November 6, 2021
Messa Rink (Capacity: 2,225)
Union Dutchmen vs Saint Lawrence Saints
Final Score: 2 – 2
After attending a football game in nearby Albany, I made the 20-minute drive over to Schenectady for some night-time hockey. The city of 66,000 is part of a cluster of communities that make up the Capital District in the eastern part of the state. Schenectady lies along the Mohawk River and General Electric began here. While their presence has significantly diminished, there are some limited facilities that remain and their famous big sign still lights up at night for all to see. Within the city is Union College, a small private school with a little over 2,000 students. Founded by the Dutch in 1795 (hence the athletic nickname), Union is known for their Liberal Arts program, though many more major in social sciences and engineering. The hockey program was founded in the early 1900s and while other sports are Division III, hockey has been DI since 1991 as part of ECAC. After finishing higher than 6th place only once, the team went on an incredible run from 2010-2018, when they won the league three times and made five NCAA Tournaments. The ultimate achievement came in 2014 when Union captured the National Championship, defeating powerhouse Minnesota. Messa Rink is their home and opened in 1975.
Prestige Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Schenectady is weird. It looks like it should be nice as there are historic districts, plenty of restaurants and great architecture. However, downtown is empty and it can be sketchy (I was panhandled twice). Near Proctor’s Theatre, there is a pedestrian-only street (Jay St) and it has plenty of unique shops and eateries. Yet on a Saturday at 5:00 PM, I was the only one walking down it and most places were closed. Otherwise, things to do include a small casino, history museum and science center. You could also drive down historic housing districts like Stockade or the GE Plot. Union College is well within the confines of the city and it’s a bit northeast of downtown. Along Nott Street, you’ll find a few pizza joints and a sports bar. Campus is stunning and I do encourage checking it out. Surrounding the white buildings is the Nott Memorial, a stand-alone 110-foot building with 16 sides. It is a marvel to look at and inside is gorgeous as they’ve turned it into a meeting place for big and small. Students can study in there and I’m envious of having something like that when I was in school.
Location Ranking: 6 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The Capital District is served by the north-south running I-87 and east-west I-90. Schenectady is not far from I-90 as I-890 branches off to get closer to the city. It will take about five minutes and some side streets to reach campus from that highway. What is awful about driving around Schenectady is that many roads don’t have lines on them (why, I don’t know). There are times it’s hard to tell if it’s two lanes or one lane and occasionally it’ll change while on the same street! As for parking at Union, it is not clear where to go. I was there early enough to use the lot across from the rink on Alexander Lane. This fills quickly, so you might have to use the parking area just off Nott Street. I could see this filling too and then I’m not sure what the next option is. Traffic, outside of the departure after the game, is minimal.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 4 out of 8
This is a real neat building to look at from the outside. In the shape of a perfect circle, Messa Rink features a domed roof with wooden pieces that zig-zag together in a subtle way. Below the roof is a concrete wall in a beige color with darker arched outlines. It is built into a hill, so you get varying height perspectives as you walk around. The entrance is quite small and a ramp/stairs are needed to reach the doors.
Exterior Ranking: 7 out of 10
Concourse and Food
A small foyer is the interlude between exterior and rink. The ticket window is so small here that Will Call is on a table downstairs near the locker room. A tiny bathroom is awful to navigate, both inside and out as the placement in the foyer is bad. Past some doors, you enter the arena at ice level. You can walk around the rink and to reach the lower section, you’ll still need some stairs. A larger set of stairs in the corners of the rink bring you to the narrow walkway that separates the lettered sections and numbered sections. Behind this seating area is a concourse, per se, but there are no facilities and the small concession stand wasn’t operating. Not sure if this is a Covid thing because it was open in years past, however somebody in 2019 told me it was closed at their game too. In the past, content included hot dogs, pizza and various snacks typical of small sporting events.
