Before we begin, it’s worth noting that I’m aware Michigan Tech fans have pretty much no use for Northern. As someone whose entree into the new WCHA came via Lake Superior State, I understand that sentiment and can assure you that this article is as impartial as possible.
Marquette, Michigan is deafeningly bland. It’s the white apartment walls of towns. If Marquette was a pair of pants, it’d be khakis. Berry Events Center, home of the NMU Wildcats, is no different.
Berry Events Center has a lot of similarities with Abel Arena at Lake Superior State. You enter at street level and must go upstairs to reach the concourse, then go back down to your seat. The suites also have the same flowerbox-type design as those in Sault Ste. Marie.
At a glance, it’s not easy to tell that this facility is shared with basketball. The seats are relatively steep, making it easy to see over whomever is in front of you with generally good sight lines overall. The boards and glass also appear more steady than many other split-sport arenas.
This night featured the Lakers and Wildcats squaring off in the Cappo Cup series. The two teams had split a weekend set during the non-conference schedule, and the Wildcats could lock up their place in the postseason by holding the Lakers at bay. Lake State, for their part, hoped to steal back the cup and add a bit of light to an otherwise bleak season.
Lake State posted the only goal of the first period at 4:33, and after a back-and-forth twenty minutes the horn sounded. It was then that I discovered the biggest flaw with Berry Events Center.
Unlike most arenas in the league, the concourses here aren’t separate hallways behind the seating areas. Instead, there’s a walkway behind the seats. This wouldn’t be a problem if the concession stands weren’t built into the wall across the walkway from the seats. In other words, anytime anybody wants to go anywhere on the concourses they’re left barging through the concession lines. The arena was about 2/3 full on the night of my visit and it was a huge task to get from one side of the arena to the other.
The sound of a train horn marked the return of the Wildcats from their dressing room to start the second period. It didn’t take long for NMU to get on the board, scoring at the :55 mark and again at 2:10. In addition to the standard goal lights, Berry Events Center also features rotating goal lights on the corners of each of the luxury boxes—not unlike the yellow goal lights beneath the press box at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
The Wildcats tacked on a third goal in the second, while the Lakers scored one more to make it 3-2 after forty. During the second intermission I noted the differentiating marks; banners on the raters for both NMU’s hockey and basketball programs, as well as a series of five flags on the far wall. I can only presume those represent the home nations for each member of the team. The other end is adorned with plackards for each member of the WCHA as well as the GLIAC, the D-II conference where the school’s other teams compete.
While I’m unsure of its size, the video board over center ice appears slightly larger than the one at Michigan Tech. The pep band is situated at the top of the seats behind one of the goals, and while they don’t interject themselves into the game they make themselves heard regardless.
The third period featured a heavy push from Lake State, coupled with a pair of power play opportunities, but the Lakers couldn’t get the equalizer past NMU’s Atte Tolvanen. 3-2, the final.
The Wildcats were focused on locking up the Cappo Cup and a playoff berth by the end of the weekend, while I was ready to head west to experience the final arena on the trip. Was it really almost over?
Nine down, one to go.
Cover photo credit Will Sterrett.