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  • Dylan McLean

Riverside Arena - Austin Bruins


Photos by Dylan McLean, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Riverside Arena 500 Fourth Ave NE Austin, MN 55912

Year Opened: 1976 Capacity: 2,500

 

Friday Night Lights in Austin

No, this isn’t another piece highlighting the fanfare of high school football in Texas. The sport here is Tier II Junior hockey, and this “Austin” can be found about 1,000 miles north of the one in Texas.  Austin, MN is home to the Austin Bruins of the NAHL, a league whose rapid growth in recent years will see its number of member clubs grow to 35 in the Fall of 2024.

The Bruins debuted as an NAHL expansion team in the 2010-2011 season, playing games out of Riverside Arena in downtown Austin, which they share with the local High School and youth hockey teams.  Junior hockey in Austin dates to the 1970s when the Austin Mavericks of the MidjHL (and later, the USHL) also called Riverside Arena home.

Food & Beverage 3

Riverside Arena has one concession stand run by the Austin Youth Hockey Association, and it has the traditional hockey arena fare and prices that one would expect.  Along with assorted candies, the concession stand sells hot dogs, brats, pretzels, and even ramen, all priced at $3.50 or less.  The few “higher end” items available are $4.50 pizza slices, walking tacos for $5, and for those with a bigger appetite and open to spending a few more bucks, Loaded Nachos sell for $7. 


Non-alcoholic beverage options include Coca-Cola products, coffee, tea, cappuccino, and bottled water, along with the one beverage required by any facility that dares to call it a Hockey Arena, Hot Chocolate.


One thing that’s not available when the local Peewees are on the ice but is for sale during Bruins games, is alcoholic beverages.  In addition to tap beer for $4, Bruins fans looking to imbibe can also purchase a glass of chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon for $4, in addition to several choices of “hard” canned beverages such as Beast and Carbliss.  Lastly, for those who want to ensure their cup stays filled for the duration of the game, 10 packs of Fireball or a Dr. McGillicuddy’s Variety pack, are on the menu for $35 each. 


Despite having a relatively standard hockey arena menu (other than the alcoholic drinks), Bruins fans seem eager to eat it up, literally.  Despite the staff doing a good job filling orders and keeping people moving, there remains a line at the concession stand throughout nearly the entire game.


Atmosphere 5

During my visit, this is the area where Austin shined, giving their team a big home-ice advantage. The game I attended was on a Friday night, and although I arrived in plenty of time for puck drop, I found the arena parking lot already full which was a good sign right off the bat. Riverside Arena is a classic hockey barn like many found throughout Minnesota, and due to the fan support and the in-game production put on by the Bruins, it feels like you’ve entered the heartbeat of the town.


There’s little doubt that Bruins games are happening in Austin, as witnessed by a capacity crowd of fans filling the stands on both sides of the ice.  At game time the lights dropped and a light show, complete with a disco ball, commenced to welcome the Bruins to the ice.  With Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba blaring through the P.A., the team hit the ice, bringing their flag-waving Bruins fans to their feet.  A nice touch followed soon after when a local youth “Player of the Game” skated out with the players as the starting lineup was announced. 


A large video board, as good as any found in a D1 hockey arena, hangs above one end of the ice showing highlights and advertisements between periods.  Young kids and teens roam the arena throughout the game, stopping to cheer whenever the Bruins score, while the diehard hockey fans rarely leave their seats. The effort the Bruins organization has put into creating a fun and exciting atmosphere for their fans has made NAHL hockey a must-see event in Austin.


Neighborhood 4

Riverside Arena lies right in the middle of Austin’s downtown commercial district, adjacent to the Cedar River. Like the town itself, the arena’s neighborhood is as clean and safe as you’d expect in a small Minnesota farm community.  For postgame festivities, there are plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the arena, and if that’s not your thing you can always check out the Hormel Museum (home of SPAM) only a few blocks away.  


Fans 4

The arena is packed with fans on both sides of the rink, and they are fully engaged with the action on the ice throughout the game.  Being Minnesota, it isn’t surprising to find a very knowledgeable fan base that understands the nuances of hockey, and when both cheers and boos are appropriate. 


I found that Bruins fans not only knew the players, often calling them out by first name while cheering them on, but they also knew each other. Several times I overheard fans discussing “last game” or specific players, making it obvious that they were regulars at Bruins games.


The only minor annoyance I encounter comes from the cellphone-wielding teens whose habit of roaming the stands during play occasionally blocks the view.  With the game being a social event for them though, I don’t mind. I am happy just to see that many teenagers attending a game live and in person.  Overall, the fans are plentiful, engaged with the game, and well-behaved.  


Access 4

From the Twin Cities, take I-35 southbound to Owatonna where you'll exit onto U.S. Hwy14 heading east.  After 2.9 miles take the ramp to U.S. Hwy. 218 heading southbound.  Take 218 S for 30 miles into Austin and turn left onto Oakland Ave. W, and continue for 0.2 miles as Oakland becomes 1st Ave. SW.  Turn left onto 1st St. SE. then turn right onto Oakland Ave. E, drive for 0.2 miles and turn left onto 4th St. NE, and the arena is 0.1 miles straight ahead. 


The arena offers free parking in its sizeable lot, with on-street parking also available at no charge. 


Return on Investment 5

With single-game tickets costing only $7 and the quality of the game on the ice, attending a Bruins game is possible on most people’s budgets, and is well worth the investment.

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Extras 3

If you’re a hockey fan or if you’ve spent time in a hockey arena, odds are that at some point you’ve heard the Gear Daddies song “I Wanna Drive the Zamboni” coming out of the PA.   It just so happens that the Gear Daddies were born and raised in Austin, MN.  As the primary ice arena in town, when lead singer and songwriter Martin Zellar penned the tune, the arena he was speaking of was Riverside Arena in his hometown of Austin.


Final Thoughts

With the USHL being the only junior league above the NAHL in the US, you know that you’ll see quality hockey when attending a Bruins game and the setting makes it that much better.  Austin is a charming, small midwestern town that loves its hockey and supports its Bruins.  If you ever find yourself in the town that SPAM built, make time to take in a Bruins game while you’re there because Austin does hockey just as well as they do canned meat.

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