Welcome to the Fight Mass travelogues. The Fight Mass gang has now visited all eleven Hockey East venues, with various stops along the way in other sports and conferences. We’ll be tracking these in main-page posts from time to time, and all of that work can be found and compiled here:
Amherst, MA (The University of Massachusetts)
The Setting: We may be juuuuust a little biased, but there’s always going to be a spot in our hearts for the Pioneer Valley. With all the campus construction that started in our heyday starting to come together, the overall level of architecture on the campus has been dramatically improved, and there’s more where that came from in the form of a new Comm/Journalism building right in the heart of campus. With the ComCol dorms and new Rec Center in place, the area directly around the Mullins Center is as vibrant as ever, and it’ll look even better with the Champions Center completed. Downtown is quaint and neat with lots of cool shops and restaurants, though the bar scene is admittedly a letdown. But hey, this is a pahhhhtttyy schoooool keeehhhhd. The students, on and off campus, still throw some of the most insane house parties you’ll ever see, and lately the number of shitty incidents with law enforcement seems to be on the decline. The campus population has learned that you don’t need to be a “zoo” to have a good time.
The Venues: The Mullins Center, two decades later, is beginning to show its age somewhat compared to the shine of the new or recently-renovated buildings in the conference, but still holds up well in terms of atmosphere. This year’s changes to the student seating for hockey creates a more intimidating and cohesive unit. Of course, as we’ve complained about pretty much since the first day of the blog, our students are probably last in Hockey East in terms of things like “actually wearing the home team’s colors/gear to games,” “cohesive chants,” “maintaining traditions,” “chants that aren’t just ‘fuck (name of other school)’”, and so forth. But there’s potential now, at least. Our basketball student section is a lot better, and personally I think the overall atmosphere for hoops, particularly from the non-student side, is a lot louder and more conducive to a home court advantage. Not saying that having a band there is a factor, of course. Still, I wish they’d allow, say, ABC to sell beer in the Bill. Yes, I know, our reputation and whatnot, but if we stuck to a cool local product which most of the Barstool crowd would never drink anyway, the rest of us could responsibly have a good time. This is mostly because I can’t stand that Lowell Beerworks sells its wares in the Tsongas, which is filled with Lowell students who by all accounts are just as drunk and abrasive. Alas.
Other venues on campus include the Cage, which is still a fun gimmicky place for the hoops team to occasionally play (but which is way too small and hot and how in the world did they play there on a regular basis anyway?), McGuirk Stadium, which maintains a certain high-schooly charm but which will undoubtedly benefit from facelifts both current and (hopefully) future, and Garber Field, home of the national powerhouse lacrosse team and a swell place to get a good view of the game in spite of being in the shadow of the ugliest building on Earth, Tobin Hall.
Best Food: Antonios, of course. Best single-slice pizza place ever. It’ll change your world. Other solid options are the Wings at the Hangar, which you can now get by themselves at the Big Y Plaza (but lol why) and the big ol’ burritos at Bueno Y Sano. I’m also coming around on White Hut for uber-unhealthy late night snacks, though it pales in comparison to the old grill at the Springfield location. The food at ABC unfortunately seems to have gone downhill since they moved into their new site, just as the quality of their beer list has dramatically improved. In the Bill, the Baby Berk burgers are still a great option, though I wish they still had the food truck right outside to make them to order.
And let’s not forget about RJ Stables, the Official Fight Mass Breakfast of Choice in the Amherst area, or the fact that UMass dining has climbed up the rankings to be one of the best college dining experiences in the country – particularly with the newly-renovated Hampshire.
