Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Worcester Ice Center
112 Harding St.
Worcester, MA 01604
Year Opened: 2017
Blades of Worcester
The Blades franchise is the original American-based professional women’s hockey team. Founded in 2010 and based in Boston, the team competed in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and boasted a roster that featured many members of the U.S. Women’s National Team. The team played in consecutive Clarkson Cup Finals from 2013-2015, winning it all in ’13 and ’15.
In 2015 the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was founded, offering greater salaries than the CWHL offered its players. The majority of the USWNT members jumped to the new league, and even worse, to the cross-town Boston Pride, who proceeded to win that league’s inaugural championship. The Blades entered into a tailspin from which they have yet to recover.
In the four seasons since the founding of the rival NWHL began, the Blades have posted a record of 4-91-5 with a goal differential of -407. Obviously, they have failed to make the playoffs in these four seasons. Even worse, they have become nomadic. Over their last three seasons in Boston, the Blades played their home games at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, the Walter Brown Arena in Boston, and the Mike Eruzione Center in Winthrop.
In the summer of 2018 the CWHL announced that the Blades would move to the city of Worcester (pronounced “Woo-STAH” by locals) and play at the new Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center, the practice home of the ECHL’s Worcester Railers.
The new home has been no kinder to the Blades, as they have struggled to a winless, 0-22-0 record with a -122 goal differential thus far in the 2018-19 season.
The Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center is a state of the art dual-rink facility built by Railers’ owner Cliff Rucker. It features two rinks, the Railers offices and pro shop, restaurants, a gym and rehabilitation center. The $18 million dollar complex is home to several college, high school and youth organizations in addition to the Blades and Railers.
Food & Beverage 3
There are a pair of restaurants on the first floor of the Worcester Ice Center, Noona’s Pizza & Pasta and Steam Energy Café, which sells a selection of acai bowls, smoothies, green bowls, sandwiches and more. Both offer sit-down dining, and in a neat touch, Noona’s has a walk-up window in the lobby where fans can grab a quick slice during intermission. Unfortunately, both places will be closed after a night game, and if attending a game on Sunday, both restaurants are closed.
If you come on a Sunday, or if you are looking for something simpler, there are vending machines throughout the Worcester Ice Center featuring local Polar brand beverages and assorted snacks.
A Worcester Blades game features a simple, basic presentation, as you would expect in a small rink such as this. The Worcester Ice Center features a new, crystal-clear sound system which is well-utilized during play stoppages. There is a small dot-matrix scoreboard hanging at center ice. The team runs a 50/50 raffle and sells assorted souvenirs at a table in the lobby.
What the fans who show up to root for the Blades lack in sheer numbers, they make up for with enthusiasm. Many of the fans in attendance have a personal connection with the players on the ice, and are huge fans of the game. Outstanding plays on both sides are appreciated.
Located in Worcester’s Canal District right off of Interstate 290, the Ice Center is located in a neighborhood that will look drastically different in a few years. The Pawtucket Red Sox will be building their new ballpark in the area in time for the 2021 season. At the moment, while there are some bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the Ice Center, it’s not what you would consider a destination location in this up and coming city-yet.
Fans looking for a place to eat after a Blades game can head to the Compass Tavern right across the street from the Ice Center, or to one of the several taverns in the neighborhood. Buck’s Whiskey and Burger Bar and local favorite Wormtown Brewery are a short drive away. For visiting fans looking for some variety, Shrewsbury Street is located close to the Ice Center. Shrewsbury Street’s famous “Restaurant Row” contains 1.5 miles of some of the city’s finest restaurants ranging from fine dining to casual bistros, neighborhood bars to nightclubs, salons to shopping.
The CWHL does not release attendance figures, so pinning down an actual figure can be problematic. An average Blades crowd numbers between 100-200 fans. Many of the fans in attendance have a personal connection to the players on the ice, and do not lack for enthusiasm or knowledge.
The Worcester Ice Center is located right off of Interstate 290, and easy to get to, unless your GPS sends you there via the most confusing, potentially dangerous intersection there is in existence, Kelly Square. Kelly Square, where several of Worcester’s busiest streets all come together in the most random fashion possible, is notorious for its delays, backups and accidents. It is located a short three blocks from the Ice Center. As part of the new Polar Park project, it is scheduled for a long-overdue redesign.
The Worcester Ice Center is only two years old, and still has a lot of that “new-arena” shine to it. This community center features two Ice sheets, named the Blue and the Gray rinks, after the Railers’ colors. Fans enter at ground floor, where the restaurants, lobby and locker rooms are located. With the facility in constant use, this lobby is full of activity. The Blades will have a table set up here with tickets and souvenirs for sale.
Fans will climb a set of stairs, where the entrances to the two rinks, as well as the Strength Training and Physical Therapy Center are located. The Blades play at the Gray rink, located on the right.
Seating is located about eight feet above the ice surface, and consists of metal bleachers without backs that run most of the length of the ice. There is a raised platform at the far corner of the rink for people wanting to stand for a bit. Netting runs the length of the ice, obstructing the view from all seats.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for Blades games cost $17, with free parking in the Ice Center parking lot. You may spend a bit more if you decide to pair the game with a meal at Noona’s or Steam Energy Café, but both are affordable options for visiting hockey fans.
The Worcester Ice Center has a display in the lobby honoring the Worcester Six, a group of firefighters who perished in the line of duty while fighting a blaze in 1999.
An extra point is awarded for the building of the facility, which filled a huge void in the Worcester hockey community. Constantly in use, the city has embraced the presence of the Railers and their ties to the community.
On-ice struggles aside, the presence of the Worcester Blades has been a most welcome addition to the city’s sports scene. The Worcester Ice Center has become the focal point of the city’s hockey scene, used by everyone from pee-wee teams to local high schools and colleges to the Blades and Railers. Here is to hoping the Blades can straighten out their on-ice difficulties and become a fixture in Central Massachusetts for years to come.