College Hockey: Division III Atmospheres that Rival Division I

There’s no denying that College Hockey rinks and crowds offer up the best atmospheres to take in a game, in all of the hockey world.

In Division I in particular, you can’t pass up the opportunity to catch a game at Cornell, Maine, Boston University, Quinnipiac, North Dakota, Boston College, St. Cloud State, and a number of other terrific atmospheres.

But what about the lesser known Division III programs, and the ambience that they provide?

Being a proud former Division III player, and Division I analyst currently, I have had the opportunity to both play, and watch, games in some of the best environments that the NCAA has to offer.

While I have taken in games in some Division I arenas that can not be matched, I have also been in attendance in some DI arenas they seemed dead at times despite there being two of the nation’s best on the ice. DIII cannot match DI in attendance numbers as a whole, but some facilities make it seem like you are playing in front 10k plus, on a given night. So I thought it interesting to inform some hockey fans about places to take in some great hockey, at the Division III level

1. Utica College

The Utica Memorial Auditorium, or the “Aud” as its referred, need be in everyone’s top 5 places to watch a hockey game. Utica is annually number 1 in attendance in all of Division III hockey, welcoming 4,000 students and fans on a nightly basis. But the attendance is only part of what makes this place so special.

The Fans and the student section is what makes this place a “must” to see a game. The town of Utica now offers an AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, in the Utica Comets, but the Utica College Hockey season is what the town has anticipated for years, and continues to anticipate even with the new AHL team. Packing the house on a nightly basis, and giving the away team a real treat with their environment.

And the Students do their homework. If you happen to end up in the box against Utica, expect to get chipped by some intelligent fans.

As a 5’7 forward from Pittsburgh who unfortunately made two trips to the box one game against the Pioneers. I was greeted with the Oompa Loompa Chorus the first trip. While the 2nd trip they informed me that I’d be better off catching a cab back to Pittsburgh to work in the steel mills than competing against their home team. While I made sure not to address the creative hecklers, I couldn’t help but smirk and be beyond impressed with the informative and creative way they got behind their team.

It’s a fun and electrifying atmosphere just about every game. So if you ever find yourself in Utica, New York, or want to make a weekend trip to catch a game, I strongly suggest catching the Pioneers of Utica at home.

2. Oswego State (Currently ranked No. 5 in USCHO poll)

Oswego usually falls right behind Utica in attendance numbers, seats 3,000. With a beautiful on-campus rink, a national powerhouse of a team, and an overwhelmingly dedicated fan base, Oswego is a fantastic place to watch hockey.

The Lakers of Oswego State are always amongst the top teams in Division III year in and year out. The fans are heavily involved in the action, and make for a top-notch atmosphere. Opening papers when the visiting team is announced, creative chants, and appreciation for the on ice product helps create a loud and intense environment  for the players to compete in.

3. Norwich (Currently ranked No. 1 in USCHO poll)

Let’s take a quick leave from New York and the ECAC West and SUNYAC Conferences for a moment, and travel to the Northeast, where a whole lot of Division III hockey takes place. All the way up in Vermont, on the campus of Norwich, sits Kreitzberg Arena. A College Hockey tradition like no other, Norwich has won the DIII National Championship three times in the 21st Century, and have hosted the Frozen Four as many times. And for good reason.

Kreitzberg can squeeze in just under 2,000 hockey fans on a given night, and they do so often. Like Oswego, Norwich’s rich hockey history, and great media coverage, helps create one of the top atmospheres in College Hockey, and makes Norwich home games a “must” for the locals.

4. Plattsburgh

The Plattsburgh Cardinals are another SUNYAC schools that have a great atmosphere and crowd support. The campus’ Strafford Ice Arena is referred to as “Cardinal Country”. Plattsburgh is annually in the top 3 in overall attendance for DIII Hockey, fitting 2,000 people into the facility on a given night. Strafford has hosted six Frozen Fours. The Cardinals are also always amongst the top teams in the nation every year, which only adds to the ambience and electricity in the arena, and enables to fan support to constantly be at the max due the importance of their games.

5. Geneseo

Back to New York and the SUNYAC Conference, to another school that packs it. Having firsthand player experience with Geneseo as well, I really appreciate the old school “bleacher” seating and impressive crowd participation that the Knights bring to the table. The Wilson Ice Arena is filled more often than not, and has standing room up top during big conference match ups. Knights Hockey is a fan favorite of Geseseo students, as well as the local community and its young hockey players. It is a great night out with the family, and really introduces the youth to what collge hockey is all about. And the fans, well the fans are just as intense as you can wish for.

Other Top Atmospheres

  • Wisconsin-Eau Claire (No. 13). 2013 National Champions play in a horseshoe style arena which is packed most nights. One of the west’s constant powers averages over 1,000 a night in an arena that fits 1,100.
  • Bowdoin (No. 11). Can fit just under 2,000 to watch a game. Ranks 5th in DIII in attendance. One of the nation’s best schools academically, really enjoy their hockey up in Maine.
  • St Anselm’s. Great on campus rink. Play in Two conferences so have more meaningful games for the fans to enjoy. And good attendance to watch the Skyhawks at home on campus.
  • Adrian (No. 9). Dosen’t hold as many fans as other facilities, but Adrian packs the rink and fans wrap around and jam in to have a chance to watch the DIII’s western power.
  • Middleburry. Facility is top-notch. History is overwhelming. And hockey knowledge is 2nd to none in the area. Really can have a great environment on a given night.
  • Canton. New to Division III. Beautiful on campus rink, and I think has big time potential to be a hotspot.