March 25, 2023
SNHU Arena (Capacity: 10,019)
Boston University Terriers vs Cornell Big Red
Final Score: 2 – 1
The second leg of a hockey doubleheader brought me to the Queen City, where I didn’t come to watch the local team (they don’t have one anymore), instead enjoying neutral-site playoff action. Manchester is the largest city in the Granite State with a population of around 115,000 and it is located in the southern part of the state, along the Merrimack River. The former mill town still has evidence of its past history as long, brick red buildings complete a section along the river. These buildings have been renovated for condominiums or businesses and a few blocks away, downtown has become more friendly and inviting to visitors. Before naming rights were sold to a local college, this arena that opened in 2001 was home to an AHL team who did pretty well in town. The LA Kings moved them to California in 2015 as part of the league’s western movement and the ECHL team that arrived in Manchester was a failure as fans did not warm to the team. Now, the arena has gone without a tenant for several years, but it is home to tournament hockey as the State High School Championships are held here and a more known entity is the NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Tournament. The 16-team event begins with four 4-team Regionals and Manchester has been a host site every other year for a few decades now.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
With a name that primed to make this city the industry giant that the other one across the pond became, this version of Manchester did indeed become a giant, though in Textiles. While that of course faded, the former mill yards where that took place include a museum to display that past and I stopped there before the game to check it out. Further inland and uphill from the Merrimack River is SNHU Arena. Located on Elm Street, there are a couple nearby restaurants like The Goat and Murphy’s Taproom and you’ll be sure to find some fans of supporting teams here. However, Manchester’s more diversified food and drink scene is further up Elm Street. The Arena, Millyard Museum and popular Elm Street section form a triangle where they are each a 10-minute walk apart. Going up and down Elm is fine, but walking closer to the River is a little more of a chore. The Queen City in general is not all that enticing of a destination, but at least there are a fair amount of spots to hang out before or after a game.
Location Ranking: 6 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
I-93 is the direct route from Boston while other highways like Route 3 and Route 101 serve those coming from other areas in New England. Regardless of the chosen route, getting to Granite St / Lake Ave is pretty easy. SNHU Arena is on there, but the building doesn’t have a designated parking area (outside of some “VIP” spots). A nearby garage on the same street will suffice if you are willing to pay a pretty penny. Finding other parking areas isn’t bad as there are are multiple garages and surface lots to get. These are quite expensive during the NCAA Tournament, so I highly recommend an overlooked gem. The Victory Parking Garage is on Chestnut Street and it is free on weekends! The walk to the arena is super easy as you just go down Elm Street and it takes 10 minutes to get to the arena. This beats spending $20 – $30 for a 3-4 minute walk. As for traffic, coming into town, it is minimal, I didn’t experience any leaving either given the garage I chose.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
Set on its own plot of land with plenty of walk-up room, SNHU Arena has a nice floor to ceiling glass entrance. This atrium also has a little silver overhang, which helped provide cover to those arriving early on this snowy afternoon. There’s a little green tinge to the glass and that fits well with the light blue and gray ruffled arena that reaches higher into the sky behind it. A wavy appearance to that circular top almost resembles a whale if you use your imagination. Red brick is the other building material (in homage to the Mills) and it surrounds half of the building.
Exterior Ranking: 7.5 out of 10
Why they couldn’t utilize all that open outdoor space to expand some more of that opening atrium is beyond me. Combined with metal detectors, this cramped entrance area jams people in before stairs on each side lead to the main concourse. Upstairs, the circular concourse has a nice look with complimenting pastel-like colors between the ceiling, walls and floor. Those large windows in the front offer an expansive view of the outside and I also liked the old-school theatre signs near the entrance for labelling where to go for each section. Room to roam is an issue at intermission as bathroom and concession lines get quite expansive. A 200-level walkway on each side helps with this a little bit (most don’t realize there is a bathroom up here too).
Concourse Ranking: 3 out of 5
Food stands are quite basic with their offerings and the only mobile carts around were for drinks. Most menus had the standard stadium dreck, though there was one stand I found with “Healthy Choices” and that included a pair of soups, salads and wraps. Downstairs near the entrance, a team store has been converted into a food mart, with snacks and drinks being the primary thing sold. I was surprised to not see any Ice Cream or Dessert. Beer choices numbered in the 5-7 range and the preferred choice for something local was 603 Brewery.
