Matthews Arena, home of Northeastern Huskies men’s and women’s hockey, along with men’s basketball, is an under-appreciated gem in the history-laden world of Boston sports. Opened in 1910 as simply “The Arena”, and later commonly known as the Boston Arena, the building houses the oldest indoor ice rink still in use in the world. Both the Boston Bruins and the New England (later Hartford) Whalers played their first home games here, while the Boston Celtics used the arena as their secondary home from 1946-1955. In addition to current tenant Wentworth Institute of Technology (D-III), other university hockey programs including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, and Tufts have also called the facility home at one point before moving to their own buildings. Since Northeastern took ownership of the arena in 1979, it has undergone several renovations that have maintained its historical character while keeping it in line with what has come to be expected out of a quality facility.
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 available at three stands in the main lobby. Typical arena fare is on offer, with menu items including: french fries ($4), pizza (cheese $4, pepperoni $4.50), chicken fingers ($5), hot dogs ($2.50), veggie burgers ($3), nachos (cheese $4, supreme $5), candy ($1), chips ($1), bottled drinks ($2), and hot beverages ($1.75).
No beer or other alcoholic beverages are available at Matthews Arena.
As a colleague sitting next to me said during the game, unlike some old hockey barns still in use that are dumps, this is an old hockey barn that is beautiful. Indeed, the exposed brick in the arena's interior corridors, exposed support beams in the seating area, steel rafters and wooden ceiling all evoke early 20th century aesthetics. A beautiful entry lobby also shows many decorative touches typical of the era and includes photos of every single Huskies hockey team since the program's inception.The arena feels significantly smaller than its capacity of 4,666 for hockey. Although I never personally attended a hockey game at the old Boston Garden, which was famous for its tight quarters, I feel like Matthews offers the same sort of "fans on top of one another" feeling that is so clear in pictures of the old building (and that one can still experience at Fenway Park, which opened two years later than Matthews Arena).
Another similarity with the old Garden can be found in the higher rows of the lower level, where the overhang from upper level only intensifies the feeling. Similarly, due to layout obstructions, it appeared that the back corners of the lower level do not offer the greatest of views. In addition to banners hanging for the men's and women's hockey teams and men's basketball, there is one each celebrating the arena's history as the original home of the Bruins and secondary home of the Celtics for many years. A recurring thought in my head for the duration of the game was wonderment that this was originally a professional venue and in how far venues have evolved in 100 years.
Pregame warm-up music alternated between the small but good Northeastern pep band and standard arena rock over the PA. Among the alterations to the arena during its most recent renovation is a four-sided scoreboard with small video boards at center ice that is augmented by auxiliary boards on either end and an almost surprisingly good sound system. The video board showed game notes prior to the game, and stats, replays and trivia during. As with many Hockey East programs, the Huskies' pregame intros were well-presented: lights down, season highlights on the video board, and intense music over the PA before the starters took their spots on the blue line. A further nice touch was recognition of both teams' seniors given that this was their last regular season game, with Northeastern seniors skating to center ice to be met by their parents.
Once the game started, all music during stoppages was played by the pep band. A particularly nice nod to the arena's history was their rendition of "Brass Bonanza", the theme song of the Hartford Whalers, who began as the WHA's New England Whalers and also originally called the arena home. Most to all announcements during stoppages were either hockey program- or university-related, and made by a very "pro"-sounding announcer (think shouts of "power play!" and "overtime!"). Huskies goals were met with a loud foghorn sound effect over the PA. Unlike many pro arenas where "lighting the lamp" to signify goal is now automated, Matthews still has a person stationed in a little booth behind each goal to do so manually.
Intermission entertainment included a pee-wee game between the first and second periods, and a "chuck-a-puck" contest between the second and third. In addition, the Northeastern mascot skated around the ice with a t-shirt gun during both intermissions, launching shirts at excited members of the Huskies faithful. Psych-up music was played over the PA before the beginning of each new period.
The arena can be found at the eastern end of Northeastern University's campus, which is situated at the convergence of Boston's Back Bay, Fenway, South End, and Roxbury neighborhoods. Those looking for a quick pregame bite will find a number of pizza, sandwich, Middle Eastern, and burrito places on Huntington Avenue between Massachusetts Avenue and Forsyth Street.
In the immediate vicinity of the arena, there are several places to grab a pint, including Connor Larkin's Grill & Tap, Our House East, Symphony 8, and Uno's, all of which have full menus, and Punter's Pub, a dive bar that has a window to the pizza place next door.
