December 8, 2018
Gene Polisseni Center (Capacity: 4,000)
RIT Tigers vs Sacred Heart Pioneers
Final Score: 3 – 4 (OT)
It’s always nice to return back home and when I saw that the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) was going to be building a new arena, I couldn’t wait to eventually check it out. For this game, my dad and brothers met up with me in Henrietta, the suburb 15 minutes south of Rochester that is the location for RIT. Well regarded within the region, this private school of 20,000 specializes in programs geared towards engineering, computing and the fine arts. Hockey has always been the most popular sport and after doing very well at the Division III level, the Tigers moved up to DI in 2005 as they joined the Atlantic Hockey Association. They’ve won the conference tournament three times and they’ve done a lot with those subsequent NCAA Tournament appearances as they reached the Frozen Four in 2010 and became the first 16 seed to win a game in 2015. A year earlier, RIT left Ritter Ice Arena and moved into a terrific building called the Gene Polisseni Center, named after a local businessman.
Prestige Ranking: 4 out of 5
Henrietta is one of Monroe County’s largest towns with a population of 42,000. It is a classic suburb as the area is mainly known for having many shopping centers and several roads full of retail. Heading into the city of Rochester itself, one will find entertainment options that are typical of a mid-sized city. Though nothing really stands out as “must-see”, a visit to the Strong Museum is something I’d recommend. As for RIT, the campus is on the western side of Henrietta, near the Genesee River.
Location Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
I-390 will be used to reach the area and out-of-towners will get there from the Thruway (I-90). From 390, it’s about 10 minutes to reach RIT and there’s multiple routes that can be taken, none of them difficult. Similarly, campus has many entry points and they all lead to Andrews Memorial Drive, an outer road full of stop signs and speed bumps that circles the school. The Polisseni Center is in the back portion of the main campus and the U parking lot is attached, but only has 250 spaces. Once this fills up, there are five other larger parking options with the most common choices being the S or R lot. These are a 5-10 minute walk away and the exit via car also takes an extra 5-10 minutes compared to the U lot.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Unlike the dull brick buildings throughout most of campus, the Gene Polisseni Center shines. The rectangular building features a harmonious blend of silver panels, burnt-orange accents, gray and red brick, glass windows and charcoal platforms that come together wonderfully well. Several nooks and crannies can be found walking around and periodic unusual pieces make it evident that a technological school designed this. The arena name can be found in a few places and that goes nicely with a “Home of the Tigers” sign. Despite the building being modern, I still felt old-time nostalgia walking to the game in the cold air as the arena made a humming sound and you could easily here the pep band warming up from the outside.
Exterior Ranking: 8.5 out of 10
There are two entrances to the arena and both lead to a lobby, located at the end of the rink. The opening introduction is really well designed as a Hall of Fame is displayed on one side, while a bright orange wall (with a few displays) on the other side adds character. This area is really wide and partially extends around the corners before giving way to stairs (or elevators) that bring fans up inside. Before that, one will find the team store, restrooms, a concession stand and multiple team displays. The top of the arena behind the seating bowl has a walkway and the slightly narrow sides open to more spacious corners and ends. They really did a great job up here too as all the necessities are available (food stands, bathrooms) while in game view. Drink rails circle the sides for those wanting to stand and watch. My only small complaint is the club lounge on one side interrupts the flow as general ticket holders can’t walk all the way around.
Concourse Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Concession offerings are fairly standard as you’ll find pizza, burgers, hots, chicken fingers and wings. Tater tots are maybe the most exotic choice, which doesn’t say much. I did like that locally-made Perry’s Ice Cream had their signature flavors and that beer was available in a sectioned-off “garden” in the upper level. While it was just a refrigerator with cans they did have a must-try: Tiger Blood, an IPA created specifically for RIT by Rochester-based Three Heads Brewing. Also, the club has tickets for $35 and that extra $20 goes to a quality buffet meal with a different theme each night. This restaurant quality option adds another element for someone that wants dinner and a game at the same time.
Food Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
The inside features a generally good seating bowl that goes around the rink and extends 11-13 rows deep. It’s an attempt at a sleek look with seats and walls a charcoal or gray, but there’s too much of it as the rink needs more color than just the few oranges around. Individual seats themselves are on the narrow side as I found myself a little scrunched, plus the row pitch could be a little better as the person’s head in front of me obstructed some of the ice view. They do have cupholders though. Behind the blue line is where sections start to round the corner. These complaints are probably nit-picky for a college rink as compared to most, it’s a great place to watch a game. Students all sit at one end and their seats consist of small plastic cushions on each concrete step. In the middle sections (100-102), seats are more comfortably padded as these are reserved for tickets with club access. On either side of that club at the top of the seats are a pair of luxury boxes. RIT also offers a couple other luxury options and they are great because they are not obtrusive to the bowl. A party suite is available on the same level as the press box, while closer to the ice, fans can get a “Players Experience Box”, an enclosed section right next to the RIT bench. There’s also the “Bunker Suite”, which is a private room underneath a section of seats.
