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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Tsongas Arena, more formally known as the Paul E. Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, is located on the southeastern edge of the UMass Lowell campus on the banks of the Merrimack River. The arena is named after Lowell native and United States Senator Paul Tsongas, who died in 1997 just before the opening of the arena.
Since opening, the Tsongas Center has served as the home for a pair of American Hockey League teams, the Lock Monsters and Devils, as well as the UMass Lowell River Hawks hockey team. With the elevation of the UMass basketball team to Division I status, the arena occasionally serves as the home of the River Hawks hoops team. Since purchasing the arena from the city of Lowell in 2009, the university has invested $5 million in improvements, including the addition of the Sage Bank Pavilion restaurant, a new jumbotron with replay capabilities, fascia display boards, and concourse improvements.
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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".
The food and beverage experience at the Tsongas Center has undergone a remarkable change in recent years. Local favorite Sal's Pizza dominates the concessions, offering a "slice" of pizza that in reality is a quarter pie for $7.50. Rowdy's Roadhouse is a recent addition selling BBQ fare such as pulled pork sandwiches and turkey legs.
Of course, all the standards can be found here as well. Permanent stands on either side of the concourse offer hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, meatball subs, French fries, as well as snacks and drinks. Pepsi products are featured at the Tsongas Center. Portable stands line the inner ring of the concourse adding variety to the concession menu. Hungry fans can find candy, ice cream, popcorn, pretzels, as well as Starbucks coffee and pastries. Since the Tsongas Center is located off campus, the sale of alcohol is allowed, and there is a wide selection of beer, wine, and mixed drinks available.
For fans who prefer a more sit-down type of experience, the Sage Bank Pavilion offers a full bar overlooking the arena floor as well as a full bar menu. Directly below the Sage Bank Pavilion is the Talon Club, which also includes a full bar, several high-definition televisions, and a pre-game buffet.
For those interested in taking home a souvenir of their trip to the Tsongas Center, there is a gift shop on the concourse offering a wide selection of UMass Lowell apparel.
Upon entering the Tsongas Center, the first thing you will notice is the River Hawk pep band. The band is much more noticeable than most, as they play throughout the pre-game period as well as during most game stoppages. This band is not only present, but also pretty good. You have to hand it to a pep band that not only takes on artists like Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and various 70's and 80's metal bands, but does a good job on these classics.
There is a palpable buzz throughout the stands at the Tsongas Center. The student section, hovering over the goalie's shoulder during two of the three periods, sets the tone with their loud, humorous chants throughout the game. For any fans who have not stepped foot here since Lowell's American Hockey League days the level of noise and excitement far surpass anything seen during those times, and the atmosphere here rivals that of any other Hockey East school.
UMass Lowell is located in downtown Lowell, the fourth largest city in Massachusetts. The city of Lowell was a major center for manufacturing during the industrial revolution. As a result of this rich history, Lowell contains many buildings of historical significance, several of which have been preserved by the National Park Service and remain in use today as museums open to the public. As is the case with many industrial cities of the north, the boon that brought prosperity to these cities faded, and with it went many jobs and a great deal of money. During this time, the city of Lowell obtained a reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city, best to be avoided. Recent decades have been kinder to Lowell, and there has been a growth in business, cultural, and educational development in the city. Statistically, Lowell is safer than many other New England cities of similar size but unfortunately, Lowell's bad reputation lingers to this day.
The Tsongas Center is located on the banks of the Merrimack River, adjacent to several reconditioned mill buildings, and a short walk from LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, the short-season single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Fans arriving early can walk along the Riverwalk and observe some of the rapids that powered the old mills back in the days of the Industrial Revolution.
Located a short distance from the Tsongas Center is the Lowell National Historical Park, which contains several buildings significant for their involvement in the growth of manufacturing in Lowell and beyond. Fans of American literature should be sure to check out the memorial for native son Jack Kerouac, which is part of the tour.
Despite the revitalization of the city of Lowell, there are not many options for food or lodging for visiting fans in the immediate vicinity of the Tsongas Center. Fans looking for a place to gather before or after a game for a bite to eat or (more specifically) a drink will be pleased to find the Lowell branch of Boston Beer Works located in one of the old mills about a block from the Tsongas Center. Beer Works is known for their wide variety of craft beers and fine food. It's a must-see for those fans who enjoy sampling some local flavor along with their sporting journeys.
