Ryan’s College Hockey Stadium Tour: Air Force Academy

By October 24, 2013 September 25th, 2015 Opinion

So BG has a bye this weekend, which may or may not be a good thing seeing as how well the team has played so far this season.

Anyway, since there’s a bit of a lull in the BG-related action, I thought it would be fun to have story time, because I know you all would have missed me so much this weekend (even though Drew or Todd handle the weekend stuff … shut up).

As I have mentioned before — or as you already knew if you read my super serious bio — I live in Colorado Springs, which is pretty much the hockey capital of the world. OK, not really, but it is home to the USA Hockey national offices, two Division I college teams, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference headquarters and is within an hour drive of another Division I college team and an NHL team. Pretty sweet.

It’s also an area that not too many BG people get out to. Why? We’ll it’s a painful, 16-hour drive from Northwest Ohio to Central Colorado and a rather expensive trip by plane. That and I don’t know the last time BG played a game in Colorado. I don’t even know if it’s ever happened. I’d look it up but I don’t really care to know the answer and it would be a moot point anyway.

So, naturally, like many BG folk, the only college hockey I had personally witnessed prior to last weekend was within the confines of old CCHA schools. I stepped out of my comfort zone last Friday to head to the Air Force Academy to watch them take on Penn State. I touched on this episode briefly in my equally super serious power rankings earlier this week, but I thought I would elaborate on it so that you can get a taste of what college hockey is like outside of the BGSU Ice Arena.

Spoiler alert: it was really weird.

Also, since I’m an idiot and didn’t even think about doing something like this until after the game, I only took one picture. And, since I really don’t want us to get sued for using something not covered by Creative Commons or anything like that, I’m not going to pull anything off the Internet. So you get to use your imagination! Or, you know, you could just Google it.

First off, the Air Force Academy is huge. Located essentially in a forest off I-25 about 25 minutes north of downtown Colorado Springs, the campus is 18,500 acres. BG’s campus, for comparative sake, is 1,338 acres. Yes, that’s a pretty sizeable difference. I’m sure you can take a couple guesses to figure out why it’s so massive.

Really though, Google it; it’s a pretty nice campus. I’m not sure how much of that acreage is buildings and how much of it is just vegetation (as I mentioned, it’s pretty much in the middle of a forest), but that adds to the beauty, in my opinion.

Anyway, I made my friend drive because I had no clue where we were going and didn’t want to get us lost. Because of major construction on I-25 and the fact that we were driving in rush hour, we took some terribly indirect route to get there that probably took us longer to get there than it would have if we just went up the interstate. Whatever, driving during sunset in Colorado when it’s clear out is awesome.

When you get to the entrance gates to the Academy, which are like three miles away from any buildings on the campus, you have to normally check in so I guess they can verify you aren’t a terrorist or something. That was not the case tonight, because making every person check in for a sporting event would probably cause an angry riot (as if there was any other type of riot?).

Despite my fears of getting lost and then detained for 12 hours because we accidentally ended up in some restricted area, getting to the Cadet Ice Arena was simple, a straight shot, a left turn and there you are. Parking was free because I’m assuming the Air Force Academy doesn’t need to nickel and dime its already paying fans so they can give its president a salary increase and a $50,000 bonus.

But, as it turns out, the free parking was pretty much the last enjoyable financial experience of the night.

When walking up to the arena, you can see all of the super awesome looking academic (or something) buildings in the background. But the arena, on the outside, looks pretty similar to the BGSU Ice Arena, minus the schedule poster and the orange canopies. But there was really nothing of the sort to signify, “hey guys, MAIN ENTRANCE.” It felt like I was walking into my high school gymnasium.

Once you get into the arena, it’s a completely different story.

At the BGSU Ice Arena, you have the pretty nice lobby area where the ticket office, pro shop, all that good stuff is. At the Cadet Ice Arena, it’s all in one area. You could pretty much see the ice from the line at the ticket counter.

The tickets were $25 a piece, which caused me to nearly poop myself. It wasn’t just $25 for a certain section. If you wanted to sit, it was $25. I’ve seen NHL tickets that are cheaper than that. I’ve never bought tickets to a BG game, but if I remember correctly they’re what, $15? So there was that. Capacity for the arena is also only 2,502. So I guess that could explain it somewhat.

Once you get your tickets you have to go through metal detectors before you get to the people who scan your tickets. Really, that’s probably a smart thing. But my honest to god first thought was, “huh, if I somehow got a weapon onto government property, the athletics hall is probably the last place I would go.” Anyone wanna take bets on how long it takes the NSA to show up to interrogate me about that sentence?

The whole process of getting a ticket and getting into the actual rink area took us probably 10 minutes. The longest it ever took me to get in at BG (when I wasn’t covering the team) was probably 45 seconds. They even make the cadets get tickets too, which is kind of stupid. I’m almost positive they didn’t have to pay for the tickets, but why not just let them use their student I.D. to get in? BG has student seating down pat. Figure it out, Air Force.

The Cadet Ice Arena is technically only half of this building (or maybe a third of it?), which I think as a whole was referred to as the Cadet Field House. The ice rink shares the building with the basketball court, as well as an indoor football practice field. On the ice side, they have a jumbotron-style scoreboard above center ice and a video board on the north end of the building. Those were the only two redeemable qualities of the rink. Well, other than the chair-back seating. That was nice too.

photoSeriously, the building is not nice, very similar to how the BGSU Ice Arena was before they spruced it up. We didn’t venture onto the basketball side, so that might be nicer but I can’t say for sure. You can kind of see the wall in the sole picture I did take. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better.