There are also a number of Asian restaurants nearby, including Betty's Wok and Noodle, Symphony Sushi, Pan Thai, and Pho & I.
While the variety of food and drink options on this stretch of Huntington and nearby side streets is not the broadest, countless additional restaurants and bars spanning a wide range of atmospheres and cuisines can be found within a 10-15 minute walk of the arena. Most of these are concentrated on and around Massachusetts Avenue, on Boylston and Newbury Streets in the Back Bay, and Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue in the South End.
Northeastern has historically not been one of the big powers of Hockey East but the program has been on the ascendancy in recent years albeit with a dip in form during the 2012 season. This was evidenced by an arena that was 60-65% full at the first puck drop with about 65-70% of those rooting for the Huskies. A small number continued to trickle in during the opening minutes. Given that the game was played during the first weekend of Northeastern's spring break and crosstown rival Boston University brought along a large student cheering section, this represents a fairly solid turnout.
As mentioned before, the layout of the arena is such that fans get the feeling (common in facilities of Matthews' vintage) of being on top of one another and that contributes to enthusiasm. Like those of most Hockey East schools, Huskies fans are knowledgeable about the game and proud of their school. On a night like this one where the home team played a hated opponent, all of these factors were clearly in evidence. From the outset, every big hit made on a visiting player was resoundingly cheered. The response to Northeastern's first goal, which put the Huskies ahead, was very loud and amplified further by the room. A later Huskies goal that put them ahead at 3-2 was met with a similarly emphatic response. As is the norm at several colleges, each Huskies goal was followed by a lengthy, student-led taunt-the-goalie ritual loosely based on the arena rock staple "Rock and Roll Part II".
Although their section was only about half-full, Northeastern's student supporters more than made up for their numbers with spirit. Perhaps this was best evidenced when the game went into overtime and nearly every single male in the section went shirtless. Although seemingly outnumbered, they engaged in lively back-and-forth taunting with their BU counterparts throughout the game. In addition, the Huskies' goaltender appeared to have his own cheering section.
As the game progressed, tension became palpable and it became crystal clear that there was no love lost between the two teams or their fans. Northeastern fans gave off the vibe (rightly or wrongly) of the little guy standing up to a bully. A number of Huskies fans became vocally angry upon an injury to one of their players, with near-silence in the arena perforated by scattered shouts towards the ice. Perceived misplays and non-calls were met with similar agitation. During a particularly intense rush while BU was on a power play, each and every save resulted in a very loud reaction. Every BU player sent to the penalty box was serenaded with chants of "get off the ice!". When the Huskies hit the winner of the back-and-forth game in overtime, it is safe to say that the arena exploded.
Matthews Arena is located on St. Botolph Street at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue. It is easily accessed from several major area roads, including Storrow Drive (Fenway exit), I-93 (Massachusetts Avenue exit), and the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) eastbound (Prudential exit). Limited on-street parking is available along with pay lot and garage parking at the corner of St. Botolph and Gainsborough Street.
The Symphony station on the "E" branch of the MBTA Green Line is one block from the arena, and the Massachusetts Avenue station on the Orange Line is half a block away. Ruggles Station, which has some commuter rail service in addition to another Orange Line stop is also located adjacent to the NU campus, and is approximately a five-minute walk away.
Bathrooms are one of the very few areas in which Matthews Arena falls short as there is only a single facility each for men and women, along with another for disabled fans. All are located in the main lobby. They are adequate but not huge, and lines were predictably long during intermissions.
Matthews Arena seating is in two price categories: Premium, which includes all seats running the length of the ice on the lower level and upper level except for upper center ice sections; and Reserved, which includes all lower level seats from goal line corner to opposite corner (behind the nets). Men's hockey season ticket (16 dates including 2 scrimmages) prices are (Premium/Reserved): Adult $195/$150; Young Alumni (last 5 graduating classes) $135/$100; Youth/NU Staff $135/$100. Single game (Premium/Reserved) ticket prices are $18/$14 for adults, and $14/10 for youth and NU staff.
NU undergraduates are eligible for complimentary tickets as part of their Sports & Recreation Pass. Student sections are on the upper level running from corner to corner behind each net and the two upper level center ice sections.
There is a small but nicely stocked merchandise kiosk in the entry lobby.
The history just drips in this wonderful old arena. When you think about the plethora of Hall of Famers who have played here, both for hockey and basketball, it is just mind blowing.
It is also very hard to find an arena that is over 100 years old, and still has the comfort to provide an enjoyable game day experience. Northeastern has done a great job of both renovating and preserving this historic arena.
**Some photos courtesy of Northeastern Athletics.
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