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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The National Women's Hockey League is the first paid professional women's hockey league in North America. The league, now in its second season, consists of four teams, all located in the northeast; the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters. Teams generally play once per week, with the entire schedule consisting of 18 games. The league operates on funds raised from sponsors as well as the NWHL Foundation, a charitable arm of the league that raises awareness of women's hockey through grassroots efforts.
The Boston Pride have quickly established themselves as the NWHL's marquee team, winning the inaugural Isobel Cup and spending much of the 2016-17 season undefeated. After playing their inaugural season at Harvard's Bright Landry Hockey Center, they have moved to the Warrior Ice Arena, the brand new practice facility of the Boston Bruins, for the 2016-17 season.
The Warrior Ice Arena is part of the Boston Landing development, a mixed-use development encompassing 14 acres along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston's Brighton neighborhood. Located adjacent to the New Balance World Headquarters Building, the site is a former industrial area that once served as Boston's largest stockyard. New office space, retail stores, restaurants and sports facilities are part of the development. In addition to the Bruins’ practice facility, the Boston Celtics are building a practice facility of their own, and the headquarters of the National Lacrosse League is located at Boston Landing.
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There is one concession stand at the Warrior Ice Arena. It offers a unique menu, in that all offerings are considered "healthy options." As a result, arena staples such as soda, candy, and other sweets are not offered here.
Despite the restrictions on the menu, a good variety of food is offered at the Warrior Ice Arena. Bagels, pizza, and a variety of deli sandwiches are sold. With the cold temperatures inside the arena, soup is a popular item, and is sold in several varieties, including chicken noodle, broccoli and cheese, and clam chowder. There is a bagged lunch special offered for the kids, which includes a sandwich, piece of fruit or cheese stick, and a bottle of water for eight dollars.
An extensive snack menu is offered, including chips, pretzels and popcorn. Some unique healthy items, such as hummus and chips, granola bars, whole fruit and baby carrots dot the menu. Yogurt, raisins and pumpkin seeds can be found here. Despite the lack of candy, fans with a sweet tooth can choose from fruit snacks, cookies and peanut butter cups.
There is no soda or beer sold at Warrior Ice Arena. Thirsty Pride fans can choose from assorted sports drinks, vitamin waters, fruit juices and bottled waters. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are popular choices in this chilly arena.
One big negative with the snack bar is that prices are not displayed anywhere on the menu board, making choosing a snack somewhat of a guessing game. However, prices are in line with other venues in the area.
Fans of college hockey will find a lot that is familiar at an NWHL game. There is a small, but enthusiastic crowd present, many of whom have a personal connection with the players on the ice. Pregame festivities are identical to college hockey games, with both squads lining up at the goal line for introductions and the blue lines for the national anthem.
There is not an elaborate in-game presentation here at the Warrior Ice Arena. Music is played during play stoppages at a reasonable volume, and there is a 50/50 raffle to raise money for NWHL charities. The Pride have a mascot who interacts with the younger fans in attendance, and the Bruins' mascot, Blades, is known to show up on occasion. The entire Pride team participates in a popular autograph signing after games.
It's easy to see that Warrior Ice Arena is a Bruins' facility as soon as you enter. A giant bear made out of Bruins uniforms and equipment greets fans in the lobby, and Bruins' Stanley Cup banners and retired number banners hang from the ceiling. Let us not forget the 18.5-foot tall Bruins logo that hangs on the far side of the building that greets passing motorists on the Mass Pike.
The Boston Landing development is growing quickly. This area was traditionally an industrial area, known mostly for being the home of many of Boston's television and radio stations, with a couple of nice restaurants thrown in. The Boston Landing project aims to make this neighborhood a destination location in a city full of them.
Buildings in the development are going up piecemeal, so the area should look quite different when the 2017-18 season begins. For now, there is a grocery store, a New Balance store, and the ice rink here. With construction going up all over the area, including the commuter rail station, expect the area to become much busier and easier to access at the same time.
