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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
In 2005, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers hockey club made the jump to Division I. Previously they had won national championships on both the Division II and Division III levels, and their loyal fans were ready to move to the top level.
The team had played at the Frank Ritter Memorial Ice Arena since the late 1960’s. It was a cozy, but non-descript building that blended into campus with seating for just 2,100 in a no frills, but raucous environment.
In 2014, RIT raised the stakes yet again with the opening of the new Gene Polisseni Center. The new building more than doubled the previous capacity, and the building is absolutely stunning, and the perfect place to experience collegiate hockey at its finest.
The only problem is that the capacity of the arena may be too big for the fan base. Games at the Ritter were packed, and you needed to arrive early to get a seat. In the inaugural season at Gene Polisseni Center, RIT averaged just over 3,300 fans per game, leaving plenty of empty seats, despite a very talented and entertaining team on the ice.
It’s possible that the new arena is just a little too big. Then again, once you step inside, it’s hard to fault the thinking behind building this beautiful arena.
The Gene Polisseni Center is named for a local businessman and philanthropist who passed away in 2001. His foundation contributed $4.5 million toward the $38 million it cost to construct the arena. There is seating for 4,000 fans with an additional capacity for 300 standing, giving the arena a capacity for 4,300.
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 are fairly basic, but prices are reasonable and there's enough to get you through the game. Zweigle's Red Hots (hot dogs) are made locally, and the best choice here for $4 for a Ľ pound sausage. Grab the 32 ounce pop (Coke products) which comes in a sturdy souvenir cup. If you make it a combo, you essentially get a free bag of chips ($1 value).
Other options include nachos ($4), pretzels ($3), veggie burgers ($4), and pizza ($3-$4 depending on toppings). Popcorn ($3), chips ($1), candy ($1), and cookies ($2) round out the menu. Hot chocolate or coffee is available to help warm you up ($2).
Most of the atmosphere at Polisseni Center can be attributed to the fantastic student section, known as the "Corner Crew." They are located in one corner nearest the goal where RIT shoots twice. This gives the students a chance to heckle the visiting goalie during two periods.
There are two large video screens on each end of the arena displaying promotions, replays, and live action during the game. Two smaller scoreboards are found along each side, giving fans the basics including score, time, penalties, and shots on goal.
Seats provide above average leg room and cup holders. Corner seats are positioned toward the ice, providing wonderful views wherever you choose to sit. An interior concourse runs along the top of the seating bowl, and many fans choose to stand in this area, where a drink rail is provided. If you don't mind standing, this provides an excellent view of the action. Get there early though as these spots are coveted and fans stake out their spot early.
Team benches are on opposite sides of the ice. For the best experience, choose section 112 where you will be at center ice, facing the RIT bench, and with a good view of the very entertaining Corner Crew.
At intermission you can expect the usual activities, including the ever popular chuck-a-puck contest. The RIT mascot could be a little more visible during the game.
The RIT pep band is pretty good, and the music only adds to the overall experience.
The Gene Polisseni Center is found on the RIT campus, which is pretty self-contained. You could choose to eat at the Global Village Cantina & Grille, a campus dining option which serves up burritos, sushi, and a variety of wide ranging ethnic cuisines.
Make your way to Henrietta Rd where you'll find the usual mix of chain restaurants including Olive Garden, Chipotle, Subway, and IHOP.
MicGinny's is a nearby sports pub where you can get wings, sandwiches, and burgers. The Distillery is a good option for craft beers, wings, and BBQ.
If you've never been, or if you have been and want more, then Dinosaur BBQ is well worth the trip into downtown Rochester, about a 15 minute drive from Polisseni Center. It's located very close to Blue Cross Arena, where the AHL Rochester Americans play. Check the schedules and you may be able to put together an easy doubleheader.
If you're staying in the area, I would recommend the Holiday Inn Rochester Airport. The location is between RIT and downtown Rochester, and very close to the airport if you're flying in. They also have a fantastic pool, if you're traveling with kids, or just like to have a good swim.
The Corner Crew is truly one of those special student sections. They are consistently loud, creative, and coordinated. They've turned the familiar "I believe that we will win" chant into "I believe this goalie sucks." They bring signs, a large American flag for the National Anthem, and really are the primary catalysts for the atmosphere at Polisseni Center.
Behind the Corner Crew is a large bell, which is rung anytime the team scores a goal (once for each goal scored, so the third goal of the game merits three rings). The students count along with the bell, and then ask for another before beginning to chant toward the visiting goalie, "It's all your fault! It's all your fault!"
The other fans in attendance clearly care about the RIT program, and are knowledgeable and friendly. You won't see fans moving around the seats while the puck is in play, even though there aren't a lot of ushers to help police the traffic in the stands. It's an unwritten rule that you don't move around while the puck is in play, and they know this rule well.
Unfortunately, there are vast areas of open seats, and it detracts from the atmosphere and overall experience somewhat. If they could fill this arena on a regular basis, this would be one of the best experiences in college hockey. Even with a less than full house, it is well worth the visit.
Parking is free, but it is somewhat confusing if you are making your first visit to RIT. Parking lots D, R, U, and S are available for hockey games starting 90 minutes before the puck drops. Handicap accessible parking is found in Lot U. If you park in Lot S, which is the largest, it means you will have a bit of a walk to get to the arena. Rochester winters can be bitterly cold, so it may not be an entirely pleasant walk, but it's a good way to get to see the campus a bit.
Inside the arena, concourses are wide and it's easy to move around once you reach the interior concourse at the top of the seating bowl. If you have trouble with stairs, then elevators are available to get you up to this level.
Restrooms are plentiful enough that you won't experience lines, even at intermission. They are clean and modern.
Tickets are available either as General Admission/Standing or Reserved Chairback Seats. I would recommend getting the chairback seats, the most expensive of which are only $15. There are discounts for RIT faculty/staff/alumni ($13), RIT current students ($5), and youth aged 12 and under ($8). You'll save $2-$3 if you choose the general admission option. Either way, the prices are well worth the experience you'll get.
When you add in the free parking and the reasonable concessions, then you have an opportunity to see a game that is probably underpriced, very rare for a brand new arena like this.
There is a small team shop where you can find a good variety of RIT merchandise.
Banners hang in the arena, including the national championships from Division II and Division III, as well as the 2010 Frozen Four appearance by the Tigers. The women's hockey team has also had their share of success. Playing at the Division III level, the women's team won the 2012 National Championship.
In the main entryway you'll find a collection of trophies, and the RIT Hall of Fame. Check this area out before you head to your seats.
One final extra point for the great growth of this program. They have a fantastic building and a program that continues to impress. Locals need to catch on and fill this building. Meanwhile, fans who love hockey should make the trip to see this beautiful facility.
The Gene Polisseni Center is a wonderful example of what a college hockey arena should be. There's an elite student section, comfortable seats, reasonable pricing, a vibrant pep band, and an overall good atmosphere. Make the trip to Rochester and see an RIT Tigers hockey game.
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1142 Mt Hope Ave
Rochester, NY 14620
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911 Brooks Ave
Rochester, NY 14624