Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
MassMutual Center 1277 Main St. Springfield, MA 01103
Year Opened: 1972 Capacity: 6,793
Something’s Abuzz in Springfield
American International College is a small liberal arts college with an enrollment of just under 3,300 students located in Springfield, MA. AIC’s sports teams are known as the Yellow Jackets and compete in NCAA Division II, except for the men’s ice hockey team, which competes at the sport’s highest level.
The Yellow Jackets have been members of the Atlantic Hockey Conference since their elevation to Division One in 1998. The 2018-2019 season was the most memorable one at AIC, which has sponsored varsity hockey since 1948. The school experienced its first winning season, a conference championship, and an NCAA Tournament bid in 2019. They also won their first NCAA Tournament game with an upset over top-seeded St. Cloud State. One Yellow Jacket alumnus (Dave Forbes) has played in the NHL.
From 1998 to 2016, American International played its home games at the Olympia Ice Center, a multi-rink community hockey center. As a Division One facility, it lacked amenities and atmosphere. For the 2016 season, AIC moved their hockey operations to the downtown MassMutual Center, home of the Springfield Thunderbirds.
The MassMutual Center was built in 1972. Initially named the Springfield Civic Center, it underwent a major remodel in 2005. Attached to the arena is a convention center, which is the largest in western Massachusetts. In addition to being a much more appropriate venue for Division One hockey, the MassMutual Center is also much closer to the AIC campus, as it is located just a mile away.
Food & Beverage 3
The MassMutual Center only opens a pair of concession stands for Yellow Jacket games, but these two stands cover all the bases.
The Fresh Classics stand on the concourse offers hot dogs, wraps, and assorted snacks. Fans looking for something a bit more substantial can head to the Center Grill, where chicken tenders, burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings, french fries, and onion rings are sold.
Pepsi products are featured at the MassMutual Center. Fans looking for adult beverages will be happy to find a pair of stands selling a wide variety of brews, from national brands including Bud, Bud Light, New Belgium, Coors Lite, and Miller Lite to local brews from Sam Adams, Two Roads, and Jack’s Abby.
No matter how hard you try, a crowd of 500 or so in a 7,000-seat arena is not going to make a ton of noise. Many of the aspects found at a typical college hockey game can be found here. The giant video board hanging at the center ice is put to good use with replays, crowd shots, and sponsor ads. There are contests and giveaways for fans, including hockey staples such as Chuck-a-Puck, t-shirt tosses, and contests with younger fans shooting on goal.
Downtown Springfield has long had a reputation as a less-than-desirable place to be, with a dearth of eateries or attractions near the MassMutual Center. With the construction of the MGM Springfield Casino across the street from the arena and convention center, there are now plenty of options for visitors to downtown Springfield.
Fans looking for places to eat will now find several choices near the MassMutual Center. Locals flock to the nearby Red Rose Pizzeria, a Springfield institution that has been in business since 1963. The Student Prince Cafe and Fort Restaurant offer traditional German fare, and Theodore’s Blues, Booze, and BBQ offer great examples of what they advertise in their name. There are additional options in the casino, including the Chandler Steakhouse, TAP Sports Bar, and Cal Mare.
Likewise, there is no lack of places to stay downtown. The Springfield Marriott, Holiday Inn Express, and Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place are within walking distance of the arena. Of course, the casino has plenty of rooms from which visiting fans can choose.
Springfield’s biggest attraction is located just a mile away from the MassMutual Center across Route 91. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is open year-round and has more than enough basketball memorabilia on site to satisfy even the rabid hoop fan.
The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden is located a short walk from the MassMutual Center. While there you can see bronze statues of the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, and many other favorites. Also located in this complex are the Dr. Seuss Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, and the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.
Attendance at Yellow Jackets games averages between 600-700 fans per game. While this ranks American International near the bottom of the national attendance listings, it represents a significant increase over past years at the Olympia Ice Arena. The Yellow Jackets’ quirky schedule, with many afternoons and weekday games, factors into the variance in attendance.
There does not seem to be a large turnout by the student body at MassMutual Center, but to be fair, Stadium Journey’s recent visit occurred during finals week on a Saturday afternoon. A crowd at a Yellow Jackets game can accurately be described as a “friends and family” type of crowd, as many in attendance seem to have a personal connection with the players on the ice.
With many teams in the Atlantic Conference located a short drive from Springfield, it’s not unusual to see a solid turnout from visiting fans.
The city of Springfield calls itself “The Crossroads of New England.” Interstates 90 and 91 meet just outside the city. The MassMutual Center is located in downtown Springfield, just a few blocks from Interstate 91. The cities of Boston, Worcester, Albany, Hartford, and Providence are all within a 90-minute drive of Springfield.
Bradley International Airport is located just across the state line in Connecticut. Springfield’s Amtrak station and the headquarters of Peter Pan Bus Lines are located a half mile from the MassMutual Center on Main Street.
Yellow Jacket fans will find ample parking around the MassMutual Center, either in the garage across the street from the arena, at the MGM Springfield Casino, or on-street around the facility.
Fans will enter the MassMutual Center lobby on Bruce Landon Way, where the ticket office is located. A pair of staircases lead up to the main concourse. Fans will pass through a security checkpoint consisting of metal detectors and a bag check. For Yellow Jacket games only half of the concourse and seating bowl are accessible. With the smaller size of a typical AIC crowd, there is ample room to move around.
Only sections 6-12 are open for Yellow Jackets games. Since all tickets are sold as general admission, fans are free to choose any seat they like. All seats are plastic folding stadium seats. A walkway splits the seating bowl in half, so avoid the first couple of rows of the upper sections if possible. Otherwise, all seats offer good views of the action.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to Yellow Jackets games are sold as General Admission for twelve dollars. Parking in the garage across the street from the entrance to MassMutual Center costs ten dollars. There is also a surface lot on Bruce Landon Way which charges twenty dollars.
There is ample on-street parking in the vicinity of the arena, which is free on nights and weekends, just pay attention to the hours that meters are in operation. Free parking is also available at the MGM Springfield Casino garage a few blocks from the arena.
Food prices for AIC hockey games are identical to prices for other MassMutual Center events. While a bit on the high side for a college hockey game, they are not overly expensive.
Springfield has a long and proud hockey history, which is commemorated at the MassMutual Center in a Hall of Fame display on the concourse. Among the honorees here are three Hockey Hall of Famers (Eddie Shore, Earl Seibert, and Willie O’Ree).
American International has recognized its recent success by hanging a pair of banners from the MassMutual Center rafters. These banners honor the team’s Atlantic Conference championship and NCAA regional finals appearance in 2019.
American International College moved its hockey operations to the MassMutual Center in 2016 to give its hockey program more relevance and to make it more attractive to recruits. Now in their fourth season downtown, it can safely be said that the move has been an absolute success.
Previously a perennial cellar-dweller in the Atlantic Conference, the Yellow Jackets won their first conference title in 2019 and upset the overall number-one seed St. Cloud State in the NCAA Tournament. There is a definite buzz in Springfield around the Yellow Jackets.