Concourse Ranking: 1 out of 5
Food Ranking: 0.5 out of 8
There is a lot of wood at Messa Rink and it is most noticeable when looking at the roof. The light-colored wood structure almost has a wigwam appearance because of all the mahogany beams going various ways to support it. This certainly gives the rink character. Otherwise, the rest of it isn’t great as a pair of straight-line seating sections go along the side of the arena. Going from faceoff circle to faceoff circle is the first section of wooden bleachers, which consist of eight rows. On one side are some cheap red chairbacks that are place on top of the bleachers. Above that is a walkway (barely enough for two people side-by-side) and then a slightly bigger section that does not extend too far down the ice. Stepping to reach the first stair is steep and honestly a tripping hazard, while the rickety handrails the rest of the way are not confidence inducing. A few of these rails can get in the way of the ice view and it is certainly a cramped, uncomfortable setting if the building is mostly full. The ends of the rink are stopped by a wall and while there is not seating, an elevated press box is located here
Interior Ranking: 4.5 out of 14
Above center ice is a really nice scoreboard that isn’t oversized, yet features a clear and large video screen on all four sides. It carries the game live during play and replays are well executed as well. A circular display features game information and though I’m not a huge fan of that set-up, it still works. Another circle around the top is for three names of donors and the year they graduated.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3.5 out of 4
The opening foyer contains plenty of displays including trophy cases and the most prominent one is the ’14 NCAA Championship. Along with some pictures, that case also has a table with each puck from that season and the score of the game. Inside, the end walls have a good number of pictures and I’m a sucker for the really old ones. The rafters include a variety of banners and the top third has the college logo while the rest of the white sheet contains the achievement and year. At the end of the rink are banners for each ECAC team and these look like they date back decades, which is kind of cool.
Displays Ranking: 4 out of 6
Parking is free and tickets are $18. The price is generally on par with the rest of the league at this point, though there are some teams with cheaper options. No concessions available on this date, so I couldn’t judge that.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
After 47 sellouts from 2009 – 2016, interest has waned a bit in Schenectady. Outside of the RPI game, most nights see a crowd that fills Messa Rink to about three-quarters. I do think the pandemic impacted the attendance for the game I attended as there was maybe 1,000 on hand. There is great media coverage though as the independent Daily Gazette provides a nice outlet for fans. Annually, the team ranks in the middle of ECAC for attendance.
Fan Support Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
The atmosphere was pretty good. A smattering of cowbells greets the team as they enter the rink and there are many in the crowd that have the Union sweater on. During the anthem, a soft shout of “U” is heard at the beginning of the song. During gameplay, the fans are into it and it was a fun environment. They stood when a breakaway developed and they gave the backup goalie a rousing cheer after his first save. Goal celebrations were loud and even raucous when the game got tied. Towards the end of the game, a “Let’s Go Union” chant broke out. The student section was small and unorganized, but their presence at least was noticed. There is a spot for a pep band and I’m guessing they weren’t there because of the football game? It was hard to find anywhere if they actually are at other games.
Atmosphere Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
Known by some as the “Route 7 Rivalry”, the battles with RPI are good ones. The often heated series draws great crowds and it features a game in Schenectady on Friday and then a return game in Troy Saturday……Officially, the arena name is Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center (both names of benefactors)…..Fundraising for a $10 million renovation was announced in 2016, however there has been no update since that time as to where it stands…..The second longest game in NCAA History was played here in 2010, when it took 5 OT and 150:22 for Quinnipiac to defeat Union in an ECAC quarterfinal. …..Before the game, the sound system was insanely loud during pre-game warmups. Even shouting to the person next to you would have been inaudible.
This was a good one with a worthy finish. It was tied early in the third period when things looked bleak for Union as they lost their goalie Connor Murphy to injury. 47 seconds later, the Saints took the lead. They would hit two posts later on, but Union hung on and they turned the pressure up at the other end. With an extra attacker on, Gabriel Seger ripped one top shelf to tie the game with around a minute left. The game ended in a tie after a boring 3-on-3 overtime (I hate that system), however a shootout was held to see who could get an extra point. This is new within the ECAC as fans briefly started to leave, not knowing the rule change. SLU’s Kaden Pickering had the only goal to grab the point.