Best Beer: This is a tough one. I think overall the best venue from a beer-and-food standpoint has to be the Hangar. There’s always something for everyone on the beer list, it’s close as shit, and you can get a huge meal for a big group (wings and nachos!) for a reasonable price. And it’s not quite as packed as it used to be, thanks to the new secondary location to draw away the just-wings crowd. As mentioned before, ABC has a massive selection between their own quality brews and a much-improved guest taplist since they moved into the old Gold’s Gym, and it’s right across from the Hangar. It’s also arguably a better place to watch a game on TV, and easier to navigate, so you really can’t go wrong with either on the beer front (the food is hit or miss though). Taking ABC’s old spot downtown is the High Horse, which gets a bad rap for its dark and moody atmosphere but which carries the best beer selection downtown by a moonshot. The Moan & Dove is a little further away in South Amherst, and has one of the best beer lists in New England IF NOT THE WORLD. But the hipster vibe is a little off-putting to the more casual beer-drinkers (or non-beer-drinkers) in the crowd, and apparently they don’t take out-of-state IDs anymore, no matter how obviously the bearer is of age, so that takes this place off the table for Mass ex-pats like the writers of this blog.
South Bend, IN (Notre Dame)
The Setting: So South Bend appears to be two different entities. In the first, the quintessential (Matt went so far as to call it the most quintessential) college campus, with rustic (albeit repetitive) architecture, sprawling quads, the famous landmarks. Encircled by strip malls seemingly stuck in the 80s, the Notre Dame campus is an oasis of college classicism.
And then there’s the entire everything else around it. Like I said, everything around the campus is the strip malliest of strip malls. Downtown South Bend, a quick jaunt down the road, sounded promising based on my experiences in classic midwest college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison. Sadly, there is nothing in downtown South Bend that remotely resembles either of those meccas. In fact, I’m tempted to say there is nothing in downtown South Bend, period. After Friday’s game, our only full night in town, we were planning on hitting up the best-reviewed Yelp bar in town, the Fiddler’s Hearth, for what we envisioned as a classier McMurphy’s with a better taplist and classic Irish food. Instead, we walked into a cramped saloon with nothing more interesting than Smuttynose (hey, we have that here!) on tap and but a single TV over the bar. I’m sure the food was fine, but that wasn’t the scene we were seeking, so we left the car nearby (after all, we figured it would be harder to get a parking spot where all the bars are!) and walked a half-mile through the freezing cold to…well, where were we going again? A cursory glance of the local spots revealed that most of the businesses were closed already (?!) and the few spots that were open? The best we found was some redneck bar with indoor smoking and pool tables, no good beer and no people. We assumed the students were all just away on break already? (They weren’t, we later learned.) I feel like even the tumbleweeds were afraid to come out. The desertedness of the town was so severe that we began to wonder if Manti Te’o may have imagined more than just his girlfriend.
The one saving grace, if you can even call it that, is the little shopping/apartment development that we later discovered over near the campus, which looks like it was put up in the past five years, leaving us to wonder what the fuck people did for fun before that. We did manage to find a relatively nice beer bar to enjoy my midnight birthday, and there appeared to be one or two bars in the more collegey vein with actual patrons, but still. Maybe things are different on football gamedays when people are all out on the town and out drinking (protip: I was here twice in my high school days with my ND family members, and though I couldn’t drink, the atmosphere is infinitely more festive around the campus). But as far as college towns are concerned, this is among the worst. (But, you know, Chicago is like an hour and a half away. So there’s that.)
