Cadet Ice Arena - Air Force Falcons
Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Cadet Ice Arena 2169 Field House Drive Colorado Springs, CO 80840
Year Opened: 1968
Air Force Academy Hockey’s Cadet Ice Arena
The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Field House has as much curb appeal as a post-World War II federal government building: little if any. That’s because Cadet Field House is a post-World War II federal government building. There isn’t a festive lily garden or a white picket fence to welcome visitors to the building that, aside from serving as the nerve center for Air Force Academy athletics, houses the Falcons’ 2,502-seat Cadet Ice Arena – the team’s home since the building opened in 1968.
That’s okay. Inside, an engaged crowd roots on the Falcon skaters. Seats are close to the ice and fans and cadets pay close attention to the game. And Cadet Ice Arena seemingly has a promising future. It’s in the middle of a 6-year, $115 million project that includes updated locker rooms and lounge areas, a new center scoreboard and upgraded arena lighting, renovated bathrooms, and a geothermal power system for the rink’s four ice chillers.
Although most of this work is complete, evidence of HVAC work remains at the arena’s south end as of early 2023. But even exposed ductwork cannot detract from the experience of an Air Force Hockey game at Cadet Ice Arena.
Food & Beverage 3
Concessions at Cadet Ice Arena are all about the basics. There are no artisanal cheeses or curated tasting menus. But the concession stands, all located on the arena’s west side, provide exactly what hockey fans want – and it’s not a charcuterie trolley. It’s hot dogs ($5), giant pretzels ($6), nachos ($7), and, for those who want to inject fruit-flavored frozen sugar water directly into their digestive systems, Icees ($7). The Air Force Academy is a Pepsi campus, with those products selling for $5 per 20-ounce bottle.
Concessions at Cadet Ice Arena, Photo by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
The aptly named “Wild Brew Yonder” offers canned cocktails ($10) and canned beer ($8) just outside of the Falcons’ team store, in the arena’s northwest corner. Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and several local brews are available.
Falcon hockey enjoys a strong following. Home games frequently sell out and the in-game experience rates well. A new scoreboard above center ice and a new audio system, both installed before the 2019-2020 season, make the Falcons’ hype videos look and sound even better. The L.E.D. lighting installed as part of the same renovations has similarly improved the experience of watching the game.
Sight lines are good from most seats. However, avoid sitting in the lower corners. There is no way to see action in the near corner at the other end of the rink. Be aware, however, that protective netting does not extend into most of the seating along the sides (only the ends). Fans need to remain vigilant, lest an errant puck turns a pleasant outing into a trip to the emergency room.
Cadet Ice Arena’s “neighborhood” is tough to evaluate because the Air Force Academy lacks a comparative peer. It’s a military service academy set on 18,500 acres in the shadow of Pikes Peak. It doesn’t have a nearby commercial district of bars, shops, and restaurants, although those can be found by leaving the Academy grounds and driving 15 or 20 minutes – or less.
A cluster of bars and restaurants can be found a five-minute drive east of the Academy’s north gate on North Gate Boulevard. Buns & Bubbles (162 Tracker Drive, Suite 100, Colorado Springs, CO, 80921) is one such place. More than just a great name, B&B is a locally owned sandwich shop that serves Vietnamese sandwiches and boba tea. In the same development, the Brass Tap (13271 Bass Pro Drive, Suite 110, Colorado Springs, CO, 80921) has more than 150 beers on tap, as well as great burgers and chicken sandwiches.
But if you elect to stay at the Academy, you can explore a truly one-of-a-kind campus. It has approximately 30 miles of single-track trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding – all open to the public. The campus is also home to a zoo’s worth of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, elk, mule deer, wild turkeys, and red foxes.
The Academy’s famed Cadet Chapel, with 17 spires that rise 150 feet in the air, began an eight-year renovation project in 2019 that will include the restoration of the chapel’s 24,000 pieces of stained glass, its pews, and its two organs. Even without the campus’s most recognizable landmark closed until 2027, the campus is among the nation’s most beautiful and interesting.
Falcon hockey has a loyal following that frequently fills Cadet Ice Arena. In January 2023, Air Force (6-15-2 at the time) hosted Niagara University (11-9-2) in a game starting at 4:05 p.m. on a Saturday. The game sold out a day earlier, even though neither team is ranked and the schools are not traditional rivals.
The zeal for Air Force hockey does not end at the ticket window. Fans know their hockey and are engaged once the puck drops. Cadet Ice Arena isn’t huge, so its smaller scale puts fans closer to the ice.
Cadet Ice Arena is located on an active military installation so visitors must stop at the Academy’s north gate (exit 156 on Interstate 25) for identification checks. Long lines can form but the cadets at the gate move cars through quickly.
Once on the Academy’s grounds, a pleasantly meandering three-mile drive awaits. Parking lots adjacent to Cadet Field House do not require a long walk to the arena. The primary corridor on the arena’s west side has concession stands, restrooms, and the team shop. It’s sufficiently wide that ambulatory coagulation does not occur. Ongoing construction on the east side of the arena has winnowed foot traffic there. All in all, there’s plenty of room to move around – even with a large crowd.
Note that Cadet Field House frequently hosts events other than hockey. Track, swim, and gymnastics meets, and basketball games can all be played in the building. Fans in the ice arena can see the field house’s indoor track through windows at the north end, in fact. This means that bottlenecks can form in places where people don’t like bottlenecks, like parking lots and entrances into buildings.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets won’t consume your savings, as they range from $29 to $39, depending on location. An Air Force hockey ticket sells for significantly less than a ticket to a Colorado Avalanche game and is at the lower end of ticket costs when compared to fellow Front Range college hockey schools University of Denver ($25-$88) and Colorado College ($35-$60).
Not only that, parking is free. Prices at concession stands are average.
Cadet Ice Arena earns a point because it has a promotion called “Space Force Night.” A service academy dedicated to flight has the closest kinship of all the service academies with the United States’ newest military branch.
“The Bird,” Air Force’s costumed human mascot, skates as part of team introductions. Much respect to mascots that skate.
For the 2022-2023 school year, the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy resides in Cadet Ice Arena. That coveted award goes to the football season’s winner of the games played between the Air Force, Navy, and Army. The Falcons defeated both the Midshipmen and the Black Knights in 2022, bringing home the trophy.
Commander in Chief Trophy at Cadet Ice Arena, Photo by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
The Air Force Academy is worth a visit for its beauty and tradition alone. A game at Cadet Ice Arena is a different and fun way to experience the school. The program is consistently competitive and, especially against Army or local rivals Colorado College and the University of Denver, things can get loud in Cadet Ice Arena.