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  • Paul Swaney

Cheel Arena – Clarkson Golden Knights

Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Cheel Arena 8 Clarkson Ave. Potsdam, NY 13676

Year Opened: 1991 Capacity: 4,200


A Golden Night of College Hockey

I crossed the border from Ontario to New York after leaving that morning from Ann Arbor, Michigan and the border guard asked again, “You’ve driven all this way to see a game at Clarkson?” I can understand his skepticism. Three days prior I wasn’t sure exactly where Clarkson was located. Somewhere in either New York or New England, I would have told you.

Well, for the record, Clarkson can be found in Potsdam, New York. It’s a town of about 17,000 founded in 1806 and named after the town of Potsdam in Germany. If you travel to Potsdam, you are either a hardcore fan of hockey or college hockey, or you are following your team on the road.

The Clarkson Golden Knights are one of the 12 teams in the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC). The conference tends to be broken into pairs of teams that are geographically close to one another. This makes weekend travel easier as teams will make one trip, and play two games in two different venues. In this case, the neighboring St Lawrence University Saints are located in Canton, New York, just a 15-minute drive down the road on US-11 at Appleton Arena.

The history of Clarkson hockey runs deep, and you’ll find photos of each team in the school’s history dating back to 1906 along the concourse inside Cheel Arena. Entering the 2013-2014 season, Clarkson has produced 36 All-Americans, participated in 20 NCAA Tournaments, and won 10 ECAC regular season championships. The school has appeared in the National Championship on three occasions but has not yet won a national title.

Dave Taylor, current Vice President of Hockey Operations with the St Louis Blues, is the all-time leading scorer at Clarkson with 251 career points. Taylor went on to 18 illustrious seasons in the NHL. Over the years, Clarkson has also produced six Olympians, and banners hang in their honor on the rafters along with conference titles and national championship appearances.

The Golden Knights men’s and women’s hockey teams play in Cheel Arena, a building that opened in 1991, seating 3,000 fans for hockey. It is a very intimate environment, which helps to demonstrate just how wonderful college hockey can be to see in person.

Food & Beverage 3

Outside of the seating area of the arena, you may consider making a stop in at the Main Street Cafe, where you’ll find a Subway, Smokehouse BBQ, and Main Street Grill burgers. This is the equivalent of a student union, so you’ll find Clarkson students here who may or may not be going to the game, getting some grub to fuel their weekend studies.

Inside the seating area of Cheel Arena, there are three concession stands located in three of the four corners of the open concourse. The food is cheap (both in price and quality). You’ll find hot dogs ($2), pretzels ($2.50), popcorn ($1), and nachos ($2.50). There is also an assortment of baked goods, which may be your best bet if you’re feeling peckish.

Pepsi products are available ($1.75), as are coffee and hot chocolate ($2), or Gatorade ($2). As is the case for most on-campus facilities, there is no alcohol available for sale.

If you want to get a full meal before the game at the arena, then you also have that opportunity. Before every home Clarkson game, there is an all-you-can-eat buffet located in a large room overlooking the ice. The buffet is frequently attended by the players’ out-of-town families, and also fans of visiting teams who know the “secret” to a great meal at the Arena.

Atmosphere 4

When you enter the arena, you are immediately greeted by 13 NHL jerseys worn by former members of the Clarkson Golden Knights. This is the first of many displays along the concourse that helps you appreciate the history of the program, and it sets a nice tone for the visit. You’ll also find a team photo of every squad dating back to 1906 and a wall with photos of each All-American for the men’s and women’s hockey teams.

As you walk around the concourse, you’ll always be able to keep an eye on the ice, a nice feature for those fans who may be too restless to sit still for a game, but want to watch every second. You may also notice the avocado green banks of seats through the seating area. There are individual backs for each, but they appear pretty uncomfortable, especially with no armrests other than on the aisle. Surprisingly though, once you find your seat you’ll find that the legroom is better than average, and the seats are fairly comfortable, although there are no cup holders.

Team benches are on opposite sides of the ice, so if you want to sit near the visiting team side, then choose Section 11. If you want to sit near the home side, then choose Section 25 (and vice versa if you want to be able to face the team you’re rooting for).

