Photos by Gregory Koch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Piney Orchard Ice Arena 8781 Piney Orchard Parkway Odenton, MD 21113
Year Opened: n/a
Bear with the Bears
The Maryland Black Bears play in the North American Hockey League, in Tier II of the junior hockey system in the United States. The Black Bears play their home games at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, a 500-seat municipal ice rink located in Odenton. Although the building also includes several other rinks which are open to the public when games are not going on, the Black Bears always play on Rink One, the main arena.
Food & Beverage 4
There is one concession stand to the right of the main entrance which has a varied selection. The best option is buffalo wings from local vendor The Great Butcher, which are six for $8 and also include free fries. Other meal options include cheesesteak for $9, hot dogs for $5 (add $1 each for chili and cheese), cheese pizza slices ($3.50), mozzarella sticks ($7), and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches ($6.)
Snack options include fries ($4, or $6 with cheese), candy ($2), Pringles ($4), and funnel cake ($7.) Drinks include soda ($2.50 for a small or $3.50 for a large), bottled water ($1.50), Red Bull ($3.50), coffee ($2), and Gatorade ($2.50). Alcohol is sold at the stand, with beer ranging from $4-$5 and wine also costing $5.
Although the prices are a bit high for this level, the selection is impressive.
Black Bears games have an amazing atmosphere from before they start right through until they end. Pregame introductions involve fancy spotlight shows and players running through a title of youth players.
One of the more unique traditions in junior hockey is the fish toss. After the Black Bears score their first goal, fans throw rubber fish onto the ice through a large opening in the net. These fish are free each game to season ticketholders and sold for $1 each to everyone else. After everyone throws the fish, the team’s mascot, a black bear named Bruno, will skate onto the ice and scoop them up in a net.
The team keeps the fans engaged in other ways as well such as music during timeouts and a “Get Up and Dance Media Timeout” which the fans really seem to enjoy. Although it’s not an actual dance cam due to the lack of video board, it’s just as fun without one.
As for the arena itself, all seats are uncomfortable concrete risers with no backs that can be painful to sit in by the end of the night. There is one scoreboard in the stadium which shows only basic information such as score, time, and any active penalties.
Piney Orchard Ice Arena is located right next to the actual Piney Orchard. While the nature preserve there is scenic and can be fun for a family day out, that’s about the only thing in the immediate vicinity of the arena. If you’re looking for something other than nature trails and duck ponds or want to do something at night it’s closed to the public, you will need to head up Piney Orchard Parkway to Annapolis Road. There are a number of restaurants there ranging from high end steakhouses to sports bars to Italian eateries. However, this will involve driving several miles just to get there.
Black Bears games usually sell out or come close and the fans are extremely loud and passionate. Many of them are season ticket holders and go to most or all of the games, but you also get some fans who are checking out the team for the first time. Between the large crowds and the small rink, it can get surprisingly loud here at times. Although the Black Bears rank towards the bottom of the NAHL in attendance, that is misleading because they have one of the smallest arenas in the league. They simply can’t get the thousands of fans a night that some teams get because the arena holds only a fraction of that.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you will need to take either the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Interstate 97, or U.S. Route 50. Regardless of how you get here, you will need to do several miles of driving on local roads. Once you get there, the lot next to the arena is pretty small. Although you may have a hard time parking if you wait until right before the game to arrive, in an interesting twist, you may also have a hard time parking if you arrive before doors open in an attempt to give yourself enough time. This is because this is a municipal rink, and there is often a public session, youth hockey practice, or other event before the Black Bears take the ice. If that hasn’t cleared out yet, you may still have a difficult time parking despite allotting plenty of time.
There is a set of restrooms located under the bleachers, but getting around that narrow passageway can be difficult if it gets crowded. The area near the entrance that includes the concession stand, team store, several tables, and the stairs to the bleachers can also get congested and make walking around difficult.
Although the lines at concession stands can get long during intermissions, they move quickly.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets start at just $9 for sideline tickets on the side the Black Bears defend twice. On the attacking side, tickets go up to $12, while tickets at center ice are just $15. There is a $2 discount for military members. Parking is free, and while concessions are somewhat pricey, the value elsewhere makes up for it.
One star for the fish toss, one of the more unique traditions in sports.
A second for the free roster sheets available at the entrance on the front table.
A third and final star for the Black Bears’ loyal group of fans who crowd the rink every night.
There are many instances of a low-level sporting venue being too big for the crowd it holds. Piney Orchard Ice Arena is the rare instance (at this level) of a venue being too small for the crowds. Although the atmosphere at a Black Bears game is impressive as is, and a visit is definitely worthwhile, it would be even better if they could pack a couple thousand fans in here rather than just a few hundred. They’re definitely capable of drawing those crowds, they just don’t have any place to put them.