Tsongas Center – UMass Lowell River Hawks
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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 surcuring 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 River Hawks hockey team. With the elevation of the UMass basketball team to Division I status, the arena occasionally serves as the home of the River Hawks hoops team. Since purchasing the arena, the university has invested $5 million dollars in improvements, including the addition of the Align Pavilion restaurant, a new jumbotron with replay capabilities, fascia display boards, and concourse improvements.
Ice hockey is the most prestigious sport at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. The school has iced 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 River Hawks compete in the Hockey East Conference, where they have won three conference titles, qualified for eight NCAA tournaments and made it to one Frozen Four.
Food & Beverage 4
Hungry River Hawk fans will find a decent variety of concessions available at the Tsongas Center. Although choices don’t stray too far from arena basics, there is enough variety here to satisfy most hungry hockey fans.
Local favorite Sal’s Pizza operates a stand near the entrance to the arena, offering large slices with a variety of toppings. Fans can even purchase entire pies. Other stands lining the concourse sell arena standards including chicken tenders, burgers, sausage sandwiches and nachos. Snacks, including popcorn, frozen slushes, fried dough, Dippin’ Dots, french fries, cotton candy and pretzels can be found both at the permanent stands and the many portable carts that line the concourse of the Tsongas Center. Unique items such as deep fried Oreos and home baked cookies can be found at some of these portable carts.
Pepsi products are featured at the Tsongas Center. Fans looking for adult beverages will be pleased to find a variety of products from local breweries Harpoon and Sam Adams sold throughout the arena. National brands Coors and Miller are also sold here, as are Barefoot Wines and a selection of flavors from Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
For fans who prefer a more sit-down type of experience, the Sage Bank Pavilion offers a full bar overlooking the arena floor as well as a full bar menu. Directly below the Sage Bank Pavilion is the Talon Club, which also includes a full bar, several high-definition televisions, and a pre-game buffet.
The gameday atmosphere at any college hockey rink depends greatly on the involvement of the pep band and student section. In both these categories, UMass Lowell does not disappoint. There is a large, active pep band that sits atop section 103. From the moment they enter the arena, circling the concourse while playing, the pep band drives much of the noise at the Tsongas Center. The student section fills sections 102, 103 and 104. They take a back seat to no other student sections in Hockey East in terms of noise and fun throughout the game.
The Tsongas Center staff does a great job keeping the sizeable crowd involved in the game as well. The new video board hanging at center ice is put to good use throughout the game. There are t-shirt tosses, chuck a puck contests, dance cams and trivia contests during play stoppages. Mites skate on the ice during intermission, and the River Hawks’ mascot Rowdy is a constant presence throughout the game. Perhaps the most popular event is the eating challenge, where two students race to finish a footlong steak and cheese sub (or “grinder” as they are called in these parts). Even though fans at the Tsongas Center don’t need a whole lot of help to create a raucous atmosphere, all these extra features certainly don’t hurt.
UMass Lowell is located in downtown Lowell, the fourth largest city in Massachusetts. The city of Lowell was a major center for manufacturing during the industrial revolution. As a result of this rich history, Lowell contains many buildings of historical significance, several of which have been preserved by the National Park Service and remain in use today as museums open to the public. As is the case with many industrial cities of the north, the boon that brought prosperity to these cities faded, and with it went many jobs and a great deal of money. During this time, the city of Lowell obtained a reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city, best to be avoided. Recent decades have been kinder to Lowell, and there has been a growth in business, cultural, and educational development in the city. Statistically, Lowell is safer than many other New England cities of similar size but unfortunately, Lowell’s bad reputation lingers to this day.
The Tsongas Center is located on the banks of the Merrimack River, adjacent to several reconditioned mill buildings, and a short walk from LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, the short-season single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Fans arriving early can walk along the Riverwalk and observe some of the rapids that powered the old mills back in the days of the Industrial Revolution. Located a short distance from the Tsongas Center is the Lowell National Historical Park, which contains several buildings significant for their involvement in the growth of manufacturing in Lowell and beyond. Fans of American literature should be sure to check out the memorial for native son Jack Kerowac, which is part of the tour.
