For 43 years, the Alfond Arena has been the heart and soul of the University of Maine’s sports. First constructed in 1977, the arena originally housed the Black Bears’ Division II hockey team. Prior to the arena being built, Maine’s hockey team used to play teams from around the state on the Stillwater River as early as the 1920s, with a facilities crew going out ahead of time to properly mark out the ice for a regulation “rink.” In 1977, the capacity of the arena was 3,000 spectators, and in 1979 an addition was added onto the structure, creating the upper balcony commonly known as the student section, which added 800 more spectators in the rink. As more and more fans from around the state began to travel to the university for the teams’ bouts, the university decided to expand once more in 1991 to add the upper grandstands that brought the capacity from 3,800 to 5,200. As time progressed, and Maine’s hockey prowess grew, the revenue the arena generated continued to funnel into more updates and upgrades. In the late 1990s, the skyboxes were updated to bring the capacity of the rink to 5,600 spectators.
Alfond Arena is to be considered one of the greatest “barns” in college hockey. As opposing teams come to the Alfond, they can expect a unique environment, with a regularly packed student section looming right above the ice. The student section forms over six hours before the games as students wait to capture a spot in the coveted balcony. Alfond Arena has been home to two national championship teams in 1993 and 1999 and home of five Hockey East Championship teams. The Alfond means so much for the university and the entire state of Maine, as the departure of the Portland Pirates in 2016 left the state with no professional teams, leaving Orono to provide some of the most competitive hockey north of Boston. The spirit all of the students have for the Black Bears’ hockey program is clear, with students filling up the balcony even over winter break when most students head home to be with family. Going into my first year of college, the most talked about topic in late October was to head to Alfond Arena and to experience the game from the student section. The students and the pep band have synchronized chants and cheers to get the Black Bears going on the ice and to get into the opposing goaltender’s head. For first-year students coming to UMaine, attending a hockey game this winter is a must-have experience if the season is allowed to play with fans in the stands.
With the pandemic still prevalent throughout the United States, the Hockey East season is still up in the air. In late July, the Hockey East Association announced that they intend to have the 2020-21 college hockey season. Their plan is to have a regular season schedule between the league members, with no out-of-conference games to minimize travel and contact with teams from hot spots around the country. The league emphasizes that it will protect the health and safety of all parties involved in the 2020-21 season. There is no set date on the season yet as they monitor the pandemic and abide by local, state and federal protocols. Both the men’s and women’s teams have started off-ice and on-ice practice as they prepare for the season, whenever it is set to start.
For Maine and the Alfond, it would be amazing to see the arena open up to students only, socially distanced across the arena while giving the pep band the entirety of the student section to continue to play. This would provide an incredibly unique environment within the arena, as the sound of students chanting across the entire arena might help throw off visiting teams.