January 6, 2023
Magness Arena (Capacity: 6,026)
Denver Pioneers vs Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks
Final Score: 1 – 3
Heading to Colorado for a work conference, my flight arrived just in time to make a new stadium visit in Denver. The Mile High City is located on the Front Range in the middle of the state and while the area is flat, the beauty of the Rocky Mountains is not far off in the distance. Denver is booming and with a population now over 700,000, it is the 19th largest in the country. Within the city is the University of Denver, a well-regarded private school that is high in research and surprisingly big. Equally unexpected is the strength of their athletic program as the Pioneers are in the Top 15 for all-time NCAA Championships (and the highest ranked non-Power Five school). Most of those titles have come in Skiing and Hockey. I was lucky to check out their famed hockey program as they have won a record 9 National Championships and their last one came just months before my visit. Even more incredibly, Denver has competed in nearly 25% of all Frozen Four’s. It certainly is the most popular sport at the school and the Pioneers play in an equally impressive facility, Magness Arena, which opened in 1999.
Prestige Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Denver has many attractions and of course, all the ones you would expect from a large city, however there isn’t anything all that wowing. The Mountains and all of their beauty are the main attraction in the area and those travels take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half (well worth it). The University is about 4 miles from downtown, in South Denver. Activity-wise, there’s not much in the immediate area, but campus is worth a walk-thorough as there is a good mix of interesting, modern buildings and greenspace. Chamberlin Observatory is just east of the school and they hold interesting events and star parties periodically. However, it’ll be tough to get that to coincide with hockey season. Campus makes up a small portion of the area, which includes tight streets varying between residential and commercial stuff. Magness Arena is on the north side of campus and there are two clusters of eateries within a 10-15 minute walk. Along University Boulevard is a rather bleh mix of small ethnic places, though Tacos El Metate looks decent. A little further out is a grouping along Eaves Ave. Most are geared towards college clientele. A fun stop in this area is the very first Chipotle. My late arriving flight meant that I didn’t have any time to take a walk and explore the nearby area.
Location Ranking: 7 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Since I was staying at a downtown hotel without a car, I opted for Denver’s Light Rail (The RTD) as there is a stop right at campus, a short walk from the arena. The system seems decent with frequent trains and a handful of people using it. I ran into an issue though as my scheduled “H” train northbound never came and had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. The guy next to me said that it was very strange. If driving, Denver has weekday rush hour traffic to contend with (especially heavy in South Denver), while tie-ups around campus aren’t bad. There is an exit right off I-25 that leads to the arena, though if coming from the south or east, the exchange to get on University Blvd is very awkward. Available parking lots are not near the arena as each requires a decent walk. They seem easy to navigate and sufficiently big enough, but there are several recent Google reviews saying how bad it is.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 5 out of 8
The larger Ritchie Center which contains the hockey arena is not the highlight here. Instead, Williams Tower is the focal point as it uniquely is interwoven into the side of the facility. This 200-foot tower capped with a spire lit in gold is the symbol for campus and the 65 bells inside combine to play beautiful music. It’s an awesome entrance to the game hearing those sounds. As for the actual brick-and-mortar, the Ritchie Center has a fairly complex layout since it contains two rinks, a natatorium, a basketball court and a fitness center. The look is good with varying shades of tan in the combining brick and concrete blocks that make up the building. It’s almost identical to the attached tower, which is cool. There is no flashy arena name, just subtle gold lettering across the board.
Exterior Ranking: 8 out of 10
The opening atrium is awkwardly on the side of the building and this is where Will Call is as well, something that isn’t all that clear. The entrance area is cluttered and the presence of a promotional automobile doesn’t help. Concourse space continues around the arena with corners that open to rink views. The east side of the building is actually completely exposed to the rink as it really is just a walkway behind the seating bowl. This space gets extremely crowded at intermission as it was not the brightest idea to put a food stand in this area. The nearby north end can get tight too, but I like the indents that include a bar and several tables for sitting/eating. Overall, the look of the concourse is a little colder than the exterior / interior as you’ll find more exposed concrete, ceilings with the inner workings and gray floors. Various signage spruces things up, along with periodic wall displays. Bathrooms were fine, but does anyone in Denver know how to flush? Seriously!
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
It sounds like an overgeneralization to say that they love beer out here, but I’ll say it anyway. Most fans had one in hand and the options were tremendous as local flavor is valued. Breckenridge Brewery was highlighted the most, while Sandlot Brewery from nearby Coors Field also had a stand. I even saw “Big Wave” from Kona Brewing Co., which was unique. Cocktails were available too. For food, the best choice was the carving station, which featured a decent sandwich filled with Hot Turkey, Ham or Roast Beef. Otherwise, Magness had helpings of typical stuff, as a Burrito was all that stood out. On the dessert side, I thought the Berrie Kabobs were a cool thing worth getting.
