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  • Steve Ohnsman

Harry W. Lawson Ice Arena – Western Michigan Broncos

Photos by Steve Ohnsman, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

Harry W. Lawson Ice Arena

1903 W Michigan Ave

Kalamazoo, MI 49008

Year Opened: 1974

Capacity: 3,667


Free Tickets for Students or a New Kitchen for the Coach’s Wife

The students who attend Western Michigan University hockey games at Lawson Ice Arena are affectionately known as the “Lawson Lunatics” and visiting teams and their coaches know that they will face an additional challenge due to the Lunatics.

Normally students are allowed free to all games, but with an NCHS sanction three-game series, head coach Andy Murray recently announced that he would buy all the student tickets for game two, allowing the Lunatics to enter the game, provided they bought a ticket for game one. Murray added that his wife kind of wanted a new kitchen, but he would rather invest it in the Lunatics.

There has not been a lot that has changed at Lawson in recent years, but that’s arguably a good thing. The 3,667-seat capacity ice arena opened in 1974, adjacent is the Gabel Natatorium which is home to the university’s swimming team that is also shared with the Kalamazoo community.

The arena was named after Harry W. Lawson, a professor at Western Michigan who organized and founded the club hockey team in 1956, which eventually became the school’s varsity team. The arena itself has gone through a series of renovations in 1993, 1997, 1998, 2006, 2013, and 2016.

The latest renovations included new boards and glass, a new ice making system, and an overhaul of the ventilation system that has allowed the arena to become LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Lawson is the oldest and second smallest arena in its conference, but the general atmosphere is exciting and all the fans are into the game. Some of those exciting years include six appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two conference championships.

Food & Beverage 3

The main concession stands in the exterior concourse near the main entrance offer standard fare such as $4 hot dogs, $5 Italian sausages, $6 cheeseburgers, $7 barbecue chicken sandwiches, and traditional sides. The arena offers Pepsi products for $2 or $4 and $3 Water Street coffee. The small “NUTS 4 NUTS” stand sells almonds and cashews.

Atmosphere 4

It is amazing what a 20-member student pep band and a few hundred Lawson Lunatics can bring to the arena. They are clever, inventive, and a slightly naughty group of students who cheer and make the atmosphere fun and lively.

A well-sized concourse surrounds most of the ice and fans can enjoy the action anywhere in the house. Plastic seats with backs are located behind one goal and traditional bleacher seats with backs fill the remaining seating options.

The legroom is a little tight and there are no cup holders. There are great sight lines for fans who like to be on top of the action, but be aware that overhead netting can affect viewing from the higher rows.

A four-sided scoreboard located over the center ice gives fans statistical information and the clock. There are also video screens located in three of the four corners that provide great replays.

The history of WMU hockey is depicted with NHL hockey jerseys of players who started at Lawson and were later drafted. There are banners displayed overhead reflecting league champions and NCAA appearances.

Neighborhood 4

Lawson Arena is just west of the WMU main campus with many restaurants, breweries, and bars nearby.

The cities of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids appear to be battling each other for the title “Craft Beer Capital of Michigan.” Local options include One Well Brewing, Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, Final Gravity, Latitude 42, and Arcadia Brewing.

Nearby University Roadhouse and Bruno’s Pizza are good choices, while Ray Ray’s Italian Beef and Sausage on Miller Road offers great food at low prices. The Old Goat Tavern has inventive burgers and draft beer choices.

A newly remodeled Delta Hotel by Marriott is west of campus on US 131. The downtown area offers several well-rated Bed and Breakfast choices and there are other lodging alternatives on major highways surrounding the city.

Fans 4

Overall, it seems that the WMU hockey fans are into the game and are invested in the product on the ice. There is a good mix of alumni, families, students, and hockey fans that make the event a lot of fun. Interestingly, there are more WMU students attending hockey games than men’s basketball. The average attendance for much of the current 2018-19 season is 3,167 fans per game.

Music is played throughout the game, but most likely due to acoustics, it is hard to hear the PA announcer. A gentleman named Bill Saunders is in charge of one of the penalty boxes; as he walks across the ice, the Lunatics greet him with a chant of “Sexy Senior.”

Access 4

At Stadium Journey, we like the word “free,” as in free parking and free programs. This is the case at the Lawson Arena for hockey games. Multiple parking lots are within reasonable walking distance and physically challenged fans are well accommodated with parking and seating. Restrooms and concessions are crowded between periods, it is advised to leave a few seconds early to beat the rush.

Return on Investment 4

Bench and chair back seats go for $23, while Family Zone tickets behind both goals are $15. Concession prices are very reasonable, and when you include free parking and a free program, the ROI is very fair on anyone’s budget.

Extras 4

A point is awarded to the WMU Pep Band – they are a lot of fun to listen to and watch. Another point goes to the Lawson Lunatics and their creative cheers supporting their team and deriding the opponents.

A third point for the respect for team history around the arena is lots of individual photos along with the jerseys and banners. The fourth point is for the friendly, courteous staff that’s always ready to help fans with any questions.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a devoted hockey fan or a sports fan curious to know what college hockey is like, you will have a good time at Lawson Arena. For fans visiting Kalamazoo for the first time, you will find lots to do and see.

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