Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Gene Polisseni Center 200 Lomb Memorial Dr Henrietta, NY 14623
Year Opened: 2014
Canadian Tigers in Rochester
A glance at the roster of the hockey team for the NCAA’s Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers will reveal something that may be a bit surprising … it is distinctly Canadian.
The vast majority of players on the school’s only NCAA Division I team are Canadian imports. Is it then possible for an NCAA Ice Hockey experience to compete with hockey experiences north of the border? Absolutely. Playing Division I since 2006, RIT has become a solid program in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, earning Conference Championships in 2010, 2015, and 2016 and tournament championships in 2010.
The culmination of RIT hockey success was when they competed in the semi-final of the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit’s Ford Field. The Tigers have also earned Division II and Division III National Championships. With the growing success of the RIT hockey program came the need for a new facility. In 2014 the Tigers moved out of their longtime home, the Frank Ritter Center, and into their sparkling new, on-campus home, the Gene Polisseni Center.
Named after the business partner in Paychex of former Buffalo Sabres owner, Tom Golisano, the Gene Polisseni Center was made possible with a $4.5 million donation from the Polisseni Foundation. The Gene Polisseni is clean and crisp with a distinct shock of orange and provides a solid NCAA hockey experience, no matter who is on the ice.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions at the Gene Polisseni Center are pretty good. All of the expected items are available with a few additions that bump up the experience slightly. At the main concession stands popcorn ($3), nachos, candy, hot dogs ($4), burgers, chicken fingers, and fries are all available.
Some of the portable stands offer items that are a little more interesting that may be a spot to stop. Local favorites Perry’s Ice Cream, Tater Tots, and Boneless Wings can all be found throughout the arena.
Soft drink options are Coca-Cola products. Other soft drink options include hot chocolate, coffee, and bottled water. As a college venue, there is no alcohol available for the most part, however, there is beer available in the Alumni Loft.
Being built in just 2014, the Gene Polisseni Center offers a strong atmosphere with a building that was designed specifically for college hockey. Keeping in mind that RIT hockey is the centerpiece of the RIT athletics program, the Gene Polisseni Center is the proper venue for their most high-profile sport. The exterior of the Gene Polisseni Center is attractive and modern looking with a significant glass atrium at the front and a mix of brown brick and silver siding.
The main entrance leads fans through the main atrium. Spacious and bright, the atrium houses the RIT Athletics hall of fame as well as the trophy case. Fans should look for the 2010 NCAA Hockey Semi-Finalist trophy which commemorates the Tigers’ most significant season on the ice.
Upon entering the seating bowl, fans are greeted with the north-south oriented ice surface and a bright, clean-looking atmosphere. The 360-degree concourse behind the seating bowl gives fans a full view of the ice surface even as they walk around, except on the west side, where fans must walk behind the luxury boxes. On the north side of the arena, fans will find the National Championship banners from when the Tigers were in Division II and Division III as well as the 2010 Frozen Four banner.
The west side features team banners from the Atlantic Hockey Conference as well as Conference and tournament championship banners. All around the concourse, there are items to keep the wandering mind interested. Team pictures from every Tigers team back to the sixties are on the Tradition of Excellence board. There are also pictures of Tigers in the NHL and Nationally Recognized Tigers. If that is not enough, there are several informative displays on all aspects of the RIT program.
The seating bowl features general admission benches and club seats with chair backs. There are very nice video boards at each of the ends behind the nets. The best spot to get that picture with the center ice logo is from the east side.
The game day experience at RIT is a very good one. The game is very well-produced and a solid balance between PA music and the pep band exists. The band sits at the south end of the arena, right beside one of the more interesting aspects of this college hockey experience, The Corner Crew, which is further explored in the Fans section. The Tigers enter the ice to the typical Buffalo fog horn and “Eye of the Tiger.”
The mascot, Ritchie moves throughout the arena, interacting with fans and aiding in the promotional items that one would expect at similar experiences.
The Gene Polisseni Center is located on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta, New York, southwest of Rochester. Being on campus, it is probably best to head out in the car for pre or post-game food options.
Just north of campus, on Jefferson Road, fans can find several recognizable franchise restaurants. For something a little more original, fans could consider Lucci’s Pizza & Grill or the Texas Bar-B-Q Joint. However, the crown jewels of the area are probably found in Rochester proper, which is the home of the Garbage Plate, Genesee Beer, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
For other entertainment options, fans will want to vacate Henrietta and head for Rochester. The Strong National Museum of Play is fantastic for fans of all ages and features a working, old-school, video game arcade. Fans should also consider the George Eastman Museum.
For other sporting options, Rochester remains the place to be with AHL hockey and NLL lacrosse played at the Blue Cross Arena, home of the Rochester Americans and Rochester Knighthawks respectively. Also, the nicer weather brings out the Rochester Red Wings of the International League who play at Frontier Field.
Fans looking for places to stay should consider heading to the airport area where there are several hotels including the Holiday Inn and Radisson.
The RIT Tigers enjoy a very solid following, especially when compared to other programs in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. In the 2017-2018 season, the Tigers are averaging over 3,100 fans per game, which is not too far from what they have averaged in the previous two seasons. When compared to other NCAA programs RIT consistently ranks in the mid-twenties and ranks 23rd in 2017-2018.
The Tigers feature a group known as the Corner Crew at their home games. Unlike a typical college hockey experience, the Corner Crew is not just a student section but acts more akin to a support group that would be found supporting a soccer team. Members include students, alumni and faculty, and staff. They bring extra energy to the game and come with their own set of chants and songs.
The Gene Polisseni is located at the southern end of the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The campus is located in Henrietta, New York, east of the Genesee River and southwest of Rochester. It is west of I-390, the Genesee Expressway, and north of I-90. Getting to campus is not difficult by car. There is also plenty of parking on campus that can be found for free but may require a bit of a campus walk to get to the arena.
For fans interested in public transportation, some buses travel along Andrews Memorial Drive, which encircles the campus. Check the Rochester Transportation Services website for schedules, fares, and maps.
The ticketing windows are found in the main atrium and lines move quickly. Moving around the arena is not difficult at all and the washroom facilities are adequate for a venue of this size.
Return on Investment 5
As with most NCAA hockey experiences, there is great value in attending an RIT Tigers hockey game. Tickets for the Tigers run from $35 for club seats to $15 for reserved seating and $12 for general admission. There are discounts also for youth.
With a small capacity of under 6,000 and terrific sightlines throughout the arena, the majority of fans will be more than happy with a reserved seat. Such a small investment is balanced with a tremendous fan experience and a consistently competitive team on the ice. There is not much more that can be done to maximize the experience for the dollar.
An extra mark for the continued success of the RIT hockey program, moving up the ladder from Division III to Division I and finding success at all levels. An extra mark for the unique nature of the Corner Crew, threatening to change the way college hockey is consumed.
An extra mark for the acknowledgment of the Canadian National Anthem for RIT games, when technically no Canadian teams are playing No doubt, this is due to the significant Canadian content on the Tigers’ roster An extra mark for building what may be the perfect college venue for a program the size of RIT.
A trip to Henrietta to see the RIT Tigers is an excellent experience that college hockey fans should consider undertaking. Although probably not considered a bucket list venue, even among college hockey die-hards, the Gene Polisseni Center more than meets the expectations of the hockey fan and is easily competitive with other college hockey venues. As a Canadian hockey fan, the Canadian content on the roster is a bonus.