Many fans choose to stand around the concourse at the top of the seating areas. It’s a great view of the ice and is popular enough that if this is how you choose to watch the game, then you will likely have to stake out your spot before the puck drops.

What amps up the atmosphere is the pep band, which is one of the best in all of college hockey. They are attentive, and they are talented. I especially enjoy the Oompa Loompa Song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is played every time the referees make a warm-up skate before a period. It is the perfect accompaniment. Beyond that interlude, the band plays more than most pep bands, and it is welcomed by the fans. Not only are they a wonderful pep band, but while the puck is in play, they become the most fervent part of an excellent student section.

There is a center-hung four-sided scoreboard at Cheel Arena, with a pixilated screen. It gives fans the basic information that you would expect at a hockey game. In opposite corners, there are also projection screens that provide live game action. They are an inexpensive way to provide video to the experience but don’t add much for the spectator.

Kudos to the friendly ushers and staff at the ticket window. The ushers are amicable, but also make sure that there isn’t foot traffic in the aisles during games. The person working the ticket window was flexible enough to allow me to purchase a ticket, then refund it when another fan offered me one of theirs.

Neighborhood 4

It’s just over a mile, across the Raquette River, and you’ll be in downtown Potsdam. It’s a nice little town with some restaurants that are worth visiting before or after the game. Between the Buns seems to be a popular destination with a short wait before games on Friday and Saturday nights. They have a good assortment of bar food favorites like wings, ribs, burgers, and sandwiches. There’s also a decent selection of craft beers.

Mama Lucia’s is also nearby if you are in the mood for Italian food before the puck drop. If you like to sample local beers when you travel for sports, then make the drive over to Canton and stop at St Lawrence Brewing Company. They have limited hours, so check their website before you go.

My highest recommendation is to make the five or so-mile drive to 1844 House. They are located about halfway between Potsdam and Canton on US-11 (about a five-minute drive from Cheel Arena). If you are seated between 4:30-5:30, then you can choose from the “Early Dining” menu and get an appetizer, entree, and dessert for only $20. The food is fantastic, and it is one of my favorite restaurants that I have encountered on my travels. It’s perfect timing to make it for a 7 pm hockey game.

Fans 4

A good pep band can make or break a college hockey arena’s overall atmosphere. Not only because the pep band provides the soundtrack for the game, but also because they are often the hardest-core fans of the student section. When you combine a good student section with a good pep band, then you’re in for a treat. When that younger crowd is joined by ardent hockey fans of all ages in the rest of the arena, then you’re in for something special. All that’s good with college hockey is true at Cheel Arena. You will be swept up by the passion and pride of the Golden Knight fans.

Access 3

There is a very large parking lot outside of Cheel Arena, and there is no charge for hockey games. The open concourse makes it easy to get around while still keeping your eye on the hockey game.

The restrooms are clean and large enough to accommodate the Golden Knight faithful.

The Clarkson University campus is easy enough to find along Highway 11. Just turn in when you see the gates for Clarkson and follow the hill up to the athletic complex.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets are very reasonably priced for the great atmosphere you get at Cheel Arena. Reserved seats are $13, and general admission tickets are $10. Clarkson students can get in for free with their ID cards. I know if I were a student at Clarkson, I would be at every game. Be sure to check the schedule to see if the women’s hockey team is playing on the same weekend.

They have an excellent women’s hockey program, making an appearance in the 2014 Frozen Four, and tickets are only $4, or $2 for children. Although the concessions are uninspired, they are also inexpensive, and parking is free, so overall this is a very good value. I would gladly pay more for this overall experience.

Extras 2

One extra point for what may be the best-dressed Zamboni driver I have ever seen, sporting a suit and top hat.

One extra point for having two programs available. One is free and gives you the basics on who is playing and what is going on with the team. It is very well-written and informative. The second program is much more in-depth and makes a nice keepsake for $5.

Final Thoughts

The ECAC is a wonderful hockey conference, and the way that they pair their member schools makes traveling to all of the arenas that much easier for fans. You could easily see every venue in the conference in one season, and it would be well worth your time and effort. The combination of St Lawrence and Appleton Arena, and Clarkson and Cheel Arena makes for an outstanding hockey weekend. If you’re in the area though, and can only attend one venue, then a game at Clarkson’s Cheel Arena is the way to go.

*Additional tips provided by Ray Cramer

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