“Yeah, it’s right here,” I said with a defeated sound in my voice.
I was driving my best friend’s car for this trip because it sips gas like a martini while mine guzzles it like a frat boy who just discovered Natty Lite. About 2 hours down the road, my phone rings, and she wants to know if she left her wallet under the blanket on the passenger floorboard.
Guess who gets to turn around and drive back?
This wasn’t the way I wanted the trip to start, but it improved dramatically when my hotel room got upgraded to a hotel suite, and the next day I found myself in Big Rapids with plenty of time to spare.
Ferris State University is an impressive campus, with more than 14,000 students. I’m told enrollment has steadily increased thanks in no small part to a policy requiring teachers to actually, well, teach instead of handing the job off to graduate assistants.
The weekend I visited Ferris State was a busy one for the athletics program, as there were four games scheduled the following day on campus, including playoff football. This seemed to lend a bit more ‘buzz’, as I overheard a number of conversations about local sports during the day in Big Rapids.
Ferris State plays in Ewigleben Arena, which is easily the smallest arena in the WCHA. There are no banners hanging over the ice – those are all along the outer wall of the arena, as are the U.S. and Canadian flags. One of the most obvious features of Ewigleben Arena is that there are only seats on one side of the ice, along with the two end caps. The far side houses the benches and penalty boxes, while the bleachers along the side only go nine rows deep.
The best seats in this house, hands down, are in the last row. There are hardly any dead zones where you can’t see the puck, and the plexiglass doesn’t obscure the view, either.
The student section at Ferris State—dubbed the “Dawg Pound”—is ferocious and, frankly, ruthless. They sit behind the goal the Bulldogs will be attacking twice and heckle the visiting goalie with everything they can throw. Even literally. At one point the members of the Dawg Pound all wound up and threw something at Alaska-Anchorage goalie Olivier Mantha, which instead fell harmlessly after hitting the netting. While I didn’t hear anything of the sort, I’m told the Dawg Pound is known to find out the name of the goalie’s mother and implement that in their chants, and I have no doubt that’s true.
Remember what I said earlier about no banners hanging over the ice? There’s no scoreboard up there either. Those are also on the walls behind the goals because of the height of the ceiling. We hadn’t gotten through 3 minutes of play before a puck went airborne and struck the foil-colored ceiling, eliciting a whistle from the officiating crew and a faceoff in the neutral zone.
Ewigleben Arena, much like Bowling Green’s Slater Family Ice Arena, has virtually nothing to absorb sound. Once you factor in the size differential, it underscores just how loud hockey is. This game generates a lot of sound, from skating, to hard checks along the boards, and even the sound of the puck moving over the ice—you hear all of it in a game at Ferris State.
The first period played out with minimal interruptions and no scoring, despite Ferris State assailing UAA’s Mantha with 21 shots on goal in the period compared to just 5 for the Seawolves. I spent the first intermission on-air in the press box with Harrison Watt, who is in the athletics communications department and is the play-by-play voice of Bulldogs hockey. Great broadcaster, even better guy.
That’s a recurring theme on these #ChasingMacNaughton trips. Everybody I’ve met with has been absolutely tremendous. I’ve heard a number of times that hockey people are some of the best folks, and I definitely believe it.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring at 13:49 of the first period, and the crowd jumped up to applaud. This turned into clapping along with the fight song before returning to the seats. Less than three minutes later Ferris State would find the net again, launching the crowd into the same routine. While the crowd hadn’t been out of it before, they were definitely engaged now, and that included the Dawg Pound, which had two new reasons to taunt the visiting goalie.
A last-ditch effort by Alaska-Anchorage to tie it up didn’t bear fruit, and the game ended at 2-0. Unlike the other arenas I’ve visited, however, the fans didn’t budge after the final horn. They all waited for the bulldogs to do the final stick tap at center ice. Even then only about half of the fans left as the rest stayed for the three stars to be named.
As there’s only seating on one side of Ewigleben Arena, there’s just one hallway providing access to all of the facility’s seating. This hallway is easily the most ‘dressed-up’ part of the building, with painted ductwork and a tile floor. This isn’t to run down the rest of the facility, because it fits the needs of the program well, is in good shape, and provides an excellent vantage point for the game. Those are the things that matter, and Ewigleben Arena has them.
The arena’s pro shop also has a surprisingly large assortment of FSU gear—including no fewer than three different styles of jerseys—and is right along the main hall, along with the ticket booths and concessions. Really, it doesn’t matter if the inside of the arena looks like an airplane hangar if you have the kind of views and overall experience Ewigleben offers. If anything, it makes it easier to concentrate on the game, which is the whole reason you’re there to begin with.
As I drove away, I caught the postgame show on the radio, complete with the press conference from the coach and the top players. This was something I hadn’t experienced before, and is an awfully nice touch. It also clearly allowed the journalism students to play a hands-on role in the broadcast, and there’s no substitute for those kinds of real world opportunities.
As I headed up the road for the next stop, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the overall experience at Ferris State. The hockey team is riding a hot streak, the facilities are a great fit for the program, and they seem to remain focused on education, which is the reason the students and student-athletes are there in the first place.
Five down, five to go.