Despite the revitalization of the city of Lowell, there are not many options for food or lodging for visiting fans in the immediate vicinity of the Tsongas Center. Fans looking for a place to gather before or after a game for a bite to eat or (more specifically) a drink should check out Beer Works, which is located in one of the old mills about a block from the Tsongas Center. Beer Works is known for their wide variety of craft beers and fine food. It’s a must-see for those fans who enjoy sampling some local flavor along with their sporting journeys.
UMass Lowell annually averages over 5,500 fans per game at the Tsongas Center, which represents over 92% of Tsongas Center’s capacity. This figure puts them in the top ten nationally in terms of attendance. In hockey-mad Boston, where there is no shortage of professional or top-level collegiate choices in the area, UMass Lowell regularly outdraws their marquee rivals in the city, and in fact, has the highest attendance figures in all of New England.
River Hawk fans are not merely fannies in the seat. People in this area know and love their hockey, and are involved in the action from opening puck drop until the final whistle. As mentioned before, the antics of the large student section make this an intimidating place for visiting teams.
While hardly a destination city in its own right, Lowell’s proximity to Boston makes it an easy stop for hockey fans traveling in the area. The city of Lowell is located 25 miles northwest of Boston, served by the Lowell Connector off of Interstate 495, a short drive from both interstate 95 and Route 3. Tsongas Arena is located about a mile from the Lowell Connector. Parking is plentiful near the arena, with two surface lots and a small garage located nearby. Fans willing to walk a few blocks can find plenty of free on-street parking as well. Fans arriving to Lowell by train will arrive at the Amtrak station a mile away from the arena. The bus station in Lowell is located in the same complex, and has routes that drop passengers off at the nearby campus.
Fans will enter Tsongas Arena into a large indoor lobby, which houses ticket booths. A pair of staircases bring fans up to the concourse, which runs along the top of the seating bowl. The setup of the arena allows for fans to continue watching the game from most points on the concourse. Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely circle the rink due to the presence of the Align Pavilion. All seats at the Tsongas Center consist of plastic folding stadium seats, and offer excellent views of the action.
There are several sets of bathrooms located along different points of the concourse. They are adequate for a venue of this size, and lines are minimal, even during intermission. Access around the arena is easy, with several handicapped seating areas available for those needing those accommodations. 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 3
All tickets for UMass Lowell hockey games are sold as reserved seating, and cost $22. Members of the military and seniors get a five dollar discount, and children’s tickets are sold at $14. Parking is available in the parking garage and surface lots adjacent to the Tsongas Center for $10. There is on-street parking available a short walk from the arena, which will run you two dollars on game nights. Food prices are in line with other facilities in the greater Boston area.
An extra point is awarded for the Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame, featuring Lowell’s various championship trophies, a history of Lowell players to move on to the NHL and Olympics, and photos of top moments in River Hawks history. Banners along both ends of the arena commemorate the River Hawks’ success in both Division I and Division II.
For those interested in taking home a souvenir of their trip to the Tsongas Center, there are a pair of stands on the concourse offering a wide selection of UMass Lowell apparel. UMass Lowell also incorporates a wide variety of giveaways into their schedule, including jerseys, bobbleheads and more.
A final extra point is awarded for the Riverwalk that runs behind the Tsongas Center. If you have the chance to arrive early to the area, walking along the riverfront to view the rapids and stroll amongst the historic mill buildings is highly recommended.
UMass Lowell doesn’t enjoy the notoriety or attention that their fellow Hockey East rivals in Boston enjoy, but the River Hawks enjoy great support in Lowell. After two failed attempts at hosting minor league hockey, the Tsongas Center has been revitalized by the River Hawks, and is one of the nicer facilities in the northeast. Any hockey fans visiting New England should include it on their itinerary.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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