Thompson Arena, home to the Dartmouth College men’s and women’s hockey teams, is located half a mile southeast of the college Green on Summer Street, nestled in an athletics complex that also contains Burnham Field, home to the Big Green soccer teams, Sculley-Fahey Field, home to Big Green lacrosse and the Boss Tennis Center. Yet there is no doubt which team in the complex is the most popular among Upper Valley residents, as the Dartmouth men’s hockey squad routinely draws near-capacity crowds to 3,500-seat (4,500 with standing room) Thompson Arena during the cold Hanover winters.
The arena, named for donor Rupert C. Thompson, Dartmouth Class of 1928, opened prior to the 1975-76 season and has been home to Big Green hockey ever since. The first game saw Dartmouth play the U.S. Olympic Team to a 3-3 tie on November 25, 1975. Nine days later, the arena saw its first collegiate action, with the home team skating to a 5-3 loss against Boston University.
Though the men have ranked as a middle-of-the-pack ECAC team for most of their time at Thompson, despite sending several players to the NHL, the Dartmouth women have seen a fair amount of success since the program began in 1977. That success includes three ECAC regular-season titles, four ECAC tournament titles and four Frozen Four appearances, all coming since 2001. Several female Big Green skaters have also gone on to win Olympic gold representing Canada.
Dartmouth men’s games are a popular activity for students and area residents alike on Friday and Saturday nights, and the building comes close to its capacity of 4,500 (including standing room) for Ivy League contests. The Princeton game is routinely packed full of students, who smuggle tennis balls into the arena to throw onto the ice after the Big Green’s first goal in one of Dartmouth’s favorite winter traditions. The venue is a good place to catch a game for New England hockey fans, and the already-solid atmosphere only figures to improve as a young Big Green squad continues to rise up the college hockey ranks.
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Thompson Arena contains two concession stands, one in the southwest corner directly to your right as you walk in the main entrance, and one in the northeast corner on the opposite side of the arena. Both offer hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and soda. They also offer bags of candy and brownies to satisfy the fan's sweet tooth, as well as several other snacks. Prices are relatively inexpensive, between $2 and $5. Because Thompson Arena is a college facility, no alcohol is served.
There is a Boloco stand located at the eastern end of the arena that offers burritos priced from approximately $4-$8. Though Boloco is more expensive than the college-run concession stands, the quality is better, justifying the increase in price.
As is predictable with hockey, lines are worst during intermissions, but the multiple registers at each location ensure that the lines remain manageable.
Thompson Arena has a unique configuration, as the ice and seats are built into the ground. The roof is visually striking, consisting of 1,024 one-ton white triangles that fit together to form a curved roof resembling half of a very large cylinder. The building is the work of famed Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, who designed several venues for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome as well as Leverone Field House, the home of the Big Green indoor track and field teams, which is located across the street.
There is only one entrance, on the west side of the arena. As soon as fans enter, they can stop for a great view of the entire building before walking around the spacious concourses (20 feet or so wide) and descending down to their seats. The wide concourses can narrow depending on how full the arena is - the area directly behind the seats is used as standing room for big crowds - but there is still plenty of room to navigate.
Just like any hockey arena, the closer you get to the action, the more limited your view of the entire ice. The arena's small size means that it's difficult to get a great view of the entire ice at one time (unless you're sitting in the press box, an elevated concrete platform on the building's north side). Home fans generally favor the west side of the arena, as Dartmouth shoots on the west goal during the first and third periods. The student section is located to the right of the press box on the northwest side of the ice. All seats consist of metal benches with hard seatbacks.
The benches can be found on the south side of the ice, with the Dartmouth bench on the left side of the arena (looking out from the press box). All entrances to the ice are on the arena's east side, with the Zamboni entering and exiting behind the goal and the two teams entering and exiting the locker rooms on either side. The four-sided scoreboard hangs above center ice and all of the relevant hockey information (score, time, penalties) is large and readable.
Overall, it's a good place to watch a game, with the building becoming quite loud late in close games.
Hanover is the quintessential rural Northeastern college town, and aside from Dartmouth's beautiful campus (usually buried under a foot of snow during the long winter), the surrounding area offers several dining options located a short walk away from the arena.
All of Hanover's bars and restaurants are located west of Thompson Arena, on or around Main Street. One of the best is Ramunto's Brick and Brew Pizzeria on South Street, which, unsurprisingly, specializes in beer and pizza. Ramunto's offers at least 10 beers on tap, including several local New England beers. The pizza is exceptional, and the garlic-knot pizza, made with a crust of Ramunto's specialty garlic knots, is a must-try. The restaurant also boasts several flat-screen televisions to liven up the dining experience.
Salt Hill Pub, opened in 2010, is situated on Lebanon Street, and, like Ramunto's, is less than half a mile from the arena. Though the cuisine is Irish as opposed to Italian, Salt Hill has a lot in common with Ramunto's, from its quality beer selection to its flat-screen televisions. Both establishments offer a great atmosphere for pre- or post-game festivities.
A bit further west on Main Street, Molly's is a great option for family dining.
The games draw well in the winter, and there is no doubt that men's hockey is Dartmouth's second-best attended sport, after football. Even though large portions of the undergraduate population are off campus during the winter, the student section is lively and fills quickly for games against Ivy opponents and nationally-ranked squads. As mentioned above, the Princeton game is always a raucous affair, as students sneak in tennis balls to throw onto the ice after the first Big Green goal. In recent years, Dartmouth students have taken to throwing tennis balls after every Big Green goal, resulting in a two-minute delay of game minor against Dartmouth for each offense. Though the Big Green has not won any ECAC titles while playing at Thompson, fan support is consistent from year to year, which is a credit to both Dartmouth students and local residents.
There is plenty of parking, as there is a lot directly outside the arena. You can also park in metered spots on nearby streets or in a garage on Lebanon Street. If more parking is needed, the College can open an overflow lot with a shuttle service to the arena. Parking is inexpensive, ranging from the free spaces outside Thompson Arena to a few dollars for spaces in the garage.
The main concourse behind is wide and offers a view of the action while you wait in line. Bathrooms can be found at the northwest and southeast corners of the arena, and lines generally aren't very long.
Seating is general admission, with adult tickets $10 and youth tickets $5. All students get in free with a Dartmouth ID. There are no obstructed view seats, and it is usually quite easy to find a seat near the center ice if you are willing to arrive to the game a little early.
The programs are basic, with team rosters and a couple brief articles, but they are free.
Championship banners, dominated by the women's team's recent success, hang on the east and west walls of the arena surrounding the goals.
Several plaques line the wall in the northwest corner of the arena to honor Dartmouth alumni in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. There is also a trophy case displaying honors won by the Big Green on the west side of the arena by the entrance.
Large portraits of recent Big Green alumni to play in the NHL decorate the north and south walls of the arena.
When you factor in the building's unique layout, the passionate fans and the easy accessibility, there is no doubt that Thompson Arena is one of the Northeast's top college hockey venues. The arena may be approaching its 40th birthday, but it is quite capable of serving as the home of Big Green hockey for the foreseeable future. The only thing Dartmouth hockey fans want is for a consistently winning team, and if the men's program continues its current trajectory, even that may no longer be a problem.
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