A week ago Saturday, I went to the University of Maine men’s ice hockey game against New Hampshire. That night they celebrated the 40th anniversary of Alfond Arena. It’s always hard for me to go back, and I almost didn’t this time. In a way, this place feels like home to me and at times I really miss it.
After the game, I stopped to think of all the amazing moments that have happened at Alfond Arena, and all the phenomenal players who have laced up their skates there. Both of those are too great to recount. I remember all the nights that I sat in the press box, all alone in the rink near midnight finishing up my work. That was special. The fact that Maine was playing arch-rival New Hampshire made the night even more special.
In a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Maine was ranked as having the best atmosphere in college hockey. I’m a bit partial, but I agree. Traveling with the Maine hockey team for more than a decade, I’ve been to my share of rinks, and the atmosphere at Alfond is truly special. Students spend hours outside in the frigid cold at times to get their select seat in the balcony. There is nothing like the student section, along with the rest of the rink, exploding as Maine scores a goal.
I’ve been to several new state-of-the-art rinks. Some are hundred-million-dollar facilities, yet they can’t compare one bit with the atmosphere at Alfond. Year after year freshman come in and are blown away by their first game at Alfond. I’ve also consoled many players who have shed tears following their final game at Alfond.
Saturday night was even more special because of Maine’s opponent, arch-rival New Hampshire. There is nothing like a Maine versus New Hampshire game night in either Orono or Durham. You circle those games on the schedule as soon as it’s released.
I know that Maine fans love to hate New Hampshire and vice versa, but I’ve grown to have a great respect for the Wildcats over the years. They are Maine’s most natural rival in all sports. They are the only school that Maine competes against in both hockey and football. Over the years, I’ve developed friendships with their athletic staff. I respect them. I respect Coach Dick Umile. He’s retiring following the 2017-18 season after a fabulous career. He currently sits five wins shy of 600. That’s impressive!
I’ve thought a lot about my time in Orono over the past week and missed it quite a bit. I have some wonderful memories and a great deal of them happened at Alfond Arena. Here’s to another great 40 years!