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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Lewiston, New York is a small town just on the other side of Queenston, Ontario, and north of Buffalo. It is a sleepy sort of town in the winter, and the seasonal businesses and closed boat launches give you the impression that it is very different in the summer than it is in the winter.
What is there to do in the winter for the locals who want something of their own, and not having to head out to Buffalo? Enter Niagara University.
Niagara is a small university of only around 5,000 students, that has received a bit more attention for its accomplishments on the basketball court, than its endeavours on the frozen pond. Make no mistake however, this part of New York state has a strong affinity for ice hockey, and the Purple Eagles of Niagara fit the bill.
Playing in a fairly non-descript arena, the Robert and Concetta Dwyer Arena, commonly known as the Dwyer Arena, the Niagara Purple Eagles have entertained students, and college hockey fans since becoming a varsity team in 1996. In 2010, the Purple Eagles moved on to Atlantic Hockey, after being a charter member of the now defunct College Hockey America. During their tenure, they have made appearances in the NCAA tournament four times, including 2013. Purple Pride remains as strong on the ice as it is on the hardwood.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions at Dwyer Arena are pretty much what you would expect for a small college arena. In fact, they don't stray too far from what you would find at the nearby Gallagher Center, home of Purple Eagles basketball. In the immediate entrance, there is a small snack bar where you will find your basic concessions including soda, popcorn, pizza and fries. There are also numerous vending machines around the lobby where you can find soda and candy bars. Inside the arena, there is also a small concession at ice level. As with numerous NCAA venues, there is no alcohol for sale in the main concessions, however there is a licensed club behind the goal.
Dwyer Arena does not blow you away at first glance. The exterior looks like any other local arena, surrounded by parking, and other parts to the complex. It is pretty non-descript, but not hard on the eyes. Upon entering the lobby, you will find the main concession as well as a small pro shop that sells some Purple Eagle merchandise. Having the concession in this area is an advantage as patrons can get something to eat before the doors to the main arena open.
Upon progressing up the stairs to the main seating area you will hopefully notice the plaque dedicated to Robert and Concetta Dwyer, whom the arena is named for. The Dwyers provided a generous gift of $3 million to provide significant upgrades to the arena.
The main arena itself is definitely a unique one. The entrance is at the top of the seating level, which is a wide platform-like space. At the back end of the seats are raised platforms which act as the press box. Seating is only on one side, and the far side of the arena roof is on a steep slope, similar to the home of the Ottawa 67's.
Possibly the worst feature of the arena is the metal benches used for seating. The center sections have backs, as does the last row. This is not normally an issue, however the temperature in Dwyer Arena is more like a small arena rather than a big one, meaning it is darn cold. The coldness really hits you when your butt hits the cold metal benches. The regulars bring cushions or blankets to sit on, so visitors would be wise to follow suit.
The rest of the arena is fairly simple, with a basic scoreboard at one end to keep score. Unfortunately, the scoreboard does not keep track of shots.
Above the ice level there are 9 banners commemorating various tournament and conference championships, including 3 banners for tournament appearances. The far end of the area features large banner-sized team photos for the teams that made tournament appearances. The largest is for the 1999-2000 team that made it to the Elite Eight.
Lewiston is more of a summer town rather than a winter hot spot. There are some places down by the waterfront only open during the summer months. Combine this with the fact that Niagara University is pretty removed from the town of Lewiston, and you have a situation where finding interesting places to eat is difficult. Your best bet is to head into Buffalo for a plethora of choices. Another possibility, a little off the beaten path would be the Riverstone Grill on Grand Island. They have great food and were featured on the hit show Man vs. Food.
Considering that the game reviewed was during a time when most of the students were not on campus, the crowd was surprisingly large. It became clear quickly that Niagara hockey has a strong attachment to the community of Lewiston, and is not just an outlet for the students. This is an especially good formula when you can fit nearly half of the student population in the stands. The N-Zone which houses the student fans was understandably sparse during my most recent visit in early 2013, but the rest of the crowd that was in attendance showed intelligence, and was behind the Eagles one hundred per cent.
Getting to Niagara is no problem at all. It is located between Robert Moses Parkway and I-190. There is plenty of parking in the lot surrounding the ice complex, and it is free. The large platform behind the seating area makes travel during the game easy as well. Washroom facilities are adequate.
Tickets for Niagara hockey are ridiculously affordable. If you are willing to go without a back to your chair, then tickets can be found for just $12, while kids are a mere $7. Add an extra $5 if you feel that the backs are a necessity. Concession prices are what are to be expected. If you scour the schedule carefully, you can find a doubleheader, with the possibility of taking in a Purple Eagles basketball game at Gallagher Center as well.
An extra mark for the connection with the community, beyond the student body, that you see in such a small town with such a small university.
Two extra marks for the banner that hangs above the ice retiring the number 6 for Meghan Redenbach. Meghan was an honorary member of the Purple Eagles men's ice hockey team after winning an essay contest. Meghan lost her battle with cancer at age 15, and has been an inspiration for the Purple Eagles ever since.
An extra mark goes to the public address announcer at Dwyer Arena, who REALLY sounds like legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer. Too bad he never said "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!!"
A trip to Niagara University to see the Purple Eagles play hockey is a great way to spend an afternoon or an evening. The price is right and the product is great. Being in a quaint, small town, on the campus of a very small university is just part of the atmosphere. If you're not careful, you may just find yourself beaming with some purple pride yourself.
Follow Dave's sporting journeys on Twitter @profan9
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