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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Lawler Rink - Merrimack Warriors

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

J. Thom Lawler Rink 315 Turnpike Rd. North Andover, MA 01845

Year Opened: 1972

Capacity: 2,549


Laying down the Law

Merrimack College is a private Augustinian college in the Boston suburb of North Andover. Founded in 1947 by the order of St. Augustine to educate soldiers returning from World War II, the school now boasts an enrollment of almost 5,500 students in 13 academic programs. Among Merrimack’s alumni is Charlie Day, best known for his role in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Hockey has been played at Merrimack College since 1956. For almost three decades the team competed in Division II, winning a national championship in 1978 and finishing as national runners-up in 1984. After this second-place finish the school leaped to the Division One level, later joining the prestigious Hockey East Conference in 1989.

The Merrimack Warriors hockey team plays at the J. Thom Lawler Rink at the S. Peter Volpe Athletic Center. The rink is named after J. Thom Lawler, one of the winningest coaches in Warriors history. Mr. Lawler died in 1978 at the age of 44 just months after coaching the team to the inaugural Division II National Championship. Lawler Rink is part of a larger athletic complex, which is named after Merrimack College board of trustee member and benefactor S. Peter Volpe, whose construction company also built the McQuaid Library on campus. Also contained in the Volpe Complex is Hammel Court, home of Merrimack’s basketball and volleyball teams.

Beginning in 2019 Merrimack began transitioning all its athletic teams to the Division One level. They will be full D-I members in the 2023-24 season. The Warriors have qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice, in 1988 and 2011. Fourteen Merrimack alumni have played in the National Hockey League.

Food & Beverage 3

There is a single concession stand in the main lobby of the Volpe Complex which serves a limited menu. Hot dogs, sausage and pepper sandwiches (a plant-based version is available upon request), nachos, assorted snacks, and ice cream novelties are available here.

Pepsi products are featured at Lawler Rink. There is a table set up where visiting fans can purchase beer and wine should they want an adult beverage. Blue Moon, Rarefied Air by Fiddlehead Brewery, and Downeast Cider are available on draft.

Where the Volpe Complex really earns its Food and Beverage score with the presence of a full-service Dunkin’ store in the main lobby. It’s not unusual to see many fans enjoying a signature coffee during a Warriors game.

Here’s a Stadium Journey insider’s tip: if you happen to be attending during an especially crowded game and want to avoid the lines at the main concession stand, there is a smaller concession stand in the “secret” rear lobby in between the hockey rink and basketball court. It’s not always open, but it’s a nice find when it is.

Atmosphere 3

The intimate size of Lawler Rink has created a significant home-ice advantage for the Warriors over the years. The low ceiling and capacity crowd both creates and holds the noise in and Merrimack teams have taken full advantage of this intimidating atmosphere over the years.

The game day presentation is dominated by the huge video board located at the far end of the rink. This board contains game stats, replays, graphics, and advertisements. All the other elements you’ve come to expect at a college hockey game can be found here, including the loud student section, pep band, and mites playing during intermission.

During introductions and after goals Lawler Rink is bathed in blue and yellow light. The PA announcer does a nice job keeping things moving, even though his voice is somewhat muddled by a sub-par sound system. It can be hard to understand what he is saying during the game.

Neighborhood 3

Merrimack College is located in North Andover, Massachusetts, a town of over 31,000 located 24 miles north of Boston. North Andover is your typical bedroom community, with plenty of shops and restaurants for locals, but nothing that would classify the town as a “must-see” destination. Route 114 near campus is packed with shops along its entirety towards 495.

Most fans visiting the area from out of town are going to head to the bright lights of Boston. Fans looking to avoid the big city price tags of Boston will find no shortage of dining and lodging options within a few miles of the Merrimack campus. Holiday Inn Express would be the closest to campus. Among the local dining options, Bertucci’s Pizza and The Friendly Toast draw big crowds on game nights. If looking for more of a sit-down experience, Burton’s Grill and Bar is a popular place for a pre-or post-game meal.

Fans 4

Merrimack’s average attendance of just over 2,500 fans per game thus far in the 2022-23 season may not look that impressive at first glance but consider this: Lawler Rink seats only 2.549 fans. The Warriors have filled Lawler to over 95% capacity this season. Even down years for attendance have produced crowds of over 80% capacity. Warrior fans are not just butts in seats, either. Fans in this part of the country are crazy about hockey and more specifically, crazy about having a top-level team they can call their own.

The student section is regularly packed with crazed Merrimack students, with plenty of locals mixed in throughout Lawler Arena. Youth teams show up decked out in their jerseys adding to the noise and energy of this small barn.

Access 3

The city of Boston dubs itself “The Hub of Hockey”, and when talking about college hockey, it’s hard to dispute this fact. There are 12 Division One hockey teams within an hour’s drive of Boston.

The Merrimack campus in North Andover is well within that radius, located 25 miles from the city just off Interstate 495. Fans traveling from Boston can reach the Merrimack Campus by taking Interstate 93 to Route 125, or Interstate 495 to Route 114. Driving is the easiest way to access the Merrimack campus, but for fans using public transportation, there is an MBTA train that stops at the Andover station. Once in Andover, the Warrior Shuttle offers service to points around town.

Once at the Merrimack College campus, free parking is available in several lots a short walk from the Volpe Complex. After passing through a security check, fans will enter a bright and large lobby, where the ticket offices, bookstore, Dunkin’ Donuts, concession stands, and restrooms are located.

Fans will enter the rink on either side of the ice, where walkways lead the length of the ice. All seats at Lawler Rink are individual plastic stadium seats, except for the student section, which is made up of bleachers. Lawlor Rink’s small size ensures great views of the action from all seats. Be warned that the walkways at Lawler Rink are located at the bottom of the seating bowl, so views of the action may be obstructed by passing fans if sitting in the first couple of rows. Choose seats a few rows up for better views of the action.

The restrooms are new, clean, and spacious. Lines are minimal even during intermission. Remember the “secret” lobby mentioned earlier? There are additional restrooms here in addition to a snack bar and the Merrimack Athletic Hall of Fame.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets to Merrimack hockey games cost $16 for reserved seats, with center ice sections priced at $20. Discounts are available for youths and seniors. Parking is free in the lots near the Volpe Complex. Concessions are a bit on the high side but in line with other local venues. A night at a Merrimack hockey game is a most affordable entertainment option for local hockey fans.

Extras 2

An extra point is awarded for the combination of a full-sized Dunkin’ Donuts and a full-sized bookstore attached to the front lobby. DD is a staple in New England, and fans needing a coffee or pastry will find anything they need here and can bring it into the arena.

The Merrimack Athletic Hall of Fame is located in the Volpe Complex and is open for fans to check out during game days. An extra point for Merrimack’s efforts to raise all its programs to Division One, with much early success.

Final Thoughts

Tiny Merrimack College may seem out of place in the Hockey East Conference alongside the hockey giants of New England, but this little school with big ambitions finds itself nationally ranked well into the 2022-23 season. Lawler Arena is a small rink that provides the Warriors with a big home-ice advantage.


Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.

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