NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Maine’s Alfond Arena is one of the most unusual hockey arenas on the planet.
From its distinctive pyramid-styled roof to its balcony full of students that actually overhangs the ice, it’s an atmosphere that epitomizes college hockey.
Merrimack College takes to the road in its best-of-three quarterfinal series with the Black Bears at the Alfond Arena. The winner will advance to next week’s Hockey East semifinals and finals at Boston’s TD Garden.
Before this season, Alfond had been a house of horrors for the Warriors, who won the season opener, 2-1, in October, snapping a 14-year losing streak in the building that dated back to 1997 with only a few ties sprinkled in as success stories.
The last time the Warriors and Black Bears played a quarterfinal series in the building, the Warriors were swept in a pair of one-goal games (3-2, 2-1) but were outshot 63-25 on the weekend.
Lately, the Warriors have been able to keep things closer, but even good teams find ways to hiccup at Alfond.
Last year’s Merrimack squad waltzed into the building last year with just five losses on its record (21-5-4) in February. They left with seven, getting outscored 11-1 in two games before seeking redemption at Lawler Rink in the postseason, ending the Black Bears season with a sweep.
“I am looking forward to playing up there,” Merrimack sophomore Shawn Bates said. “There isn’t a more fun place to play than in a packed house. It gets you into it. It’s a fun challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Warriors have been thorns in Maine’s side all season, boasting a 2-0-1 regular season record against the Black Bears including the win in Orono.
Noise is always a factor and with the crowd reactions multiplied by 10, reacting to every moment, each motion seems to take on added importance.
Add in the intensity of a postseason matchup, and you’ll likely be able to cut the tension with a knife.
“It’s a tough place to play and we know that going there but that’s the fun part,” Bates said. “You’re the underdog. It’s you versus all of Maine. As intimidating as they can be, it gets you up too because it’s a great atmosphere. They’ll be gunning for us because we knocked them out last year.”
The students will be on spring break, which you would think is a nice reprieve for the Warriors, but the locals will be sure to pack the house.
“They have a very good team,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “I like our team. It will be a really good weekend, it’s Hockey East playoff hockey, and there’s a lot at stake, but our guys are really excited.”
Alfond Arena Facts
Broke Ground: 1976
Opened: Feb. 5, 1977
Renovated in: 1991, 1998
Owner: University of Maine
Construction Cost: $1.6 million
Capacity: 5,641

© 2012 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

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