Saturday, February 11, 2017

Massachusetts Minutemen 2 at Northeastern Huskies 6 (NCAA Hockey, Hockey East) - February 10, 2017

In an era where stadiums are replaced after just 20 years, finding one that is in its second century of use is an experience to be treasured. One such venue is Matthews Arena, home of the Northeastern Huskies hockey and basketball teams. Opened in 1910 as Boston Arena, it is the oldest indoor hockey arena and college basketball venue in the country and the oldest multi-purpose facility in the world. The Arena was renamed in 1982 when Northeastern alumnus George J. Matthews helped to pay for one of its may renovations. I've wanted to visit for a few years now, but needed both hockey and basketball to be home on the same weekend, along with a Bruins game. It took a while, but such a combination finally appeared, and so I headed to Boston to add Matthews to my venue count.

Located on the eastern edge of Northeastern's campus in Back Bay, the arena is right behind the Massachusetts Avenue T station, but is also a nice walk from Back Bay station along a pedestrian path. There is no huge neon sign marking the spot, rather a grand entrance as you can see above. Inside the doors, a small hallway leads to the seating bowl. The limited concession stand is on the left, and very reasonably, if oddly, priced, with hot dogs and other snacks costing $2.60 for some reason.

At the far end of the hallway is a series of pictures of past Husky squads.

Above the doorways that lead to the seating bowl are murals for each of the varsity teams.

The arena was also home to the Bruins between 1924-28 (thus the only Original Six venue still standing), the Celtics from 1946-55, and the New England Whalers for their Avco Cup championship season in 1972-73. Banners commemorate the two tenants who remain in Boston.

For such an old building, there isn't that much history around, but if you sneak to the back, follow signs to the varsity club. I only noticed this on my second visit, and am glad I did. Out front is a list of events that have been held here. It might be hard to read in the picture below, but in April 1912, it held presidential campaign rallies for both William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.

Inside the varsity club are a few more photos, including Eddie Shore and Bob Cousy, two legends who have played here. My favourite is the five-panel shot of the arena taken in 1926, where it looks remarkably unchanged.

You can compare with the photo below. The upper deck has been extended slightly in the intervening 91 years but otherwise the structure is quite similar.

Tickets for hockey are $20 and there is no need to buy in advance as the Huskies are not a popular draw in Boston. There are no ushers, and you can pretty much sit where you want. The far upper deck is a good spot as the seats in the first row are almost right on top of the ice, though they don't have a seat back.

The best part of these seats is that there is no netting to protect you so the view is clear, but pucks can sail into this area, so be vigilant. I spent one period here and enjoyed the view quite a bit.

The opposite end is the Doghouse, where the students sit (or stand actually)...

...and the band is right next to it. Note the school banners for other teams in Hockey East to the right below; the Huskies play in the CAA in basketball and those school's banners are on the opposite side.

When entering the Doghouse, read the game notes provided to students, particularly the opposing sieves.

The lower walkway around the rink is quite narrow but again, with less than 2,000 fans on hand, there is never an issue with getting around. With the Canucks visiting for tomorrow's game, it was not a surprise to see team president Trevor Linden here; he is in the photo below, standing with some Canuck cohorts in the distance.

The Huskies have not had a great deal of success, with only one Frozen Four trip way back in 1982, while the other banners commemorate conference success.

Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Matthews Arena. To be in a building where so much as happened is always a thrill, and I hope that the venue is still here for another 100 years. I can't figure out why more fans don't show up for what is one of the best places to watch hockey.

The Game

The Massachusetts Minutemen were visiting in the midst of a 9-game losing streak, while Northeastern was 5-9-3 overall. Not a top matchup, but both teams have NHL draft picks, including Adam Gaudette for the Huskies, drafted in the fifth round by the Canucks in 2015 and no doubt who Linden was there to see. Starting lineups are announced with both teams on their own goal line, and then skating out to the blue line. That's the Huskies in white below.

I didn't expect much from the visitors, and just 16 seconds in Nolan Stevens (5th to St. Louis in 2016) potted an easy one to give the Huskies the lead. The students immediately began their "Sieve! You Suck!" chant, and they would have three more times to utter that as Northeastern kept scoring, including a power-play marker from Gaudette to chase starter Ryan Wischow with 2:55 to go. He was replaced by Alex Wakaluk, son of Darcy, and the Minutemen tallied a goal shortly thereafter when Jake McLaughlin's point shot found its way past Ryan Ruck.

When UMass added another early in the second period, it looked like a comeback was possible, but Zach Aston-Reese scored a shorthanded goal just a few minutes later, and added another on the power play in the final minute of the frame to end the suspense. A scoreless third period left the Huskies with the easy 6-2 win.

This was an entertaining and energetic game compared to the few NCAA hockey contests I have seen previously. There's only 60 Division I hockey programs and I've only seen 5 of them, but it will be difficult to beat Matthews Arena for the overall experience.



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