October 11, 2019
Mercyhurst Ice Center (Capacity: 1,500)
Mercyhurst Lakers vs Saint Lawrence Saints
Final Score: 3 – 2 (OT)
Before a football road trip in Northeast Ohio, we made a pit stop in Erie for some Friday Night hockey in one of the smallest rinks that NCAA Division I has to offer. Mercyhurst went from College to University in 2012 and this private, catholic school is a small one with less than 3,000 students. They have a pretty good athletic program with National Championships in Rowing, Wrestling and Lacrosse. Those are at the Division II level, while hockey is DI as the Lakers are a part of Atlantic Hockey. They’ve been there since 1998 when the MAAC disbanded. The program has been led by Rich Gotkin for 32 years and they’ve competed fairly well, though their last conference tournament title (and NCAA bid) came in 2005. Mercyhurst is located in Erie and the city is in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania on the Great Lake for which it is named. With a population of around 100,000, Erie is part of the Rust Belt that still has an influence on the manufacturing industry. A game at the Mercyhurst Ice Center is an odd one because you feel as though you’re at a community rink.
Prestige Ranking: 1.5 out of 5
Most of Erie’s attractions can be found near the Bayfront, where there is an observation tower and a maritime museum. The most popular spot during the summer-time is Presque Isle, a peninsula offshore full of outdoor activities. Downtown features plenty of restaurants up and down State Street, while Erie also boasts a couple of enjoyable museums. Mercyhurst is about 10 minutes from downtown, in a boring neighborhood setting on the south side of the city. There’s a few places to east along East 38th Street but not much else.
Location Ranking: 5.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Two interstates make access quite easy as I-90 runs East-West and I-79 reaches the city from the South, towards Pittsburgh. The school is just a few blocks from Route 97 (Old French Road), which has an exit off close-by I-90. Campus features a neat main entrance gate to a well-landscaped main building. It is a tiny campus and that is reflected around the Ice Center, which features horrible parking. There is a lot for 50 spaces and after fills up, you have to K-turn to get out of there. The next option is near the basketball gym and the drive down it is absurdly tight. If that is out of openings, I suppose you can drive further towards the main entrance and try one more lot. We also saw a near accident or two both coming and going as people were searching for spots. This all happened with a crowd of less than 500, so I can’t imagine the chaos that ensues with three times the fans.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
The rink itself is a triangular building made with brick that very much looks like it is from the era that it was built in (the 1970s). A newer entry vestibule is attached and though it features glass and red tiles, it does fit in. Also combined with the complex is an indoor track facility. The rink is on the second floor as stairs are needed to reach the main entrance.
Exterior Ranking: 3 out of 10
One set of entrance doors leads to a small main foyer. Here, a desk to the left is where you can get tickets and down to the right are the bathrooms at the end of the hallway. Straight ahead is another set of doors that leads to the rink and I liked how these doors (and wall above) had lots of team pictures and a sign that says “Welcome to the home of the Lakers”. Inside the rink, there is very little room to maneuver as walkway space exists right along the boards.
Concourse Ranking: 1 out of 5
The lone snack window is in one of the corners and it has basic items, though a little more than I would expect for a rink of this size. You could get a Hot Dog, French Fries or Mozzarella Sticks. Plus, a week after our game, Mercyhurst started selling beer.
Food Ranking: 2.5 out of 8
This felt like watching pee-wee hockey at a local community rink. There is only seating on two sides of the arena and most of it is on the long side of the rink. About 10 rows of metal bleachers make for uncomfortable game viewing, plus the sightlines are poor since you are so low no matter where you sit (thus making it very difficult to see play at the other end). The other area to watch the game is behind one of the nets, where four rows of individual blue chairs are located. Some people decide to stand along the boards at the other end. There is actually a VIP room above this end and there’s a little spot where guests can watch the game while at a table. Media is located above the team benches on the other side of the rink. The Ice Center is at least well-lit and there is a distinctive, barn-like roof that peaks in the middle. They’ve also added a little character with a recent job as the support beams and walls are green (team color). It is a crisp and clean facility.
Interior Ranking: 2 out of 14
The scoreboard is above center-ice and while it does not have any graphic or video capabilities, it is a nice board. Numbers are clear and the requisite information is all there. At the top, is the “Mercyhurst” wordmark.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2 out of 4
The entrance foyer has a nice display case that has a good amount of trophies from both the Men’s and Women’s side. Three shelves for each carry a lot of memorabilia and it provides a nice in-between period activity. The foyer also has a dedication plaque and a listing of the annual “Hustle, Pride and Desire award”. Inside, banners above the seated end have a nice array of honors. These green, white and blue displays feature years that teams have won the conference and visited the NCAA Tournament. Retired Numbers and Olympic Athletes are honored in this area too.
Displays Ranking: 4 out of 6
Parking is free and concessions are cheap ($2.75 hot dog, $2 fountain soda), but the tickets are more than expected. It costs $13 for a seat inside, when it feels like it should cost $7 or $8. If you come during the second or third period, it’s quite possible the ticket desk is unmanned and you can just walk in and enjoy the rest of the game.
Cost Ranking: 7 out of 8
Fan Support and Atmosphere
Though announced attendance was 570, I’d estimate just a couple hundred on hand for Mercyhurst’s home opener. Not many students either. I thought that there wasn’t much interest, but it turns out that I went at the wrong time because it was Fall Break and most of the kids left for the weekend. Some other reviewers have noted that student turnout is decent and they make for a good atmosphere. So, I bumped up my rankings a little bit based on that. Also, the following week, a ranked Ohio State team came in and the Ice Center was sold out and raucous. As for our game, it was a very tame affair and it was odd to hear only modest, mild applause follow the on-ice excitement of a goal. The Lakers do have a cool horn as it has an aquatic theme to it. During the game, expect to hear a lot of natural noise (skates on the ice, coaches yelling, etc). Mercyhurst ranked #50 out of 60 teams in terms of attendance last year, a lot of that due to the small building they play it.
Fan Support Ranking: 3 out of 8
Atmosphere Ranking: 5.5 out of 14
Built in 1991, the Mercyhurst Ice Center was built to bring games to campus as the Lakers were previously playing in the downtown civic center (Tullio Arena)….This is the 3rd smallest arena in D1 hockey…..The Men’s bathroom contains four urinals and two stalls. So that’s a total of six places to go for 1,500 people. Yikes.
Just 30 seconds into the game, Dalton Hunter made it 1-0 for the home side. It was a pretty even game and my biggest takeaway was the 6’8” Keenan Suthers from Saint Lawrence. Playing forward (that’s right, forward), he was slick skating and good with his stick, made all the more impressive by his huge frame. He had the tying goal two minutes into the third. It stayed tied through regulation and then in the extra session, the Lakers converted a 2-on-1 to win their home opener.