Houston Field House - RPI Engineers
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Houston Field House
1900 Peoples Ave.
Troy, NY 12180
Year Opened: 1949
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute played hockey as far back as 1901, but it was World War II that may have had the biggest influence on the NCAA hockey program. As part of the Veterans Educational Facilities Program where the United States military sold off various pieces of war surplus equipment and other assets, RPI would get in on the action. Led by RPI president Dr. Livingston Houston, the Troy, New York engineering school would purchase a Navy Warehouse located in Davisville, Rhode Island.
The building was deconstructed and shipped to Troy and reassembled on campus. That warehouse became the Houston Field House, the current home of the RPI Engineers hockey program. The doors opened on the new facility in 1949 and the rest is history. At one point, the Houston Field House was the main civic arena for the Albany area and would even host the 1959 Frozen Four.
RPI has a long history in college hockey. Playing in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), essentially the Ivy League of college hockey, RPI has enjoyed National Championships in 1954 and 1985 as well as graduated several players to the NHL including Hockey Hall of Fame member Adam Oates. RPI is similar to several other programs where the hockey team plays at Division I and the other programs play at Division III. A trip to see the Rensselaer Engineers will bring a smile to the face of fans who love the uniqueness and coziness of College Hockey.
Food & Beverage 3
Houston Field House does not have an exemplary culinary scene. There is one simple concession that serves pretzels, chicken tenders, curly fries, hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, and popcorn. Soft drinks of choice are Pepsi products and bottled water and coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are also available. There is a Ben and Jerry’s stand on the opposite side of the arena for those wanting a little something extra, and several vending machines around the arena. A private club sits at the west end of the arena and it appears, food-wise anyway, membership has its privileges.
Considering the Houston Field House is a former military warehouse, the exterior of the arena is quite attractive. The main entrance is on the west side of the building and features a rounded entry with bay windows at the top that leads into a small atrium where the ticket windows can be found. Passing through the second set of doors in the atrium, fans are brought right into the concourse to the west side of the ice, behind the net. It is immediately noticeable that the floor is higher than the ice surface, which although may be trivial at best, does give the fan a feeling that there is something slightly different here.
With an interior very much like the North Bay Memorial Gardens, the Houston Field House feels long and compact and the aesthetics of the concourses are a secondary concern at best. The east side of the arena is open and houses the Zambonis and other maintenance items for the arena. Although there is a long, blue curtain on the east side, little effort is done to hide these items. With no seats behind the east glass behind the net, a long “Engineers” sign is on the glass. A unique feature.
RPI does what it can to make the Houston Field House as homey as possible. Several murals depict great Engineer moments in hockey as well as large team pictures of the 1954 and 1985 National Championship teams. The exterior of the private club boasts a huge number of photos of former Engineers who have gone on to play professional hockey including Brad Tapper, Marty Dahlman, Darren Puppa, and Kevin Constantine to name a few. In the rafters, above the ice, banners proudly hang for NCAA tournament appearances, ECAC Championships, and the 1954 and 1985 National Championship banners.
At the east end of the arena banners honoring players and coaches who have provided a significant contribution to the program hang. These include Joe Juneau, Frank Chiarelli, Bob Brinkworth, John Carter, Jerry Knightley, Adam Oates, and coaches Ned Harkness and Garry Kearns. The video board that hangs at centre ice does the job but will not blow fans away.
The seating area is fairly straightforward and the higher fans sit, the more likely the massive beams running east to west will interfere with the view. The west end looks to have been renovated at some point as the corners are rounded in the seating area. The east end of the north and south side seats are not great for the view and should be avoided.
Pillars in each of the four corners hold up the large beams and should be considered when choosing seats. Many of the red or blue seats in the Houston Field House are wooden and a definite throwback to a past era. Fans who want the perfect center ice picture with the logo should sit on the north side of the arena.
The gameday production at RPI is what one would expect for college hockey. The pep band is great and they play throughout the game from the top of the northeast corner of the arena. Students in attendance are normally found around the band. The Rensselaer mascot, Puckman, can be found traversing the crowd throughout. On an Engineers goal, a member of the band runs the entire perimeter of the arena carrying an RPI flag and getting high fives from all who are passed.
The Houston Field House is located on the east side of the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute near the rest of the school’s athletic facilities. The immediate neighborhood of the arena does not offer much in the way of pre and post-game libations. Heading west, towards the Hudson River to downtown Troy is a much better option. Their fans can find several good options including Brown's Brewing Company, the Whistling Kettle, The Ruck, Nighthawk, Sea Smoke, and the Stadium Journey favorite, Dinosaur BBQ.
As far as other sports go, the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League is also located in Troy. However, nearby Schenectady and Albany offer other options. The Union Dutchman are rivals of the Engineers and they play at Achilles Center in Schenectady. The Albany Firewolves of the National Lacrosse League are found at MVP Arena and Siena Saints and Albany Great Danes basketball are also in the Tri-City area.
Fans wishing to stay in Troy can try the Hilton or the Best Western Franklin Square.
The Engineers enjoy a solid fanbase in the ECAC. For the 2022-2023 season, RPI has averaged over 2,000 fans per game. Compared to other programs, that is in the top 4 in the conference. Still, under 50 percent capacity, there is plenty of room to grow. The fans that are in attendance are loud and engaged and bring that college hockey atmosphere to the game. The band leads the students in fan participation and RPI fans declare how each player “sucks” from the opponent when they are introduced. A humorous tradition at RPI comes during an opponent’s penalty where the fans belt out that the offending player “sucks” and is receiving two minutes for “sucking.”
RPI is located on the east side of Troy. It is easily accessible from Highway 7 from the north and Highway 4 from the east. There is parking available in the general area of the athletic facilities, but the terrain is not overly flat, and getting from Houston Field House to where parking is in the east can be a trek. For those fans wanting to take public transit to the game, some buses run on Peoples Dr to the south and Burdett Ave to the west. Fans should check out the Capital District Transportation Authority website for fares, maps, and schedules.
Getting around the Houston Field House can be tight. The concourses that run under the grandstands are not very wide and the arena is not accessible for the entire 360 degrees. The seating is fairly old, with wooden seats, however, they are plenty wide enough. The washroom facilities are good for a small crowd but would be taxed with a big group.
Return on Investment 4
NCAA hockey has tremendous value. Tickets for the Engineers go for $15 each with discounts for kids and seniors. There is a $3 surcharge for games that are considered premium. Concession prices are good and parking can be found for free. As for the product on the ice, RPI provides a decent team. The gameday atmosphere is excellent and a whole lot of fun when combined with the band, students, and the uniqueness that is NCAA hockey.
An extra mark for the Big Red Freakout. It is the biggest game of the year and essentially part event and part reunion. Students camp out to get tickets and it has put RPI on the hockey map. An extra mark for the part of the Harlem Shake video being recorded at Houston Field House. An extra mark for the tremendously unique history of the Houston Field House and its origins as a military warehouse.
There seems to be something special about a Division III school that plays Division I hockey and the Rensselaer Engineers fit the bill. The Houston Field House is a unique facility, with a tremendous history that hockey fans should take in. Troy is the place to be for some Saturday night RPI hockey!