The concourse where we walked in was incredibly cramped due to the presence of the aforementioned metal detectors, the presence of food carts and how the built-in concession stands were roped off. Also, unlike the BGSU Ice Arena, where you walk in at ice level and have to go up to get to your seats, you have to do down to get to your seats here, and, because of that, the top of the stands poke up like eight feet higher than the concourse, which looks really weird.

Also, the press box (which I assume is positioned to better situate the basketball games) is set up behind the concourse, which I can imagine leads to some pretty tough views when play is along the near boards. That’s no fun.

Since it was about 6:30 by this time and neither of us had eaten dinner, our first order of business was food. Pretty standard choices at the built in concession stand: hot dogs, nachos, pop corn, chips, etc. I was hungry, so I went hot dog, popcorn and soda, which was $9 (not terrible) but was incredibly unsatisfying (terrible). Compounding the problem was we didn’t notice the food carts had different (read: better) choices until after we got the food, which led to a return venture during first intermission. Chicken fingers and fries was $7 and I hated myself by the time I finished them.

One of the neat things about the arena was they have a few bar-type tables in the concourse on the north end of the rink, right behind what I’m assuming was the standing-room only section, so you can chill up there and eat your food, which is what we did. Pregame warm-ups were starting so we decided to make our way to the seats.

For some reason I still don’t know, we decided to get first row seats along the faceoff circle in one of the zones. First row seats are cool, if you’re planning to be rowdy and bang on the glass. Since I was planning on doing exactly neither of those things, sitting first row is arguably the worst place you can sit. But I was prepared to make the most of it. Then we got there and I noticed something.

The seats were literally six feet away from the glass.

Seriously. You could’ve driven a golf cart through this gap. I guess it’s a smart idea because, A. It prevents people from banging on the glass from their seats and, B. It gives a walking lane for people. But I was pretty pissed. You couldn’t get a good view of what was happening along the near sideboards, and the glare on the glass made seeing the opposite end of the ice pretty difficult.

We ended up moving higher up after about seven minutes of game action, but not until Air Force had already scored twice, so we at least got some good action on our end.

What I was most excited for was to see what the Air Force crowd was like in terms of its noise level, chants, all that fun stuff that make college sports (hockey in particular) enjoyable. I’ve previously experience Miami (annoying), Notre Dame (the chants from the students were good, but too many old people for the noise level to get real high) and obviously BG, so experiencing something outside of the CCHA interested me.

Let’s just say I was hugely disappointed.

Pregame intros for Penn State, there was no screaming lack of interest from anybody. Everybody stood up and politely clapped. WHAT? I don’t know if there’s like an Academy rule of sportsmanship or something that discourages a, “Who’s he? NOBODY!” type chant or something, but c’mon. College sports are supposed to be hostile.

(Side note: If someone confirms that rule exists, I will gladly redirect my ire away from the student section and toward the moron who wrote that rule.)

The crowd was just OK throughout the game. They got amply excited after goals. But it felt way too much like an NHL game to me. There was no passion, no electricity in the air. It kind of sucked.

The only contribution the student section made the entire game was doing an, “Uncle Jerry” chant with about 30 seconds left in the game. And even then it was so half-assed. It was like one dorky kid spent the entire game trying to convince his buddies to do it with him (we all have a friend like that), and eventually enough people agreed for them to try it, and it lasted three chants before everyone decided to stop because they didn’t want to get in trouble.

The game itself was pretty good. Air Force won, 5-2. Seeing as they were picked to finish second in Atlantic Hockey and Penn State is in its second year as a D-I program, the outcome wasn’t too surprising. But seeing as both Alaska schools clobbered Air Force the week before, I was a little shocked at the score.

Getting out was pretty easy, mostly because we didn’t stick around for the alma mater and we moved faster than everyone else who was leaving. Also, I only noticed two ways to leave the parking area, and the road we were on had no stop lights, stop signs or any traffic that was not coming from the game.

And that was that. The overall game experience was OK. The lack of atmosphere was pretty weird, and paying $25 for sub-par seats made me sad (especially since I’m poor). The food was OK, and I guess is pretty similarly priced compared to BG, but the food carts offered a lot better choices. In terms of traffic and getting there/leaving, it was far and away better than BG. The entrance and exit was smooth, and not having any random passerby traffic to clog things up was a huge plus. And we didn’t have to pay for parking.

If you ever happen to be in the Denver/Colorado Springs area and have some time to kill, I would recommend going just for the sake of taking it in (though coming from Denver is a bit more of a hike), although I can’t say that I’ll be going back this year. Maybe if Army played here then going would be worth it, but I can’t see games against Niagara or RIT being any more exciting

Next stop on Ryan’s college hockey stadium tour: World Arena for a Colorado College game.

The funny thing is, World Arena — which, thanks to my good friend and former roommate Brian Hilliard, I know is where they perform gymnastics in “Make It or Break It” — is literally a two-minute walk from where I work. The fact that I went to an Air Force game first is puzzling to me.

Ryan Satkowiak

About Ryan Satkowiak

Ryan is a features and column writer for BGSUHockey.com. During the day, he works part time for the Sentinel-Tribune and the Findlay Courier, and is a part-time people seater at Buffalo Wild Wings. Ryan covered the BG hockey team for The BG News for two and a half years during his time at BG. You can chat him up on Twitter @Ryan_Satkowiak or by e-mail at Ryan@bgsuhockey.com.