry most of the play in the final 25 minutes.
The next day, I briefly stopped back at RIT to get some outdoor arena pictures (never fun with bare hands when it’s 25 degrees) and then made the drive to Olean. Similar to my last trip in 2002, I ran into light snow as I got into the Allegheny Mountains. This thankfully didn’t stick to the roads, but it made for a classic Winter background as I reached Saint Bonaventure. The setting may be pretty, but this is a campus that looks like it is stuck in the 1970s and the generally dull brick buildings don’t help with appearances, though a few statues add unique elements. The Reilly Center has a similar vibe with occasional wood-paneling and white-tile ceiling. It is an especially funky building with its numerous hallways and corridors that lead to many non-basketball things. It’s not everyday that you see a post office, a bookstore, a cafeteria and a replica of the Declaration of Independence all in the same building that houses a sports arena. Inside, it’s a simple facility with sideline seating that is broken up twice by a walkway. On the ends, there are small bleachers that contain students and the pep band before quickly reaching a wall. I was particularly interested by the seats that seemed original based on the wooden armrests and the unique cushions, that were quite comfortable.
Saint Bonaventure has always been regarded as a tough place to play and the Reilly Center was absolutely rocking for this one. Buffalo was in town and they came in undefeated and ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in their history. The Bulls showed why as they ran over the Bonnies, dominating from start to finish in an 80-62 win. Yet, it was the fans I noticed the most as they are so loud and into it. The place went bonkers when the Bonnies cut the lead to 15 (that’s 15!) as people got on their feet trying rally them on. The students were crazy loud, but they were also out of line and exceptionally vulgar. Just before the teams came out, they chanted “F*#& UB”. Thankfully, they didn’t do that during the game, but c’mon it’s a Saturday Afternoon and there were plenty of kids on hand. The rest of the way, the group chants were acceptable (I’m ok with “You Are Ug-ly”), but there were a few individual shouts that crossed the line. I loved the passion and volume of the Reilly Center, but occasionally cringed at the student section, especially from a school that preaches Franciscan Values.