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Official Review by Mont Pooley, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
Colgate University’s Starr Rink is a blue-collar barn for a blue-collar program. Built in 1959, the facility has played host to local and collegiate hockey in central New York for more than half a century. Colgate fields 25 NCAA Division I teams, but none holds a more storied place in Raider athletic history than the men’s hockey program. The Raiders are led by longtime head coach Don Vaughan who is now in his third decade leading the program. During his tenure he has guided his team to four 20-win seasons, two NCAA tournament berths, and 19 ECAC tournament appearances.
NHLer Andy McDonald (Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues), 2012 Hobby Baker Hat Trick Finalist Austin Smith, and player-turned-coach-turned-NHL-analyst Mike Milbury are just a few of the many great hockey players who have cut the ice at Starr Rink. With just under a 2,600-seat capacity, Starr Rink is one of the smaller venues in the ECAC. That said, its smaller size contributes to an appealing intimacy. The worst seats in the house are no more than 15 rows from the action, and the raised bleachers that flank each side of the rink give viewers a visceral and exciting feel for the gameplay.
Colgate resides in Hamilton, a quaint town of about 4,000. When the first day of classes rolls around, students nearly double the size of Hamilton, a 50/50 ratio that is not far from representative of Colgate hockey crowds. While what surrounds Raider hockey might seem small-time, the quality of competition is anything but. Combining fast-paced, hard-hitting Division I puck with a friendly and manageable local environment, Starr Rink offers a unique viewing experience for any sports fan or family.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions are sold in the lobby that abuts Starr Rink. Here you can purchase classic sports fare that, while not particularly exceptional in quality or selection, is filling and very fairly priced. Menu items include hot dogs ($4), cheeseburgers ($4.50), nachos ($3.50), hot pretzels ($3), and, for those chilly Upstate New York evenings, hot chocolate and hot cider ($2.25). The stand has the capacity to open multiple windows, ensuring that lines move in a timely manner during even the most highly attended events.
Starr Rink is lined by raised seating on each side. The bleachers nearest the rink entrance boast maroon fold-down seats, which are superior in comfort to the traditional bench seating throughout the rest of the arena. The left end of the rink houses the visiting team's pep band, student section, and traveling fans. This section extends nearly 20 rows and is the highest possible vantage point in the rink. Colgate fans fill out the far side bleachers. While this section is oddly shallow (no more than ten rows deep at any point), its impressive length, stretching between in-zone face-off dots, creates a unique energy that seems to follow the puck from end to end.
Large wooden beams support Starr Rink's domed ceiling, which makes the relatively small space seem bigger than it actually is. This is a nice effect, but the beams might obstruct the view of some top-row seats. The Colgate Pep Band benefits significantly from the domed structure. Situated in the left-hand corner of the general admission section, the band belts out classic hockey tunes that are amplified by the cavernous ceiling. Completing the ring of seating is the press box opposite the visitor's section. These seats are reserved for media members and are completely closed off from play by glass partitions.
While not glamorous or spacious, Starr Rink's atmosphere is a likable one that derives its energy from its intimacy.
Despite its small size, Hamilton offers a number of pleasant venues where visiting hockey fans can eat and drink in comfort. At the corner of Utica Street and Madison Street sits Nichols & Beal, a bar and grill offering fine dining options and cheap beer. Nichols' burgers and wings rival those of traditional sports bars, but more upscale selections like the Grilled Citrus Tuna or the Asiago Sirloin give the establishment another dimension.
Down the street, Rusch's Bar and Grill resembles a more traditional sports dive, serving a variety of wings, burgers, and beer. Rusch's is the place to go for visiting fans with other rooting interests; games from nearly every professional and collegiate league are shown on 15 high definition televisions throughout the restaurant.
For fans seeking a more casual dining experience, Hamilton is home to a number of delis and cafes that serve good food fast. Among these establishments are the Hamilton Eatery, the Barge Canal Coffee Company, and the Utica Street Café. Hamilton offers a surprising amount of dining options given its small size, but entertainment options are not quite as extensive. If you're in Hamilton for a Colgate hockey game, hockey will most assuredly be your best source of entertainment.
A hockey night in Hamilton can be an exciting time for Raider fans. ECAC matchups, especially those against hated rival Cornell, will always draw a sizeable student following. Colgate kids can get rowdy when the time is right, but the section is rarely big enough to become an annoyance. Colgate students are part of a small community on the academic hill, so many of the spectators know hockey players personally. Listening to students scream at their friends on the ice is a unique and entertaining part of the viewing experience at Starr Rink. A boisterous student section, however, is not guaranteed at every Raider hockey game. Luckily, Colgate hockey has a strong and consistent local following, so every game is sure to have a host of engaged and respectful spectators.
Getting to Hamilton, New York is no small task, but once you're there, finding your way around campus is simple. Reid Athletic Center, which houses Starr Rink, lies at the foot of the hill upon which Colgate's nationally recognized campus is built. The athletic facilities sit on the right side of Broad Street as you drive from downtown Hamilton towards Colgate. All parking is free, and the arena is surrounded on all sides by lots. Additionally, an overflow parking lot sits directly across from Reid and is almost always partially vacant.
Starr Rink spectators are always guaranteed an unbeatable value. Student tickets are free, general admission tickets are $6, and reserved tickets for seating in the fold-down chairs are $12. Such a low price point is remarkable given the quality of hockey played in Starr Rink weekly. Cheap concessions and free parking ensure that an individual can have a great time watching Colgate hockey for no more than $10.
One point for Starr Rink's unique, intimate environment. I've never felt so close to the game of hockey.
One point for Colgate's Pep Band. The group is surprisingly loud and always in attendance.
One point for the in-bench perspective. Starr Rink is a rare barn because team benches sit across from each other rather than side-by-side. Fans on either side of the arena have a clear view of all the behind-the-boards action.
Colgate University has announced plans to construct a state-of-the art hockey arena to replace the aging Starr Rink. While this is undoubtedly exciting news for Colgate student-athletes and fans, it will mark the end of a rich era in Colgate's hockey history. Star Rink offers a pleasurable viewing experience, combining low prices and a friendly community with some of the nation's best collegiate hockey. I encourage any hockey fan or family to catch a game at Starr Rink. This old barn may be the last of a dying breed of authentic hockey venues that evoke the game's true blue-collar character.
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