Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Paul E. Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell 300 Martin Luther King Way Lowell, MA 01852
Year Opened: 1998
The University of Massachusetts – Lowell got its start in the 1890s as two separate institutions, the Lowell Normal School (later renamed Lowell State College) and the Lowell Textile School (later renamed Lowell Textile Institute). These two schools merged in 1975 to become the University of Lowell. In 1991 UL joined the University of Massachusetts system. Today UMass Lowell is the second largest campus in Massachusetts, with an enrollment of over 18,000 students in almost 200 Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral programs. Total enrollment has increased 50 percent since 2007.
The Paul E. Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, named for Lowell native and United States Senator Paul E. Tsongas, is located on the southeastern edge of 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. Originally owned by the city of Lowell, UMass Lowell purchased the building and assumed oversight of all operations in 2010.
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.
The University of Massachusetts-Lowell has sponsored hockey teams since 1965. Formerly known as the Terriers and the Chiefs, the team played at a number of local rinks, including playing outdoors at Cushing Field on campus. The team originally competed in Division II, where they won three national championships between 1979 and 1982. In 1983 UMass Lowell moved up to the sport’s top division. Today the Riverhawks compete in the Hockey East Conference. They have qualified for nine NCAA tournaments and made it to one Frozen Four, in 2013. 22 River Hawk alumni have played in the National Hockey League.
Food & Beverage 3
The concessions at the Tsongas Center don’t stray far from arena standards but there is still enough variety here to satisfy most visiting fans. Burgers and dogs anchor the menu, with a good assortment of snacks available. Sal’s Pizza operates a stand which offers their popular slices. Combo meals are sold at all stands to help defray the cost.
Pepsi products are featured at the Tsongas Center. Fans looking for an adult beverage will find a selection of national beers sold here along with local favorites from Harpoon and Jack’s Abby. Beer is available in both bottles and draft.
Here at Stadium Journey, we often say that the student section is the engine that drives the atmosphere at any college sporting event. Hockey is the premiere sport at UMass Lowell, and the student section turns out in good numbers to support their team. The school’s excellent pep band performs throughout the game, keeping the energy up and the building full of noise. Also present in the student section are the cheerleaders (who perform on the ice before the game) and Rowdy the River Hawk, who roams the arena interacting with fans and posing for pictures.
There game day staff at the Tsongas Center put on a good show for visiting fans. There’s a video board at center ice which is put to good use with crowd shots, replays and promos. Local youth hockey teams take the ice during intermission and there are giveaways, 50/50 raffles and more to keep the casual fan engaged, not that there are many casual fans in this section of the Merrimack Valley.
The University of Massachusetts-Lowell is located in the north-central part of the city of Lowell, right near the city line of adjoining Dracut. The campus straddles the Merrimack River along the rapids which used to fuel the mills that made this area a magnet for industry back in the day.
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.
UMass Lowell ranks in the top 15 nationwide in terms of attendance every year, which is no small feat when you consider how crowded the Greater Boston hockey market is. The River Hawks draw an average of 4,500 fans per game annually, which also puts them near the top of the Hockey East rankings.
There’s a good turnout by the UMass Lowell student body, who, along with the pep band, fill the arena with noise throughout the game. It’s impressive how many of the students here come decked out in their River Hawk jerseys, making the student sections a sea of red, white and blue. Local fans, families and youth hockey groups turn out in large numbers, proud to have a team to call their own in an area often overshadowed by the teams from Boston. Fans here know their hockey and make the Tsongas Center a fun place to watch a game.
The Tsongas Center is located on the south bank of the Merrimack River a short distance from the school’s baseball stadium, LeLacheur Park. The school’s other athletic facilities, including the Costello Athletic Center and Cushing Field, are located on the other side of the river. Interstate 495 travels a few miles to the south of Lowell, meaning that to reach the UMass-Lowell campus 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 some inflatables for younger fans. 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 Align 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 excellent, with only the typical lines forming during intermission. Restrooms at the Tsongas Center are plentiful, clean and large enough for a typical River Hawk 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 a River Hawk game are reasonably priced, at $25 for sideline seats and $18 for end zone seats. Parking will cost you either $10 or $15 in the surface lots adjacent to the Tsongas Center or in the George Ayotte Garage next door. Free on-street parking is available just a short walk from the Tsongas Center for those who wish to search for it. Concession prices are a bit on the high side but are comparable to other venues in the area. Overall, a trip to a River Hawks game is an affordable entertainment option for local hockey fans.
A pair of extra points are awarded for the displays of UMass Lowell athletic history which fill this arena. Fans can check out displays featuring Lowell’s various championship trophies, Lowell players to move on to the NHL and Olympics, and photos of top moments in UML history along with the River Hawk Athletic Hall of Fame. Banners along both ends of the arena commemorate the team’s success in both Division I and Division II. Fans can even view a display honoring the accomplishments of Paul Tsongas in the lobby.
For those interested in taking home a souvenir of their trip to the Tsongas Center, there is a stand on the concourse offering a good selection of UMass Lowell merchandise. UMass Lowell also incorporates a wide variety of giveaways and special events into their schedule every season.
If you visit Lowell on a day where 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.
It’s easy to be overshadowed in the crowded Boston hockey scene, but the Tsongas Center remains as one of the better hockey rinks in the area, even after a quarter century of use. While professional hockey is no longer in the cards for this cozy mid-sized arena, The UMass Lowell River Hawks have a home that measures up to any college arena in the country.