Food Ranking: 4 out of 8
Those tan-colored seats really stand out and maybe the color is actually gold, but that wasn’t the first thought that came to my head. It’s different and some may like it, some not (that’s me). The lower-level deck of seating circles around the rink in a traditional manner and there are 18-20 rows. Spacing is pretty good and the seats are comfortable enough with cup holders and essentially no obstructions unless you sit lower. The slope is more subtle than I would like to see. Behind the 100-level seats is a row of mostly luxury suites. There is some unused space here or there, taken up by cameras or handicapped seating. There’s also a large lounge at the end. On the east and west sides of the arena is another deck of luxury suites. While many of these were used for the game, it’s annoying to see two levels of suites because it pushes the 200-level further up. I choose to sit up here and heads/railings can get in the way of an ice view. The top is curved a little bit, so that there are more seats in the middle. Corners and ends have a better upper-deck view, but they curtained off those sections. SNHU Arena is a bright building that has a bigger and more professional feel than most other minor-league 10,000-seat arenas.
Interior Ranking: 8 out of 14
Above center-ice is a four-sided scoreboard that looks like it is older than the 2001 date of the building opening. It features an old-school dot matrix display with the score and time at the bottom of the panel and penalty information on the sides. The center graphics remained static on an NCAA Hockey logo the entire time. For video to be shown, a large screen was displayed at the top of each end. These may be temporary for the event and it was welcomed as I was happy to see something showing replays. NCAA Promotional videos were shown before the game and at intermission.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
There isn’t much because options are limited given that Manchester does not have a home tenant. On the grass before reaching the main entrance, there is a plaque that is easy to look past as they honored the Manchester mayor who helped revitalize downtown and get the arena built. Inside, a large mural called “Youth at Promise” can be seen best from the upper walkways. Down on the lower concourse, look for the small cabinet case called “NH Legends of Hockey” as you’ll find some old Manchester memorabilia in here.
Displays Ranking: 2 out of 6
Daily tickets are $45, plus a ridiculous $17 in online fees. Since this is a cash-only facility, it seems like you are stuck having to go through Ticketmaster. This is a big building, so tickets should be available and the secondary market is likely unnecessary as it is very difficult to find a cheaper ticket (the majority are not buying all-session tickets and then selling the final). Tough to say whether $62 is unreasonable for an NCAA Tournament game, but you certainly aren’t going to “grow the game” that way as the event is geared towards fans of teams playing. Other costs with the event are ridiculous: $20 – $40 for nearby parking! (though use my tip of the Victory Garage) $13 for a 16oz beer! $7 for a small popcorn! Yikes.
Cost Ranking: 3.5 out of 8
While Manchester supports the tournament well, attendance is solely dependent on the proximity and popularity of the team’s playing. Time and Day is important too. A game with Denver and Western Michigan (the first Regional Semi) that took place Thursday Afternoon understandably drew very poorly as maybe 1,000 were on hand. The Regional Final that I saw had the perfect ingredients for a big house and it delivered. A Saturday 4:00 PM game featured Boston University (an hour away and a prestigious program) and Cornell (6 hour drive, but with a passionate fan base). The announced paid attendance of 7,143 seemed about right. I would say that the crowd was made up of 65% BU fans, 25% Big Red fans and 10% neutrals. Given that half of the teams in Division 1 are within driving distance to Manchester, it’s a good place to stage an event.
Fan Support Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Once again, heavily dependent on who is playing. This game was great as both teams brought their band and that added to the atmosphere (though the NCAA should just entirely go without recorded pop music when both bands are in the house). Occasional team oriented chants broke out and goals were met with a lot of noise. It was a solid atmosphere, but the size of the building meant that it wasn’t super loud. I also never felt fans were on the edge of their seat as it was more of a casual passion if that makes sense. This is probably as good as it gets and keep in mind a Midwest or West team would significantly diminish the atmosphere (so does a First Round game on a weekday).
Atmosphere Ranking: 9 out of 14
Even though the institution’s name is on the facility, none of Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) athletic programs play home games at the arena…..This is a cashless facility, an annoyance for old farts like me…..Sometimes the city is referred to as “Manch” or “ManchVegas”…..Right when I began my walk to the arena, it started snowing hard. While this only lasted an hour or two, it was poorly timed as the snow was very wet. I spent a few minutes in the bathroom at the hand drier trying to clean up my jacket and jeans, along with hoping my phone wasn’t damaged while trying to take exterior pictures (it wasn’t, I just got a warning for moisture)…..If you ever have a chance to watch a tournament game, stick around afterwards. For passionate sports fans, it’s rewarding to see not just players, but staff, front office, broadcasters and student workers bask in the win for the team they follow all year. I loved watching the BU student broadcast team and the joy amongst them after the win.
This was a game very typical of tournament play: Tight and low-scoring. It also may have been the fewest shots I’ve seen at a live hockey game as it was just 21-14 BU. The stakes, however, helped to counter the dullness of play. BU struck first as Wilmer Skoog found himself open in front and he put one way to give the Terriers a 1-0 lead. They got an insurance goal in the third and that was key because Cornell scored on a very fluky way with 28 seconds left. That set-up a rush at the end and Lane Hutson had a key block for BU as they hung on to win the regional and advance to their 23rd Frozen Four.