Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena opened in 1976, a year after the Ferris State Bulldogs joined the ranks of the NAIA hockey. In 1979, the program made the jump to NCAA Division I. The first thing you need to know is how to pronounce that mouthful of a name. I am told that it is AVA-glabe-in. Get that down and you'll fit right in.
Ferris State University is found in Big Rapids, Michigan - about an hour north of Grand Rapids. I was told that this is very much a hockey town, and it doesnt take long to verify that.
The arena itself is tiny, and this is a very good thing. The students fill the student end, complete with pep band. The low ceilings and capacity of 2,493 seats make for an intimate and loud experience, especially when an intrastate rival is in town.
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".
The food selection is consistent with the no frills approach of the entire arena experience, but there is still enough to get you through the contest. On the positive side, the prices are very affordable. I tried the hot dog ($2), and it was tastier than most that youll find at a small arena like this. I also tried the pizza ($2.50) which you will definitely want to skip.
The concession was pretty slow when I ordered about 40 minutes before the puck dropped. I asked what the Wing Dings were, and I was told they would take 30 minutes to make. OK, no wing dings then.
Im usually up for a hot beverage at a hockey game, and Ferris State offers coffee, cocoa, and cappuccino ($1.50/$2). I was also glad to see that you could get a donut with your coffee (75 cents). Slush puppies ($2), and Coca-Cola fountain drinks round out the menu ($1.50/$2). You can also buy a refillable travel mug ($4). There is no alcohol served at the game as this is an on-campus facility.
There is nothing remarkable about the building as you approach Ewigleben Ice Arena. Once inside, you wont be blown away either. There is one large hallway that serves as the bridge between the ice arena and the basketball arena, Jim Wink Arena.
All seats inside the arena are maroon plastic bleachers with adequate leg room and no cup holders. Only 11 rows deep, there is no doubt that you will have a good view of the action no matter where you end up. Aim for center ice as high up as you can. There are seats on three sides; the two ends and along the side opposite the team benches and penalty box. It is certainly unusual to only have seats on three sides, but it only adds to the intimacy of the facility.
As the National Anthem winds down, you'll hear the student section sing along with the line, ...the land of the free, and the home of the DAWGS!
The arena is too small to have a scoreboard hanging over center. Instead there are two fairly basic scoreboards on each end that give you just the necessary information; time, score, penalty information, shots on goal, and period. There is also a clock behind the penalty box.
During my visit there was a pre-game party being held at the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings. I was told that this happens from time to time, and it certainly adds to the overall experience if youre able to spend some time with the fans before a game. They have plenty of Ferris State sports memorabilia on the walls, so this is a good place to begin to build that bulldog spirit and ingest some delicious wings while youre at it.
Closer to downtown is The Gate & 7-10 Bar and Grill. This is also a good place to spend some time before or after the game, especially if you have your bowling ball and shoes with you.
The doors open 60 minutes before the game begins. Fifty-five minutes before the game, the student section is already half full. You know its going to be a great atmosphere when the students are that anxious to get into the game. I would guess that the students take up 1/3 of the seating area, and they are standing throughout and do a good job of leading the energy in the arena. The student section is known as the Dawg Pound, and they are engaged throughout the contest. There is also a pep band that sits near the students, helping to add to that collegiate atmosphere.
The middle section of the crowd tends to be alumni and season ticket holders. They are also very engaged, and shouting encouraging words and referring to the players by first name. The end opposite the students tends to be fans with families, or who more irregularly attend. This is the quieter end, and a bit less rowdy if that's what you prefer
There is only one main concourse with one large bathroom for each gender. It is adequately clean and I noticed no lines during the game. One minor inconvenience is that you need to keep your ticket on you as you will need to show it when going from the concourse back into the arena. Just make sure you keep it in your pocket and it won't be a big deal.
Parking is only $5, and there are plenty of spots.
Tickets for a premium game are only $16. This would include intrastate rivals like Michigan and Michigan State. Most games the tickets are only $12, and with an arena this small there are certainly no bad seats. Food prices are much below average cost, and while there arent any amazing food items, the pricing is very fair. With parking at only $5, you can easily have a spot to park, a ticket, and something to eat and drink and still stay under $25 for the night. It is a great value, and well worth it.
Theres a nice pro shop offering Ferris State apparel and hockey gear. The prices are quite fair, including jerseys for just $80, much less than what you will find in most arenas.
Near the Ferris State bench, there is an area set up as Date Night with the Dawgs. Its a table for two with a chef on duty right along the glass. The school gives away the date night each home game to a season ticket holder.
The Ferris State staff does a good job of injecting innovative ideas into the media time outs and intermissions. My favorite was the first intermission shootout where kids got to have a breakaway opportunity against the FSU mascot. On the opposite end, members of the student section shot against the buffalo from Buffalo Wild Wings. A student with a Michigan State t-shirt was thoroughly booed, which was rather good fun.
Speaking of the staff, this is one of those places where everyone you run into goes above and beyond. It is a simple premise to be friendly to your fans, but it is still difficult to execute with consistency. Tip of the cap to the game day staff for pulling it off.
I went there last weekend and the first thing that came to my mind is "Gosh this is small". I thought I was walking into a high school arena or a roller rink (especially before the game with the disco ball). Their student section is alright, but even with the relatively small space, they are hard to hear from the other end of the arena. A good variety of food, with not bad prices.
1264 Perry Ave
Big Rapids, MI 49307
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