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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
There is something pure and simple about hockey that brings out a little something extra. At Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania that little something is present. Mercyhurst is one of a handful of NCAA schools that play Division II sports and step up to Division I for ice hockey. Established in 1926 as Mercyhurst College, the university remains quaint and cozy to this day with an enrollment of only around 4,400 students.
The Lakers began their hockey lives in 1987. They play a number of varsity sports but hockey is the only Division I sport and they have not been out of place with the big boys. In 1999 the Lakers joined Atlantic Hockey, a conference with similar sized institutions. The Lakers have made three NCAA tournament appearances, each following their Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament victories in 2001, 2003, and 2005. When they began playing hockey, they were known as “The Boys on the Bus” as they were forced to play at various rinks around Erie. Mercyhurst University built the Mercyhurst Ice Center as a permanent home for the Lakers in 1991 ending their local roadtrips. Erie remains to have a need for hockey rinks to this day. A trip to Mercyhurst Ice Center will not blow fans away with luxury and amenities. It is a small, 1,500 seat, simple rink that serves its purpose and fits the size of the school. The Ice Center does provide a great locale for hockey and the Lakers have carved out a niche for themselves in the community, which is not devoid of sporting options.
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".
There is one concession stand in the Mercyhurst Ice Center and it offers concessions that are better than you would expect. The selection will not blow you away and all items are under the price of $5 per item. There are not too many other places you could find such a deal. Pretzels, nachos, popcorn ($2), chocolate bars, chips, hot dogs ($2.50) and fries are all available. Mozzarella sticks can also be found. It seems that the mantra at the concession is that everything can be made better with chili as chili can be added to nachos, fries and hot dogs.
There are no alcohol sales at the Ice Center. Soda is available in fountain ($1.75/$2.25) or bottle form ($2). Pepsi products are featured here also. Other soft drinks that are available include bottled water, Gatorade, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, latte and a variety of cappuccinos. Considering the size of the venue, concessions are a pleasant surprise and offer enough to keep most satisfied at an outstanding price.
The Mercyhurst Ice Center is a decent place to catch some college hockey, however it is not overly luxurious and there are very few bells or whistles. The exterior of the Ice Center is pretty non-descript with brown brick. It has a very unintimidating feel from the outside due to its small size and capacity.
Fans enter the arena from the north side into a small lobby. If waiting is necessary, checking out the trophy case and some of the wall plaques in the lobby is a great way to pass the time. The ticketing desk is in the lobby also. Upon entering the arena itself, fans will immediately notice the barn-like design with triangular, vaulted ceiling. The arena is small, and past the ice surface, there is not a ton of room anywhere. The ice surface runs in an east-west orientation with all of the seating on the south side of the ice. The east side of the arena offers a few banners worth checking out including a banner honoring Scott Burfoot, Andrew Moir, Rob Madia, Justin Proud, Kevin McKinnon and John Evangelista as All-Americans. Beside that is the retired number seventeen of Scott Burfoot. Burfoot holds nearly all Mercyhurst scoring records. Finally of note is a curious picture of a Washington Capitals player with little explanation. That player is Jameson Hunt, former Mercyhurst Laker, who in 2006 played one game for the NHL's Washington Capitals. He is the only Laker to play in the NHL.
The seating area is a simple ten rows of aluminum benches on the south side of the arena. This is not the most comfortable situation, but definitely not the worst in college hockey. The west end of the arena also features four rows of plastic seats for those who require more comfort. The scoreboard is simple and hangs above center-ice and the I-beams that keep the structure standing are painted in Laker blue and green. The ticketing at Mercyhurst is all general admission so fans are able to pick their own seat.
The game day production is fairly simple. The Mercyhurst band sits at the southeast corner of the arena and offer a different dynamic that is not found in professional or junior hockey. The band is good, but at times the band leaders and production crew need to get on the same page as PA music and band music were competing.
Mercyhurst University is located south of downtown and is pretty much surrounded by residential areas. There are not many places to go that are in walking distance of the arena. The closest options for pre or postgame meals include the Cornerstone Bar & Grill and Teresa's Italian Deli. Otherwise, fans should consider heading toward I-90 or downtown, where there are many more eateries. Quaker Steak & Lube may be an option that fans should consider at I-90 and Highway 19.
