Berry Events Center – Northern Michigan Wildcats
Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Berry Events Center
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette, MI 49855
Year Opened: 1999
Marq Your Calendar
There is little doubt that Marquette, Michigan is a hockey town. Sure, this is the place where you can see football in the largest wooden dome in the world, and it’s also the home of the United States Olympic Education Center, where athletes train for boxing, speed skating, weightlifting, and wrestling. However, if you want the best sports that the town can offer, then you will want to go to the Berry Events Center, home of Northern Michigan Wildcats hockey.
The arena stands on the former site of Memorial Field, the home of NMU football from 1946-1991. Berry Events Center opened in 1999. Besides being the home of the men’s hockey team, it is also the home of the Wildcats men’s and women’s basketball teams. Numerous banners hang in the arena, with the most prominent being the women’s basketball semi-finals appearance from 1998.
The ice is Olympic-sized (200×98 feet) as opposed to the North American standard of 200×85 feet. This creates a more wide-open game, which often produces a better fan experience and higher scoring. This arena was also the site of the United States Olympics speed skating time trials for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
Although hockey has only been a varsity sport since 1976 at Northern Michigan University, the program has a National Championship (1991) to its credit giving the team a more historic sense of credibility. To add to that, you’ll find back-to-back Frozen Four appearances commemorated on a banner for 1980-1981.
The Berry Events Center is a great venue to see college hockey, reminiscent of Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena with its upper concourse surrounding the seating area.
Food & Beverage 4
There are four main concession areas at Berry Events Center, each with a different focus. The arena is small, so you can easily take a lap around the concourse to find what you want the most.
One stand offers “Sweet and Eats,” with some of the highlights including Jilbert’s Dairy Ice Cream ($4), hot brownie bites with hot chocolate sauce ($4.50), and banana foster cheesecake bites with caramel sauce ($4.50) on the sweet side. On the east side, you’ll find savory options including Mama Russo’s black rocks yooper brat on a pretzel bun ($3.50), an Italian beef sandwich ($3.50), or a cudighi sandwich on ciabatta (spicy Italian sausage, $4.50).
Another stand offers Mexican options such as burritos ($5-$7.75), quesadillas ($5-$6.50), and house-fried chips with various toppings ($2-$5.50).
A third and fourth stand offers some of the stadium classics like hot dogs ($3) and brats ($3.50), offered by Vollwerth’s. Pretzel bites are also a good choice ($2.50), with a cheese cup costing $1 more.
Pepsi is the soft drink provider with a cup going for just $2. Warm beverages include coffee ($1.50), tea ($1.50), and hot chocolate ($2) on hand. Beer is also available for sale at Berry Events Center with a wide variety. Twelve-ounce craft beers cost $4, and $3 macro brews in 16-ounce pours can also be found. Options include local beer like Ore Dock, and the usual macros such as Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Labatt, and Miller Lite.
Walking through the parking lot and finding tailgaters on a cold autumn or winter night begins to set the tone for the visit, and that enthusiasm for the Wildcats continues once inside the Berry Events Center.
The pep band, a vital part of any good college hockey experience, is set up behind one of the goals at the top of the seating area. They do a wonderful job of creating that energy, playing early and often throughout the pre-game and game.
Regardless of your ticket, you can expect to be sitting in a green plastic seat with average legroom, and no cup holder. You may be just as happy to find a spot along the rail, watching the game from the concourse, and you wouldn’t be alone. If the Wildcats are playing an in-state opponent, both the seating areas and standing areas will be full, so if you find a good perspective on the concourse, you may not want to abandon it.
Be sure to take one lap around the concourse to see plaques on the wall to honor former players, a poster commemorating the 1991 championship, and just to generally get a feel for the arena.
Downtown Marquette is a place that’s easy to fall in love with. It’s a pretty little town, the largest in the Upper Peninsula, although the 89th largest in the state according to the 2010 census with a population of about 22,000. The main downtown area is only about a mile from the Berry Events Center. If the weather is nice (and this is relative), then be sure to wander around and experience the town.
If you are in town in the morning, then I would suggest making a stop at Dead River Coffee for a cup of Joe. The baked goods at their next-door neighbor, Marquette Baking Company, are worth a stop as well.
If you are looking for a pint of local beer, then stop into the Ore Dock Brewing Company. They have several locally made beers on tap, and also have several board games, a few TVs, and a foosball table. It is certainly a fun and relaxing place to spend a couple of hours.
The Steinhaus offers a German and European-inspired menu, with plenty of tasty treats including a selection of sausages and wursts. This is a good place to go with a group to share several appetizers.
Further down the road is the Vierling Restaurant, offering local beers, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and salads. The smoked whitefish appetizer and a beer sampler and is a good ways to end up very happy. Sit by the window and look out at the cold harbor and enjoy something local. If you want even more smoked whitefish, then a walk down to the harbor to Thill’s Fish House, a little shanty of a place that offers delicious locally smoked whitefish.
The tailgaters in the parking lot on the way in are certainly a good sign. They are friendly, dressed in their construction clothes, with reflectors glowing in the night. Inside, you’ll find more of these “Puckheads” in the student section which stretches from sections 13-16. If you want the most energetic place to sit this is it, with the band directly behind you in section 16.
After a penalty is killed by NMU, you’ll hear the PA announcer called “Wildcats at full strength” and the crowd answer back, “They always were!”
The crowd in general loves this team, and you are likely to hear intelligent hockey discussions happening wherever you choose to sit (or stand).
The team ranked 40th in attendance in 2015 in the NCAA (out of 59), averaging 2,188 fans per game, which is just over 58% of the arena’s capacity. Clearly, the fans could be better, but those in attendance love their Wildcats.
Parking costs you only $2, and there is plenty of it to accommodate even a sell-out crowd. There is some free street parking that you can find on the surrounding streets, but for $2 it is worth it to have a space right next to the arena.
The concourse can get a little crowded between periods, especially near the corners where the concession stands are located, but it doesn’t give fans that claustrophobic feeling.
Restrooms are adequate for the size of the facility, and you shouldn’t expect to encounter any unreasonable lines even at peak times. They are clean and smell good.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets begin at $15 for standing room, and only go up to $16 for reserved seating. This just comes down to your personal preference. For an extra dollar, it is worth it to pay to have a seat, but you can watch some of the game from a standing position on the concourse. In any case, it is well worth the cost. Even when you add in the cost of parking, a drink, and a hot dog, the price tag comes in under $25 per person. Seniors get a $2 discount on each ticket, and NMU students or any fan under age 18 can gain admittance for just $10.
The NMU athletics website does make it a little bit difficult to find tickets as it took me several clicks to find where you can find online ticket sales. You may end up having to make a phone call to secure your tickets. Given the average attendance though, you should be able to just show up at the arena to make your purchase the day of the game, although for in-state rivalries I would recommend getting your tickets in advance.
One extra point for the 1991 National Championship banner and poster. It’s always special when you can see a game in a venue where they have a championship tradition. Another extra point for the Wildcats pep band, who add to the experience.
Finally, an extra point for the town of Marquette. You will enjoy your visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and if you are a fan of college hockey you will feel like you made a worthwhile journey should you invest the time to visit as well.
There is no doubt that college hockey fans should include a trip to Northern Michigan University as a spot to see great hockey. Whether you are following your team on the road or just looking for a new venue, you won’t be disappointed by what you find at the Berry Events Center.