Visiting fans will find no lodging options in the immediate area, but there is no shortage of places to stay in Boston. Harvard's athletic facilities are located about two and a half miles away, with the campus located across the Charles River in Cambridge, so that neighborhood offers your best bet at food and lodging close by. Fans looking for a place to eat after a Pride game should check out the Stockyard, an excellent steak house just a block from the Warrior Ice Arena.
The NWHL does not release their attendance figures, but Warrior Ice Arena is filled close to capacity for all Pride games. The crowd here is very dedicated and knowledgeable about their Pride, with many come decked out in Pride gear. Many fans appear to have a personal connection to the players on the ice, and are not shy about cheering on the home team.
Warrior Ice Arena is located in Boston's Brighton neighborhood, about two and a half miles from Harvard's athletic facilities. As is the case with many Boston locations, it's not easily accessed by car, with public transportation the best method to arriving here.
In the spring of 2017 the new Boston Landing Commuter Rail Station will open up adjacent to Warrior Ice Arena. In addition, the 64 and 86 bus routes have stops within a block of the facility. For those who must drive, take exit 17 (if traveling eastbound) or exit 20 (if traveling westbound) off of the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), and follow local roads to the arena. Directions can be found here.
The rink at Warrior Ice Arena is located on the second floor of the building, with fan access to the arena located on the third floor. The arena's lobby is accessible by stairs or elevator. All seating is located on one side of the rink, with a wall of windows on the opposite side that give a spectacular view of-the Massachusetts Turnpike. What a shame that the view isn't more impressive.
A single concourse offers access to the seating area, concession stand and restrooms. A conference room and the Boston Bruins' offices are also located here. There is standing room at this level which offers, quite frankly, the best views in the building. There are elevated platforms at either end of the concourse that offer bar style seating overlooking the ice. All seating at Warrior Ice Arena consists of individual gold plastic folding stadium seats. Netting runs from end to end of the rink, obscuring all views except for the first few rows. As this is a new building, everything here is clean and shiny.
All Boston Pride tickets are sold as general admission seating for $20. There is no discount available for children or seniors.
There is a parking garage on the ground floor of the Warrior Ice Arena, but be sure to validate your parking ticket at the skate rental desk. Doing so will give you three hours of free parking. Staying longer than that will cost you five dollars for up to four hours of parking, ten dollars for up to five hours, and $15 for more than five hours of parking. Failing to validate your ticket will cost you fifty dollars! There are limited on-street parking spots available in the area, but be aware of when meters are in effect. For Sunday games, on-street parking is free of charge.
Concession prices are comparable to other venues in the area.
Denna Laing-The Pride player who suffered a spinal cord injury in last year's Winter Classic game has become the face of the franchise and possibly the league during her courageous recovery. She is a frequent presence at games, helping to raise money for charities and participating in ceremonies during the game. Her number 24 is displayed at Warrior Ice Arena, and she can be found interacting with fans throughout the game, posing for pictures and attracting a crowd. The team has held a Denna Laing Day during each of its first two seasons.
As a fledgling league, the players in the NWHL accept a fraction of the salaries that their male counterparts receive. The NWHL has implemented a couple of unique measures to supplement player salaries. First, with every ticket over 500 sold, half of the profits are split between the teams playing that day. Second, fifteen percent of all merchandise sold with a player's name on it go to that player. If that's not a reason to buy a t-shirt or jersey, nothing is.
Lastly, the importance of having a professional women's sports league cannot be understated after watching the young girls in attendance. Seeing the reverence with which the girls here, decked out in their youth uniforms, treat the players in the ice shows them that it is OK to care about sports and to excel at them. This point is reinforced seeing the young ladies crowd around Denna Laing during intermissions and during the postgame autograph session. The Pride give back to the community tirelessly with public appearances and hockey clinics aimed towards the numerous youth programs in the Boston area.
Moving to the Warrior Ice Arena from the larger Bright-Landry Center may be seen as a step backwards in the Pride's second season, but the move to a smaller facility has seemed to work for the team. The NWHL has certainly experienced some growing pains in their second season, but the product on the ice is definitely worth a look. In hockey-mad New England, where there is no shortage of hockey to choose from between the professional, college and youth teams in the area, the Pride are beginning to carve out a niche as a "must see" option among local hockey fans.
Follow Paul Baker's Stadium Journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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