For fans that are staying over in Erie, La Quinta Inns and Suites and America's Best Value are the closest to the campus. There are many more hotel choices at I-90 and Highway 19.
For fans looking for other things to occupy their time in Erie, a trip to the Millcreek Mall or Erie Playhouse may be worth considering. As far as other sporting options go, the OHL's Erie Otters and NBA D-League's Erie BayHawks play out of the Erie Insurance Arena. Also the Double-A Erie Seawolves play next door to the Erie Insurance Arena at UPMC Park.
The fans at a Lakers game add to the atmosphere at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. The university planned their hockey facility wisely and have been rewarded with a solid fan base. Although Mercyhurst draws one of the smallest average capacities in all of NCAA hockey, fans can not take this as a sign of a poor program. The Lakers draw close to 1,500 fans per game on a consistent basis and although the raw number for the Lakers is low, Mercyhurst boasts one of the highest percentage capacities in all of NCAA hockey. The Lakers get strong support for hockey from the students who come out to show their Laker Pride. Other community members are also on hand and a nice balance is achieved at Mercyhurst. Fans in attendance are intelligent and supportive. They are loud when the time is right, but are not over the top like many other NCAA hockey fan bases. At the game which was reviewed, one fan attempted to lead the crowd in some of the traditional college hockey chants after Laker goals, but had little success mustering up much support from his fellow students.
Mercyhurst Ice Center is located fairly centrally in Erie. Located right on campus, the Ice Center is a fair distance north of I-90 and pretty much in between Highways 8 and 12 and south of Highway 20. Fans will have to drive through Erie a bit to get to the Ice Center, but traffic is not a large concern and the drive is fairly smooth.
There is some parking available at the Ice Center to the east at Mercy Drive and north of the other athletic facilities. Parking is free and can fill up quickly as the lot is small. Fans can continue on Baldwin Drive to find more parking.
For fans who wish to take public transit to Mercyhurst, there are a number of bus routes that travel along 38th Street, which is north of Mercyhurst and there is a route that will also get fans to the south side of campus. Check out the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority website for maps, fares and schedules.
The only gate which fans may enter is at the north side of the arena. A temporary table is set up in the lobby for ticketing. As of this writing, Mercyhurst does not sell tickets online and when purchasing at the door, fans will not receive a physical ticket. Cash is also the best idea at this venue.
Getting around the Mercyhurst Ice Center is not too difficult. Although the arena is small, the capacity matches the arena and moving around isn't too difficult. Fans will walk between the boards and the first row of seats to go to the concessions. Consider this when choosing a seat. The washrooms are small, but not a huge issue at the arena.
There is tremendous value at a Mercyhurst Lakers hockey game. The investment fans must make in Mercyhurst hockey is very low. Adult tickets are $10 each and children younger than 12 are free. Combine that with free parking and concession prices that are excellent and there is great value in a Lakers game. The return is also decent as the Lakers put a good product on the ice and the Mercyhurst band adds to the atmosphere in a positive way.
An extra mark for the acoustics in the Mercyhurst Ice Center. One of the great things about this arena is that the sounds of hockey are excellent. Everything sounds crystal clear, whether it is the cutting of the ice with the skates, crack of the stick on a slapshot or a thunderous hit against the boards. The venue may be simple, but the sounds of hockey that are often lost in bigger venues, are fantastic here.
An extra mark for a Division II school moving up to play Division I ice hockey.
It is impressive to see how the Mercyhurst Lakers have carved themselves a nice little niche in the not-so-empty sports landscape in Erie, Pennsylvania. Lakers hockey offers terrific value in a simple hockey venue that is not without its charm. The Lake Effect will have fans satisfied that they have spent their money well and enjoyed their trip to the Mercyhurst Ice Center.
Member Review by collegiatestdms on Mar 13, 2012
Mercyhurst plays hockey in the American Hockey Association, against teams from across the country. Conference foes range from Air Force to UConn. The program is very good despite competing against much larger schools while being a small private school from Erie, PA with an enrollment of just 3,500 students.
809 E 38th St.
Erie, PA 16504
7820 Perry Hwy
Erie, PA 16509
6101 Wattsburg Rd.
Erie, PA 16509