Interior Ranking: 8 out of 14
The scoreboard is great as the 100% video screen is quite clear and large enough to make for optimal video viewing. The game is played live on the screen and replays are quick and numerous. Graphics look good too. The time and score can be found at the top of the screen and there is closed-captioning. The only issue is that each scoreboard is placed on an end wall, which is not as optimal as a center view. In its place is a standard game info board on the wall of the suite/press level.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3.5 out of 4
RIT excels in this department and it’s not just the typical displays that make them stand out, it’s the little touches like adding a Tiger logo to the soap dispenser or having a wall full of positive words that all contain the letters R, I, T (Spirit, charitable, grit, integrity….so clever!). It starts in the lower entrance with that very cool hall of fame that is holographic as one side contains the inductee and the other comes together for a Tiger image when viewed at a distance. A hockey trophy case is located on each side of the HOF, one for the Men and the other for Women. That’s the case for each display as both teams get equal attention. Yearly team pictures also grace the orange walls in this area. Up a level to the area circling the rink: descriptive murals have themes like “Conference Championships” or “Success against College Hockey’s Best”. The Tigers are also great at recognizing individual success with multiple displays. On the upper walls of the arena are conference team flags and large banners for National Championships and their Frozen Four appearance. The last thing to mention is that the arena has one orange seat and that is for Green B. Williams, a former player who died while serving in the United States Air Force.
Displays Ranking: 6 out of 6
Tickets are $12 – $15 with an online fee of at least $4. These are only a bit more expensive than what is typically found for an Atlantic Hockey team. Parking and programs are free. Concessions are very reasonable ($4 Hot Dog, $3 Fries, $6 Burger, $3 Soda).
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
The Corner Crew is what makes RIT a great experience as this group of students sitting in Section 118 has carried on a tradition from Ritter Arena. These guys and gals have a wide variety of chants that they use throughout the game and I particularly enjoyed their variations of “If You’re Happy And You Know It”. After a goal and the subsequent loud horn, the Crew repeats the player’s last name and time of the goal after the PA and yells “One, We Want Two!, It’s All Your Fault, It’s All Your Fault”. Included is the ringing of a bell. Also, make sure to join in bopping your arm to “Jump Around” during the third period. The Pep Band plays its part too as they do a great job busting out a wide variety of tunes while also alternating with sound system music. The Corner Crew can be boisterous, but it should be noted that the volume level isn’t cranked to full blast and there are other sections out there in college hockey louder (though none in the AHA). Also, most arrived just prior to faceoff. Some surrounding sections around that end join in on the fun and fans in this area have more participation in the game and they also cheer goals louder. The other 5/8ths of the arena was much quieter during our game. The relatively low number of fans in those other sections lacked much energy or emotion and this was notable as I looked over during key stretches of a tight game.
Atmosphere Ranking: 10 out of 14
It’s so strange because while you have a good turnout from the students, the rest of the arena features rows upon rows that sit mostly or completely empty. Conference playoffs don’t bring more out as the announced attendance for the deciding Game 3 in their first round series last year was 952. I will say that RIT still does outdraw all the other Atlantic Hockey teams (though Air Force may be close). The divide between the good number of passionate fans/students from Sections 119 to 113 vs the large number of gray seats open in the rest of the arena creates an odd dynamic. Adding to the oddity is that the city comes out in droves for the annual Brick City game at the downtown arena as the 10,000-seat arena get close to filled. I don’t know why that doesn’t translate to campus. Media coverage of the team is pretty good.
Fan Support Ranking: 5 out of 8
Within RIT is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which provides programs and services for those that are deaf or hard of hearing. Nearly 10% of the student body is hearing impaired and there are services inside the arena to help assist….RIT has a media channel called “Sportszone” that produces and broadcasts hockey games, along with other sports content. It is high-quality stuff and provides an excellent real-world experience for students…..There is a ton of staff at the game, from security to concession workers to ushers at each section. Normally, I’d complain, but most of these are students and I think it’s great for them to earn some money doing this. The ushers don’t let you go down during play, so thank you for that!…..RIT’s former on-campus home, Frank Ritter Ice Arena, was built in 1968 and seated 2,100. The building remains open and hosts a variety of activities including high school and club hockey. Much like what I experienced at my alma mater (former D-III rival Oswego), Ritter was fun and raucous, but also cramped and uncomfortable.
This was a fantastic game of hockey with a fast pace and close finish. RIT got on the board first as they quickly overcame a stunning save Sacred Heart goalie Josh Benson made on a three-on-two just a minute earlier. The Pioneers tied it later in the period and then scored a fluky goal off the backboards to take the lead in the second period. RIT came back to make noise in the third as they had a pair of goals a few minutes apart to go back ahead. The latter came shorthanded, from a Brody Valette laser wrist shot that sent the Corner Crew into hysterics. Sacred Heart managed to tie it later in the period as they controlled the bulk of play. In overtime, it was a cruel finish for the Tigers as the Pioneers had another goofy goal. This time, the puck bounced around in mid-air a few times before falling on the back of RIT’s goalie and it trickled controversially over the goal line as it was hard to see where the puck was. They called it a goal and the visitors skated away with the win.