Any team that can nearly sell out an arena during a snow storm over winter semester break certainly has a strong following. Fans come out to the Tsongas Center in numbers that were unheard of during Lowell's American Hockey League days. The River Hawks' red, white, and blue are well-represented throughout the crowd, which consists of a mix of alumni, local families, and youth hockey players. There is a rabid student section which turns out en masse for UMass Lowell's most popular and successful sport. Fans in Massachusetts know their hockey, ensuring that fans attending games here aren't at the Tsongas Center to be seen, but are here to enjoy the game.
While hardly a destination city in its own right, Lowell's proximity to Boston makes it an easy stop for hockey fans traveling in the area. Lowell is located 25 miles northwest of Boston, served by the Lowell Connector off of Interstate 495, a short drive from both interstate 95 and route 3. Parking is plentiful near the arena, with two surface lots and a small garage located nearby. Fans willing to walk a few blocks can find plenty of free on-street parking as well. Fans arriving to Lowell by train will arrive at the Amtrak station a mile away from the arena. The bus station in Lowell is located in the same complex, and has routes that drop passengers off at the nearby campus.
The Tsongas Arena consists of a single concourse that runs along the top of the seating bowl. The setup of the arena allows for fans to continue watching the game from most points on the concourse. It's a physical layout that is becoming common at baseball stadiums, but is not seen very often in hockey arenas. Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely circle the rink due to the presence of the Sage Bank Pavilion.
There are several sets of bathrooms located along different points of the concourse. They are adequate for a venue of this size, and lines are minimal, even during intermission. Access around the arena is easy, with several handicapped seating areas available for those needing those accommodations. Fans should be aware that the stairs leading from the concourse to the seating bowl are not of uniform size. If one is not paying attention, there exists the very real possibility of tripping or worse, spilling your beverage.
Tickets to UMass Lowell games range in price from $7-$11, which is fairly inexpensive for Division I college hockey in this area. Since the Tsongas Center allows fans to move into any unoccupied seat after the conclusion of the first period, fans will often purchase the cheaper tickets and move down into the more expensive seats during the course of the game. While parking in the adjacent lots or garage costs a surprising $10, there are plenty of free on-street parking spots available a short walk from the Tsongas Center. Food prices at the Tsongas Center are a little higher than one may expect from a venue of this size, but they are not out of line for arenas in the area. A night at the Tsongas Center is most certainly an affordable alternative to professional hockey in the Boston area.
An extra point is awarded for the Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame, featuring Lowell's various championship trophies, a history of Lowell players to move on to the NHL and Olympics, and photos of top moments in River Hawks history.
A second extra point is awarded the recognition of our Armed Service men and women. In addition to having a veteran drop the ceremonial puck before the game and the presentation of colors, each branch of the service has its own recognition moment during a play stoppage. Veterans are encouraged to stand up and be recognized for their service to their country.
A final extra point is awarded for the Riverwalk that runs behind the Tsongas Center. If you have the chance to arrive early to the area, walking along the riverfront to view the rapids and stroll amongst the historic mill buildings is highly recommended.
After striking out on two occasions as a home for minor league hockey teams, hockey is thriving in Lowell. Recent renovations to the Tsongas Center have turned the formerly sleepy little arena into a top notch facility that can compete with any other in New England. Hockey fans interested in touring various arenas in the area should make it a point to include the Tsongas Center on their itinerary.
Member Review by gtsully on Feb 10, 2016
Dates: 1/30/2016 and 2/6/2016
Events: UMass-Lowell vs. Arizona State and UMass-Lowell vs. New Hampshire
Pros: Tsongas has lots of food options, including alcohol, which most college rinks don't have. There are plenty of food and beverage locations as well, so lines weren't an issue. The sight lines are good, even from the concourse. The bathrooms were clean and lines were short. Despite a solid audio/video set up, the noise level was only really high when UML scored, which was nice - the student band plays a lot during breaks.
You can easily park at the garage right next door, but if you want to save $10 you can find a spot nearby in downtown (meters turn off at 6pm). There are plenty of dining and drinking options a few blocks away for pre/post game festivities. Each game also featured a youth hockey game during intermission, which is always fun.
Cons: The building wasn't full for either game. There were decent crowds in the student section both days, but not much participation beyond your standard "sieve" chants. Tickets for the ASU games were $20 each, which was a bit more than I expected.
Also, and this is a big pet peeve of mine, there's club seating at one end that makes it hard to walk all the way around the building in a complete circle. You can do it by cutting down through the seats, but that's a bit annoying.
Overall it's a good hockey experience, especially with kids.
50 Warren St
Lowell, MA 01852
30 Industrial Ave E
Lowell, MA 01852