Sunday, February 26, 2017
In the college sports world, much like the pros, hockey gets short shrift when compared to football, basketball, and baseball. This is a shame because some of the rinks that house these teams are wonderful places that are well worth visiting. A couple of weeks ago I went to Matthews Arena in Boston, and over this past weekend, I enjoyed a game at the Hobey Baker Memorial Rink in Princeton.
Hobey Baker was a Princeton alum who led their hockey team to national championships in 1912 and 1914. He enlisted in the Army Air Service and was killed test-piloting an aircraft in December, 1918, after World War I had ended and just before he was scheduled to return home. When Princeton opened their new rink in 1923, it was named in his honour. In 1945, Baker was the only American in the inaugural Hockey Hall of Fame class, and since 1980, the Hobey Baker Award is given to the nation's top collegiate player, which is how most fans know his name. That's a generic copy of the award below.
Baker also played football and is a member of that Hall of Fame as well. The plaque below is one of several features that highlight his accomplishments.
The rink is 94 years old now and the second oldest still in use in the NCAA, behind Matthews, which opened in 1910. Of course, Baker Rink has undergone renovations during its lifetime, but the original structure stone structure still remains, as you can see in the photo below.
Glass atriums line both sides of the arena, and it is from these that you enter the small seating bowl. One one side, doors are opened to allow you in...
...while on the other, there are just doorways.
There are only six rows of orange seats around the entire rink, which has a capacity of 2,092. The game was sold out, but standing room tickets were available, and 108 people took advantage of that. You can stand above the seats, or behind the north goal, where Princeton shoots twice. This is where most of the trophy displays are located, as well as the concession stand, which has only basic offerings such as pre-cooked burgers and popcorn. Better to eat at one of the many restaurants along Nassau Street, about 10 minutes west of the arena.
There is also an upper level above the north end, which is generally where students and the band sit. If you prefer to watch hockey from an elevated angle, this is the only place to do so. You can also see the scoreboard is quite basic, even shots on goal are not displayed here.
The wooden roof was renovated in 2002 and holds banners commemorating conference titles for both the men's and women's teams.
Princeton does have a few graduates who have made it to the NHL, including Taylor Fedun, who is perhaps best known for breaking his leg in an exhibition game after being tripped on an icing play. It was this gruesome injury that finally led the NHL to institute no-touch icing. Fedun is now in the Sabres organization, and has yet to play a full season in the league.
Overall, Hobey Baker Rink is another classic NCAA hockey arena that gets little recognition in the larger sports world despite its long and storied history. Princeton is a great college town just 90 minutes away from NYC, so if you are visiting the Big Apple in the winter and want to experience an old-time hockey arena, check out if the Tigers are at home one weekend.
The Yale Bulldogs were in town for the final game of the regular season, leading Princeton by a point for 7th in the ECAC. The Tigers scored early in the first when Joey Fallon beat Patrick Spano (#30 below) with a rebound from a sharp angle, while falling down no less. After Joe Snively tied it for Yale on a power play, Princeton again took the lead when Eric Robinson completed a perfect three-way passing play by slapping the puck into the open net with the teams at four aside.
After a scoreless second period, the Tigers pounced early in the third when Max Veronneau capitalized on a pretty give-and-go with Alex Riche just a minute in. Yale had some chances to get back into it but Princeton puckstopper Colton Phinney was equal to the task, stopping 36 of the 37 shots he faced. With just over 8 minutes left, David Hallisey and Robinson came in on a 2-on-1 and Hallisey kept the puck for himself, beating Spano with a quick wrist shot to close out the scoring.
Princeton managed 36 shots themselves, but it was their pinpoint passing that led them to victory in this one. As is the case with most NCAA hockey games, it took just over 2 hours from start to finish.
With the win, Princeton clinched the 7th seed in the 12-team ECAC Hockey League. All teams make the playoffs, so the Tigers host 10th-seeded Colgate in a best-of-3 series this coming weekend, while Yale finished 8th and hosts Dartmouth.
There are two ways to get to Princeton from NYC on public transit. The first is NJ Transit from Penn Station, with a switch to the dinky train at Princeton Junction; one-way fare is $17.75 and the trip takes about 1:30. The other is a Suburban Transit bus from Port Authority to Palmer Square on Nassau Street; fare is $15.25 one way if bought at the station, and a bit cheaper if bought online via Megabus (if you buy far enough in advance, you can get a ticket for $1). The bus takes 1:45, but is more convenient if you want to explore the neighborhood.
I've off to Detroit next weekend to say goodbye to the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena, both of which will be closing as Club 122 venues with the opening of Little Caesars Arena next season. The Knicks and Rangers are the visitors, so it will be an interesting couple of games. Update: the NHL changed the game time on Sunday from 12:30 to 7:00, which means that I probably can't attend, and it wouldn't surprise me if other New Yorkers had planned this trip with a Sunday evening return flight. Paying fans are always shafted for the TV viewer (NBCSN decided to move Minnesota/Chicago to the early slot, probably screwing over some Blackhawks fans too). What's the point of the schedule? If you are going to make changes, do it a month or more in advance. Two garbage organizations working together to piss off paying customers. Well done.