Food Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Magness Arena just looks good. The maroon coloring really stands out as all of the seats are that color, along with steel beams that hang from the roof. The design is different than most arenas and that is a good thing. While the first eight rows kind of go around the rink in an oval fashion, the design is mostly highlighted by four sections. The end sections extend back a good bit and so do one of the sides (28 – 30 rows). These are separated by a protruding brick wall that makes each side feel on its own from the rest of the arena. On the side opposite the team benches, the seating is much smaller as above the walkway are luxury suites and the press box. On the wall above, beautiful gold letters spell out “Magness Arena”, making for a classy look. The top end of the other side also features high-end seating, in the form of an open club and the upper middle sections are only reserved for those club members. Row height and spacing is pretty good through the building and I liked the sightlines, however there are a few seats where concourse opening railings obstruct the view and at the very top of the expansive seating sections, heads can get in the way of the ice. The chairs have a nice cushion to them. Because the arena is multi-purpose, the first several rows retract and as a result, the seats there are folding chairs (still comfortable with padding). Overall, I really liked the design and character of Magness.
Interior Ranking: 12 out of 14
The center board could be fine, but it is used in ways that is irritating at times. Four, widescreen panels feature high-quality video and a circular panel is located both above and below that. Much of the time, ads are on here and that is especially frustrating when the bottom one contains the score and time. I often found myself searching for it (particularly during power plays, which the time was missing). Alternative options are located on each end corner wall as a video screen provides stats and more, while a dot-matrix board has basic information.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
Two-door glass cases along the concourse walls contain a fair amount of memorabilia and displays related to all sports. None of them were particularly deep, but they provided a varied overview of sport accomplishments. I was surprised at the lack of attention to hockey, given it’s popularity and it being the main attraction here at Magness. An outdated display just related to the ’04 – ’05 titles was all I could find. Also in the concourse is the University’s athletic Hall of Fame and the plethora of gold plaques that come with it, plus a statue for Murray Armstrong. Inside the rink, you’ll find gold and maroon banners in the rafters with National Championships, Conference Titles and NCAA appearances.
Displays Ranking: 3.5 out of 6
Tickets are expensive as an average conference game features most seats at $43 to $58. There are some cheaper options on the upper ends ($25 – $33) and you can see many congregating in this area. Note that prices go up by more than 50% for big games like North Dakota and Colorado College, while lesser known teams drop quite a bit too. Ticket prices are overall among the highest in the country and I guess that is the price you pay for having a top team. Parking is $5 – $10 and concessions are a tad high ($5 Hot Dog, $11 Burger/Fry Combo, $10 beer).
Cost Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
A perennial winner is important to having fan support when you play in a market that features all five Pro Sports franchises, plus a big-time college program (Colorado University) a half-hour away. UD has that first ingredient and they feature a pretty good following. I was quite impressed with the turnout for this Friday Night game as the building was 75% full for a non-conference opponent that isn’t exactly a big draw. Nationally, they are Top 10 when it comes to attendance.
Fan Support Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
The game begins with the student section chanting “Let’s Go Denver”. That group, along with the cheerleaders, are modest in size and voice. Enough to be heard, but nothing overly crazy, intimidating or entertaining. The rest of the crowd is into the game and they produced pretty good cheers for things like a breakaway stop. The roar for a goal was great and most came to their feet. I never thought that the place was raucous or a must-visit atmosphere, yet I was happy with the hockey sense and occasional loudness. A few traditions include the PA announcing how much time is remaining followed by a “Thank You” from the crowd and a returning “You’re Welcome” from the PA. In the third period, John Denver’s Country Roads has a slight change as “West Virginia” is replaced with “Colorado”. Students rocking and swaying during that one is a cool visual.
Atmosphere Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
I am very grateful to have a safe flight, but it was an adventure getting here and I was worried I wouldn’t make the game on time. We started with an hour delay and as everyone took their seats, we were told by a clearly annoyed pilot that a slight malfunction with the back bathroom door would delay us further. This was then extended by a shift change with airport engineers. As New Yorkers offered up their handy-work, we waited until the five minute fix was finally complete. A 2:15 delay and I hauled it to an airport Uber through Denver rush hour to make it in reasonable time……Telecom billionaire Bob Magness helped fund the arena and it is named after him…..Denver’s chief hockey rival is Colorado College (CC), located an hour south in Colorado Springs. They play annually for the Gold Pan……Colorado’s snow removal is horrendous. I know, I’m a spoiled East Coaster, but there was black ice everywhere as apparently they just wait for it to melt because it “always” warms up right after a snowfall…..The concourse entrances feature some cool wrought-iron gates upon entrance.
The Pioneers came into this one ranked #1, on a 7-game winning streak and having not lost to a non-conference opponent since December 30, 2017 (you know where I’m going with this). Alaska-Fairbanks however was playing solidly and gave some scares to top teams, along with a win or two. They kept it scoreless through one period and then a boarding major led to a five-minute power play for the Nanooks. They took advantage with a pair of goals. Denver got one back on a two-man advantage, but they struggled the rest of the way, making plenty of silly mistakes and failing to find a rhythm. The Pioneers only mustered 9 shots on Matt Radomsky during the last couple periods. Alaska deserved the victory and when the whistle sounded, it was a joyous team that celebrated, along with a couple dozen fans.