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Official Review by Drew van der Poel, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Historic Houston Field House is the home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's men's and women's hockey teams. The men's team started playing here in 1950, a year after it opened, and four years later they won their first national championship. The field house was previously a warehouse for the U.S. Navy in Davisville, Rhode Island, and after World War II was moved to Troy. Once there, the university spent half a million dollars making it suitable for athletics. The arena has undergone a number of improvements and renovations since.
The Engingeers won their second national championship in 1985, led by hockey hall of famer Adam Oates, and have won the ECAC conference tournament three times. While the program isn't as dominant as it once was, fans still show strong support for the cherry and white. With a capacity of 4,800, it is the second largest arena in the Capital District, and a good place to catch a hockey game.
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".
Houston Field House provides your basic stadium fare. Prices are fair when compared to other sporting events, and the quality of the food is what one would expect. Beer is not sold at this on-campus arena.
There are concession stands on either side of the main entrance, and on the day of my most recent visit they were being run by a women's team from the university. Lines were a little slow moving, but not too bad.
An annoying feature is that the menu is one of about six items that scroll on the monitor above the concession stands, so it flashes for a few seconds before it comes back half a minute later.
What it lacks in food, RPI makes up for with its gameday experience. Once you enter the field house lobby, you can either buy tickets at the box office (if available), pick up your tickets at will call, or if you already have them, proceed into the arena.
On either side of the arena there are concourses, more like wide hallways, that run underneath the seating. These hallways are filled with the history of RPI hockey, featuring cool displays, trophies, and pictures from past seasons. Here is also where you will find the restrooms, concession stands and the team store. There is a walkway between the rink and all seats (other than the RPI student section), so you will climb up to your seats. Sections are marked by white signs that hang over the desired sections. All seats are wooden with individual backs and armrests, making them more comfortable than bleachers.
A unique feature here is that the opposing teams' benches face each other. The student section is behind the RPI bench along with the pep band. On the other side of the ice, behind the visiting team's bench, sit the locals, and presumably, the visiting team's fans. As long as you sit between the goal lines, you should be fine and have no obstructions, while being close to the action. You also don't want to sit in the first couple of rows in any section because of the above-mentioned walkway. Anybody who's coming and/or going will be in your way, which seemed to be pretty frequent throughout the contest.
RPI enters the ice from behind their bench, where the visitor comes from the far corner on their side of the ice. At the beginning of each period the lights above the seating are dimmed, which is always nice. The 2nd intermission features the popular chuck-a-puck promotion. The mascot is the very original Puckman. He is literally a big puck with an engineer's helmet and "RPI" on his chest, and he is very much appreciated by the fans.
The arena has a very nice four-sided scoreboard, which is smaller than one might be used to, but is beyond adequate. The scoreboard displays the shots on goal constantly after the 1st period. Replays and stats are also routinely shown here. There is some sort of General Electric sponsored suite above the goal near the entrance, but it didn't appear to be in use during my visit.
Sound quality of the PA system was on the poor end of the spectrum, and the goal horn was extremely loud. These were the only real downfalls to an otherwise solid hockey atmosphere.
Situated on the beautiful RPI campus, there isn't a whole lot of interesting places to go within walking distance of Houston Field House. If you're looking for a bite to eat before or after the game there are some options. Notty Pine Tavern, serving pizza, sandwiches, and Italian food is a good choice. Ali Baba, a restaurant specializing in Greek and Turkish cuisine, is also just a few blocks from the field house. Getting further away from campus, you will find Troy staples in Manory's and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Across the river in Albany there are more food options, and lots of other things to do, but this is a 20 minute drive from Troy. Hilton Garden Inn is a good choice if you are looking for a hotel in Troy.
Safety getting to the arena is not an issue, as RPI campus safety is very present on the walk in.
Both the student body and the locals have strong support for the team. Even during winter break, don't be surprised to see the arena over half full for a lowly non-conference opponent. During my recent visit, a large portion of the spectators were wearing either RPI gear or colors, which was pretty awesome.
Since there was no real student section, the atmosphere of the arena was compromised, but the locals still showed Engineer pride with a ton of different chants. Ranging from telling the opposing goalie "It's all your fault! It's all your fault!" after each RPI goal to a playful "Halftime!" chant at the 10 minute mark of the 2nd period, amongst a ton of others. Oh, and don't forget to scream "RED!" on "Red" with the rest of the crowd during the "Rocket's Red Glare" line of the national anthem!
The fans were very knowledgeable of the game and had a good understanding of their team's lack of success this season. You could tell they are very passionate about their Engineers. It was also very cool to see all sorts of different generations of fans there, along with very many different types of RPI jerseys.
Located in the small city of Troy, NY, Houston Field House is easily accessed by car. Troy is one of three cities that make up New York's Capital District. It is located on the east side of the Hudson River, across the way from Albany, New York's capital. The arena is about twenty minutes away from Exit 23 of the NYS Thruway.
According to the arena's website, parking costs 3 dollars at one of the field house's lots. However, we were advised to park on top of the hill in one of RPI's parking lots by campus safety, and we parked for free. From here it was a five minute walk. It should be noted that since class was not in session, parking enforcement was likely more lenient, as there were ample empty lots. Regardless of class being in session, there appeared to be plenty of street parking on and just off of Peoples Avenue, just down the hill from Houston Field House.
While CDTA does have a bus stop right outside the arena, you're looking at close to an hour of bus rides from either the Albany bus station or Amtrak train station. When compared to what would be a fifteen minute drive, this is less than ideal. The 286 and 87 buses both stop right near the field house.
Concourses and restrooms were fine, with no problems or overcrowding. They were a good size for the size of the arena. Getting in to the arena went swiftly and there was a brief security check.
Tickets will run you $12 ($15 for "premium" games), unless you are a child or a senior in which they cost $9. RPI students get tickets for $5 when they show their ID at the box office. For high level Division I hockey, this is a quality deal. As long as you are able to sit between the goal lines and above the first few rows, you can't go wrong with this price. Concessions won't burn a hole in your pocket, and neither will parking. Seeing a game in the historic Houston Field House is worth the money you will spend.
RPI has multiple banners hanging up in the rafters. These banners honor former players, including the great Adam Oates and Joe Juneau, with retired numbers. Coaches Garry Kearns and Ned Harkness also have their names honored.
There are also banners for each NCAA Championship, along with ones listing all ECAC Conference and Regular Season titles. Finally, there is a large banner on the far end of the ice honoring Adam Oates.
Lastly, another point for the friendliness of the fans, making an outsider feel welcome, and giving RPI a home-ice advantage even without their student body present during this particular visit.
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