There is little doubt that Marquette, Michigan is a hockey town. Sure, this is the place where you can see football in the largest wooden dome in the world, and it’s also the home for the United States Olympic Education Center, where athletes train for boxing, speed skating, weightlifting, and wrestling. However, if you want the best of sports that the town can offer, then you will want to go to the Berry Events Center, home of Northern Michigan Wildcats hockey.
The arena stands on the former site of Memorial Field, the home of NMU football from 1946-1991. Berry Events Center opened in 1999. Besides being the home of the men’s hockey team, it is also the home of the Wildcats men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The ice is Olympic-sized (200x98 feet) as opposed to the North American standard of 200x85 feet. This creates a more wide open game, which often produces a better fan experience and higher scoring. This arena was also the site of the United States Olympics speed skating time trials for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
Although hockey has only been a varsity sport since 1976 at Northern Michigan University, the fact that the program has a National Championship (1991) to its credit gives the team a more historic sense of credibility. To add to that, you’ll find back-to-back Frozen Four appearances commemorated on a banner for 1980-1981. More importantly, the Berry Events Center is a great venue to see college hockey, reminiscent of Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena with its upper concourse surrounding the seating area.
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There isn't a lot to pique the interests of your taste buds when you go to an NMU hockey game, but enough to get you through the contest. Hot dogs, brats, and Italian sausages ($3) serve as the primary entrees. Nachos ($3), soft pretzels ($2.50), and popcorn ($2) are available for your snacking pleasure.
If you want something sweet, then the cheesecake dippers would be a good choice ($2.50). Beverage options include Pepsi products ($2.50 or $3 for 24 or 32-ounce cups), coffee ($1.50), tea, hot chocolate ($2), and cappuccino.
One concession stand offers pizza and more dessert options. Pizza is $2.50 for a slice or $14 for a whole pie. Meal deals are also available. Jilberts ice cream is there, although I don't know why ice cream is so appealing when watching ice hockey, but it is. You can grab a sundae ($3.75) or root beer float ($3.50).
There are four concession areas in the corners of the concourse, but they can get busy on a full night, so if you are willing to sacrifice some game action, you may want to leave your seat a couple of minutes early to avoid a wait. Depending on the number of fans standing in the concourse, you may be able to keep an eye on the game while waiting in line though.
Walking through the parking lot and finding tailgaters on a cold autumn night began to set the tone for my visit, and that enthusiasm for the Wildcats continued once inside the Berry Events Center.
The pep band, a vital part of any good college hockey experience, is set up behind one of the goals at the top of the seating area. They do a wonderful job of creating that energy, playing early and often throughout the pre-game and game.
Regardless of your ticket, you can expect to be sitting in a green plastic seat with average legroom, and no cupholder. I found myself to be just as happy to find a spot along the rail, watching the game from the concourse, and I certainly wasn't alone. If the Wildcats are playing an in-state opponent, both the seating areas and standing areas will be full, so if you find a good perspective on the concourse, you may not want to abandon it.
Be sure to take one lap around the concourse to see plaques on the wall to honor former players, a poster commemorating the 1991 championship, and just to generally get a feel for the arena.
Downtown Marquette is a place that's easy to fall in love with. It's a pretty little town, the largest in the Upper Peninsula in fact (although the 89th largest in the state according to the 2010 census with a population of about 22,000), and the main downtown area is only about a mile from the Berry Events Center. If the weather is nice (and this is relative), then be sure to wander around and experience the town.
If you are in town in the morning, then I would suggest making a stop at Dead River Coffee for a cup of Joe. The baked goods at their next door neighbor, Marquette Baking Company, are worth a stop as well.
If you are looking for a pint of local beer, then stop in to the Ore Dock Brewing Company. They have seven locally made beers on tap, and also have several board games, a ping pong table, and a foosball table. It is certainly a fun and relaxing place to spend a couple of hours.
Further down the road is the Vierling Restaurant, offering local beers, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and salads. I had the smoked whitefish appetizer and a beer sampler and was very happy to just sit by the window and look out at the cold harbor. If you want even more smoked whitefish, then a walk down to the harbor to Thill's Fish House is recommended as well.
I mentioned the tailgaters in the parking lot on the way in. They were friendly, dressed in their construction clothes, with reflectors glowing in the night. Inside, you'll find more of these "Puckheads" in the student section which stretches from sections 13-16. If you want the most energetic place to sit this is it, with the band directly behind you in section 16.
After a penalty is killed by NMU, you'll hear the PA announcer call "Wildcats at full strength" and the crowd answer back, "They always were!"
The crowd in general clearly loves this team, and you are likely to hear intelligent hockey discussions happening wherever you choose to sit (or stand).
Parking costs you only $2, and there is plenty of it to accommodate even a sell out crowd. There is some free street parking that you can find on the surrounding streets, but for $2 it is worth it to have a space right next to the arena.
The concourse can get a little crowded between periods, especially near the corners where the concession stands are located, but it doesn't give fans that claustrophobic feeling.
Restrooms are adequate for the size of the facility, and you shouldn't expect to encounter any unreasonable lines even at peak times.
Tickets begin at $15 for standing room, and only go up to $16 for reserved seating. This really just comes down to your personal preference. For an extra dollar I would pay to have a seat, but probably watch some of the game from a standing position on the concourse. Groups of 15 or more, NMU students, and fans under the game of 18 only pay $8 per ticket. In any case, it is well worth the cost. Even when you add in the cost of parking, a drink, and a hot dog, the price tag comes in under $25 per person.
The NMU athletics website does make it a little bit difficult to find tickets as it took me several clicks to find where you can find online ticket sales. You may end up having to make a phone call to secure your tickets.
One extra point for the 1991 National Championship banner and poster. It's always special when you can see a game in a venue where they have a championship tradition.
Another extra point for the Wildcats pep band, who really add to the experience.
Finally, an extra point for the town of Marquette. I really enjoyed my most recent visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I think that fans of college hockey will feel like they made a worthwhile journey should you invest the time to visit as well.
There is no doubt that college hockey fans should include a trip to Northern Michigan University as a spot to see great hockey. Whether you are following your team on the road, or just looking for a new venue, you won't be disappointed by what you find at the Berry Events Center.
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