The Venues: Most relevantly to UMass, Notre Dame joining Hockey East is a big boost for the league’s already-impressive collection of venues. Compton Family Ice Arena is a very different beast from what we’re used to, given the mish-mash of adorable small-time venues (MC/PC), classic barns (UVM/ME/NU), and mid-range but respectable sites like our own, Conte, Tsongas and the like. Compton, I suppose, can best be described as mixing the best of the two actually-in-Boston venues, with the shiny amenities and luster of Agganis coupled with the intimacy and balcony of Matthews. Our seats in the balcony to the left of the press box were probably among the “worst” seats in the house, and even those provided a very good view of the rink. The locals were loud and boisterous, though the student section wasn’t really distinctive like in, say, Matthews or Alfond. Overtaking them, of course, is the new best band in Hockey East (until we start playing at games, of course). The Band of the Fighting Irish is awesome, leading some classic (if derivative) college hockey chants and playing a good mix of new and old songs, in addition to the iconic fight song after every goal. The goal horn is a little jarring to hear on TV, but sounds much cooler in person than it does on TV, and probably jumps into 2nd place after Maine on the all-important Hockey East Goal Horn Power Rankings. The most impressive thing about the arena to us was the staff, which is far and away the most friendly and accommodating in Hockey East. It’s not saying much, between the completely ambivalent staffs of Northeastern, Merrimack and our own, to the aggressively unfriendly UNH/UVM/BC staffs and the draconian BU folks. But the charming old men and women of Compton never missed an opportunity to thank us for making the trip, catapulting them ahead of the friendly folks of Maine and Lowell in the welcoming rankings. The locals were nothing but friendly, too, even after UMass pulled off the upset Saturday. In fact, Matt, noted Notre Dame hater extraordinaire, came to the only logical conclusion there can be based on how friendly everyone was: if you hate Notre Dame, you’ve clearly never been. The people here are awesome. It’s the bandwagon fans in the Northeast (and elsewhere) who have no ties whatsoever to the school who root for it “cuz I’m Irish kehd and the feckin leprechaaaahn and go Irish kehd” who project all the suck that people these days associate with ND. Those people should suffer a horrible snake-related fate. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, A+ venue, for sure, and one Hockey East is lucky to have now.
Other venues in the area include the newly-renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which looks like a very swell, very blue place to watch a basketball game, and that one football stadium I guess or whatever. I’ve been to Notre Dame Stadium a few times in the past thanks to my ND alumni family members brainwashing me at a young age, but it will obviously be a treat if we get a chance to come back here and watch UMass
lose by 40 probably win somehow, thereby ruining Notre Dame’s season because I’ve seen more of that in my lifetime. But it really is great to see a classic football stadium with zero outside advertising outside of a single NBC Sports logo, no logos, just rows and rows of seats. It’s not as impressive as the Big House, but it’s iconic as hell and something all sports fans should see once in their lifetime. We’ll be back for you, Notre Dame Stadium.
Best Food: We weren’t in town long enough to make a good determination about this. However, consider this: Compton sells hockey helmet-shaped souvenir popcorn bowls.
Best Beer: So after our first night, where we settled on The Mark, a gastropub with a solid beer list but not much atmosphere, we did discover a few places the next day that had much better draft lists than anything downtown. We didn’t end up going to O’Rourke’s (also in that same little shopping plaza!) but it looked like a solid choice. Ultimately, we ended up watching UMass-BYU hoops at Legends of Notre Dame, which we initially dismissed as what we figured was a memorabilia shop, then realized was a bar/restaurant, and then upon taking a gamble, we got lucky with a killer beer list and $4 drafts of local craft (Three Floyds, Bells, and the like). The food there was mediocre – I enjoyed my sandwich enough but Matt had “the worst reuben he’s ever had” so let’s call it a draw – but the hospitality, cheap beer specials, and access to watch our game on a busy day (the overflow crowds from a day’s worth of basketball games showed up) made it the best choice.
Of course, as the pictures would profess, our biggest score in the state of Indiana was in Munster, IN, just outside of Chicago on the Illinois border, at the legendary Three Floyds Brewpub. Three Floyds is borderline Alchemist-status out there, only it never got destroyed, is in an infinitely more urban location, and makes more than one kind of beer now. But the hype factor is on par, and I would say the beer is, too. Their self-proclaimed flagship beer is the Alpha King, a solid pale ale, but their most famous offering in the beer world is their Zombie Dust, one of the finest beers either of us have ever had the pleasure of tasting. We bought a case because of course we did, and it’s a must-try if you’re able to get out there. Other offerings, such as the seasonal Alpha Klaus and the scotch ale Robert the Bruce, were quality choices as well. Chicago was a wonderful time for the brief 24 hours or so we got to spend there, and if you’re even remotely into craft beer, go here and have your mind blown, and come back and thank us later.