Harold Alfond Sports Arena – Maine Black Bears
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Originally built in 1977 and expanded in 1991, Alfond Arena is located on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono, and serves as home to the Black Bears hockey and basketball teams. Mr. Alfond has donated over $6.5 million to the university since 1968, and was honored by the university for his generosity by having both the arena and adjacent football stadium named after him. The Black Bears have appeared in eleven Frozen Fours and have won two national championships during their time at Alfond Arena.
Food & Beverage 3
There are concession stands on either side of the arena, each with menus that do not stray very far from the basics. Burgers ($5.00), hot dogs ($4.00), pizza slices ($3.00/$4.00), and chicken strips ($7.00) can all be found here, along with standard snacks such as nachos ($4.25), pretzels ($5.00), and popcorn ($2.75). Coca-Cola products are featured here ($1.50/2.50/3.50).
Small carts are scattered around the concourse of Alfond Stadium selling snack items such as popcorn, pretzels, churros, Dippin’ Dots, and most unusually, baked potatoes. For $2.50 hungry Black Bear fans can purchase a hot baked potato with sour cream and butter. Toppings such as chili, broccoli, cheese, and bacon are available for an extra charge.
Alfond Arena is known nationwide as one of the more intimidating places for visiting teams to visit. The student section, filled to the brim with Maineiacs and a large pep band, has a seemingly endless collection of chants, songs, and choreography that they use to taunt the opposition throughout the game. These student sections hang right over the ice, creating a most hostile environment for any opposing goalie unfortunate enough to be between the pipes on any given night.
In a small town like Orono, with no major competition for the sports dollar nearby, UMaine hockey dominates the landscape. The area is filled to near capacity most every night, with locals and alumni alike decked out in the Black Bears’ colors. The stands literally shake when Maine scores and the gathered fans stand and cheer. The atmosphere at Alfond Arena takes a back seat to no other venue in the nation.
There are things for the children in the crowd as well. The Black Bear mascot skates around the ice during intermissions, there are t-shirt tosses, 50/50 raffles to sponsor local youth hockey teams, as well as amusing and unique intermission games such as the on-ice tug o’ war. It all adds up to a great night of hockey at the local rink.
The University of Maine is located in the small town of Orono, which is located in the center of the state. With a population of just over 10,000 permanent residents, the town is actually smaller than the University. Orono has a small downtown area about two miles from campus with several small restaurants and shops, but most visitors to the area prefer to stay in nearby Bangor. Bangor is the third largest city in Maine, and contains many museums, galleries, hotels, and stores.
For fans of local Maine cuisine, the popular chain of Pat’s Pizza restaurants began in Orono, and the outstanding Sea Dog Brewery is located in Bangor. Visitors to the area may also be interested in checking out the 31 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan located nearby in downtown Bangor.
At the University of Maine, hockey is king. Students start to line up as early as 3:30 for an evening game here in Orono. Once inside the arena, they quickly fill up the designated student sections and the fun begins. The Maineiacs, as they are known, have a vast repertoire of chants, songs, and choreography that they direct at the opposition throughout the game. They are certainly one of the most vocal student sections in the nation. Their antics are enough to make visiting goalies happy for the second period, when they protect the goal in front of the luxury boxes instead of the student section.
In addition to the student section, the Black Bears enjoy strong support from the community and local alumni. Alfond Arena is packed to the rafters on most nights, and the noise generated by the fans here creates a great home ice advantage for Maine.
Alfond Arena is easy to get to from Interstate 95. Simply take exit 193 (Stillwater Ave.), turn towards the shopping center, take a right onto College Ave., and turn left onto Munson Rd. at the first University of Maine sign. The campus is located about two miles from the highway, and all the athletic facilities are grouped together on the northern edge of campus.
Parking lots are located adjacent to and in between the hockey arena and football stadium. Should the crowd at a particular event be especially large, there is ample overflow parking at lots throughout the campus, or at the many fraternity houses located along College Street. Of course, the brothers at the houses will ask that you pay for the privilege of parking at their house.
Fans enter Alfond Arena through two sets of doors, one on the right for students, and one on the left for the general public. There is another, less frequently used entrance on the side of the arena. Once inside the arena fans will see the Bear Necessities shop immediately on their right. The large stuffed Black Bear announces his presence with authority to visitors. Opposite to the shop are pictures of every Maine player to play in the National Hockey League. Take a minute or two to look through the pictures, and you will find many familiar faces. Pass through another doorway into the arena and you will be just a few feet from the ice, with the lower level of seats in front of you, and the upper sections above. There is a walkway that encircles the rink.
The first thing that will catch your eye as you enter Alfond Arena is the student section, located to the right as you enter. These bleachers literally hang over the ice. In fact, if you are arriving early, beware of the stampede of students heading in that direction. The seats in the student section are given out on a first come, first served basis, so many students will rush to their preferred seat immediately upon entering the arena.
With the building’s small capacity and regular sellouts, getting around Alfond Arena can be difficult at times. Long lines form during intermission at the concessions and bathrooms. Be sure to time your expeditions properly.
Return on Investment 4
Maine uses dynamic pricing for their home games, with prices ranging from $30-$50 for chairback seats and $17-$24 for bleacher seating. Chairback seats are located in the lower level of the arena, as well as the first four rows of the upper seating sections. With the small capacity of Alfond Arena and the high demand for tickets, it is recommended that you buy your tickets ahead of time.
Parking in the lots adjacent to Alfond Arena costs $10, but smart fans will search the area for free spots, which at times are located right next to the pricier spots. Ask the parking lot attendants where the free spots are. This is Maine, after all, and these attendants don’t work on commission. If you can’t find a spot and don’t mind a walk, parking is made available at lots throughout campus.
An extra point goes out to the sportsmanship displayed by the Maine student section. Despite their taunts and derisive comments directed towards the opposition throughout the night, when an opposing player is injured, they stop their shenanigans and applaud the player as he exits the ice. Once the puck drops, they resume their verbal assault. The fact that they can disconnect the contest from the person in the opposing uniform was great to see, and missing from so many venues today.
Another extra point is awarded for the display of Black Bear players to make it to the NHL. The list is extensive, and even players who only made it to the show for a game or two are honored here.
The quirkiness of the Alfond Arena earns another point. The design of the building, with its distinctive hyperbolic paraboloid rooftop, hides the building right in plain sight and gives it a distinct look. On first glance you certainly wouldn’t guess it’s a hockey rink.
The Bear Necessities shop is also worthy of an extra point. Stretching the length of the east concourse, the shop contains a wide variety of Black Bear gear.
A final extra point go to the youth hockey players in full uniform roaming the rink selling 50/50 tickets. I have never seen young men and women so happy to be begging for money. I asked one of the youngsters if I would be watching him play here someday, and he responded “You bet I will”.
The Alfond Sports Arena has a nationwide reputation as one of the most intimidating rinks to visit in college hockey. The atmosphere in this small, intimate arena is directly opposed to the reputation that the citizens of Maine have. This place is loud, crowded, and intense. The people of Maine love their hockey, and the University of Maine is the only game in town for many people here in central Maine. They have embraced their hockey team, and have been paid back with one of the finest programs in the nation. While Maine hasn’t brought a national title back to Orono in close to two decades, they continue to be a national power and a regular visitor to both the National Tournament and the Frozen Four. While Orono may be far off the beaten path, a trip to Maine is well worth the effort for any true hockey fan.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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