Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Paul E. Tsongas Center
300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Lowell, MA 01852
Year Opened: 1998
Finally, One League - Boston
For many years, the women’s hockey world has been at war with itself. While the stated goal of all parties was the same – a single league where all the world’s best players could compete – the plans for achieving this goal diverged greatly, and the factions went their separate ways, with the PWPHA Dream Gap Tour and the Premier Hockey Federation the results. For several years the groups operated in direct competition with each other.
In the summer of 2023 a group of investors backed by the Mark Walter Group, who included such notable names as Los Angeles Dodgers owner Stan Kasten and Billie Jean King, purchased the PHF and effectively dismantled it, creating the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL). They established six teams in the United States and Canada.
The league announced the league would begin play in January of 2024. The league stated goals of playing in professional quality facilities and providing salaries that would allow players to work as professional hockey players, not needing part-time jobs to supplement their hockey income. Teams were not given names due to the quick run-up to the season.
The Boston team announced they would be playing the majority of their schedule at the Paul E. Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. The arena, named for Lowell native and United States Senator Paul Tsongas, is located on the UMass Lowell campus on the banks of the Merrimack River. Senator Tsongas, who was instrumental in securing funding for the facility, died in 1997 just before the opening of the arena. Since opening, the Tsongas Center has served as the home for a pair of American Hockey League teams, the Lock Monsters and Devils, as well as the UMass Lowell Riverhawks hockey team.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions have traditionally not been the strength of the Tsongas Center game day experience. However, the facility continues to expand and improve the options, all of which are available for PWHL games.
There are concession stands on either side of the facility which offer your basic arena fare. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets are sold at these stands, along with a wide variety of snacks. You can package your chosen item with some chips and a drink to save a few dollars. Sal’s Pizza operates a stand at the south end of the arena, where they sell oversized cheese, sausage, and pepperoni slices.
For the most unique concession items at Tsongas Center, head to the small BBQ stand at the north end of the arena, where brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken sandwiches are sold. You can also top your fries or nachos with your choice of meat.
Pepsi products are featured at the Tsongas Center. The craft beer selection is strong, with a wide variety of beers sold at all concession stands. Among the brews featured are beers from Fiddlehead, Down East, and Harpoon Brewing.
The PWHL has enjoyed incredible support and large crowds throughout its opening weeks. Let’s hope the trend continues, as the sporting landscape is littered with teams and leagues that started strong and faded into obscurity. With the financial support enjoyed by the PWHL, here’s betting the success will continue.
The crowds that have come out to Lowell have been enthusiastic and vocal in support of the Boston squad. Like every other sport, women’s hockey has its share of dedicated and knowledgeable fans. The turnout from local youth squads is impressive and bodes well for the future of the league.
Fans visiting the Tsongas Center can expect a professional game day presentation. There is a video board hanging at center ice that is put to good use with hype videos, replays, and graphics. It’s a solid board but seems a bit small when compared to those in similarly sized buildings. There’s a good sound system that fills the arena with music during play stoppages, and contests held throughout the game to keep fans engaged. Judging by the noise created by the crowd, they don’t seem to need much help in this area.
The Tsongas Center is located on the campus of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, in the north-central part of the city. The campus straddles the Merrimack River along the rapids that used to fuel the mills that made this area a magnet for industry back in the day. If you walk behind the Tsongas Center, you’ll be on the shores of the Merrimack River.
Lowell long had a poor reputation as a city with low employment, high poverty, and crime rates which was best to avoid. Statistics show that Lowell is as safe or safer than other similarly sized cities in the area, but the reputation continues.
Lowell is a working-class city. The Tsongas Center is located on the edge of downtown, with not a lot in the immediate vicinity to attract out-of-town fans. Visitors to the city may be interested in exploring the Lowell National Historic Park, which has preserved several old textile mills to tell the story of the Industrial Revolution. On the grounds of the park is a memorial to native son Jack Kerouac, who was one of the icons of the “Beat Generation.”
Most out-of-towners will likely make their way to nearby Boston, 25 miles to the southeast, but for those looking to stay in town, most lodging options are located out by Interstate 495. There are many excellent smaller restaurants scattered throughout Lowell. If looking for a place within walking distance of the Tsongas Center, check out El Jefe Taco Bar.
In looking around the attendance figures for the opening weeks of the PWHL season, it would be easy to dismiss Boston’s crowds of 4,000 as sub-par. However, that line of thinking would greatly underestimate the passion and support that local fans have for women’s hockey.
Boston was arguably the home of the most successful teams in previous professional leagues, supporting the PHF’s Pride and the CWHL’s Blades in strong numbers. This may have a dampening effect on the crowds for the PWHL initially. The Boston area has always been a women’s hockey hotbed, and there should be no worries about support for professional hockey, as the region supports numerous college and youth programs. There is some fear that locating the team far outside of the city will dampen support for the squad somewhat.
Stadium Journey attended the PWHL Boston home opener. The crowd in attendance was vocal and enthusiastic right from the opening faceoff. Merchandise flew off the shelves, and a good portion of the crowd was already decked out in Boston’s green jerseys.
The Tsongas Center is located on the south bank of the Merrimack River a short distance from UMass Lowell’s baseball stadium, LeLacheur Park. Interstate 495 travels a few miles to the south of Lowell, meaning that to reach the Tsongas Center one has to drive through the city. Between the adjacent Ayotte Garage, several surface lots, and some on-street spaces, there is plenty of parking nearby.
Fans will enter Tsongas Arena into a large indoor lobby, which houses ticket booths and a merchandise stand. A pair of staircases bring fans up to the concourse, which runs along the top of the seating bowl. The former 360-degree concourse is now blocked at one end by the Durkin Pavilion. It is not possible to completely circle the rink, nor can you view the rink from all points on the concourse due to the presence of luxury boxes lining one side of the venue. All seats at the Tsongas Center consist of plastic folding stadium seats and offer excellent views of the action.
Access around the facility is decent, although the concourses can get crowded and lines can get long at times. Restrooms at the Tsongas Center are plentiful, clean, and large enough for a PWHL crowd. Handicapped seating areas are plentiful. Fans should be aware that the stairs leading from the concourse to the seating bowl are not of uniform size. If one is not paying attention, there exists the very real possibility of tripping or worse, spilling your beverage.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to PWHL Boston games are affordable, ranging in price from $17-37 dollars. The majority of seats are priced at under $30. Parking in the Ayotte Garage adjacent to the arena will cost you an additional ten dollars. There is on-street parking in the neighborhood around Tsongas Center, but pay attention to the signs, as there may be a charge for some spots.
Concessions are similarly priced to other mid-sized arenas in the area. It is recommended that you take advantage of the combo meals offered at all the stands to save a few dollars.
An extra point is awarded for the next step in the evolution of women’s professional hockey and the great support it has received in its opening weeks. While the transition from the PHF to the PWHL has not been entirely smooth, the crowds and media attention received by the new league have been nothing short of amazing.
If you are a fan of local hockey, check out the displays of Lowell and UMass Lowell hockey located all around the arena. The lobby contains a tribute to Senator Paul Tsongas, who was instrumental in the building of the facility.
If you visit Lowell on a day when the weather cooperates, do yourself a favor and take a walk behind the Tsongas Center and explore the Riverwalk. A stroll along the river to view the rapids and the historic mill buildings is highly recommended.
After years of infighting between the various factions in women’s hockey, the stated goal from all parties has finally been realized – one league where all the best players in the world can compete. The league has made it part of its mission to play in professional-quality facilities. Tsongas Center certainly fits that template.