25 April, 2014


Fresh Imagery from a Great Old Barn

On every visit to Hersheypark Arena, as more and more evidence of its physical decline confronts me, I find myself compelled to snap stills of its architectural charm for posterity. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have it. I don’t know if anyone knows. But in the meantime, I think it’s a wonderful thing that the Bears make the effort to take semi-regular skates in this great old barn. I’m sure Bears management wants every player wearing a Hershey sweater acutely aware of the legacy of this historic franchise, and what better way to foster a fluency with the past than with a winter morning skate at HPA.

There are old school discomforts with skates like this past Friday’s — Bears’ players, for instance, must carry off all preparations for practice at Giant Center, hop in their cars already geared up, and drive over to the old barn. But there’s something old school endearing about the sight of contemporary pro hockey players moving about a park in theirs pads and practice sweaters, largely emptied gear bags slung over their shoulders, sticks in hand.

One of HPA’s many charms is the accessibility Hershey hockey fans have to Bears’ players after practice. Fans coming into the arena to get their skates sharpened share arena hallways with the pros. In the primary entrance to the arena fans can and do wait with sweaters and photos for player signatures, and can walk alongside the pros as they make their way from the dressing room out to their cars. One fan on Friday brought along one of Mathieu Perreault’s Caps’ sweaters for signing, and if I heard correctly, claimed it came from the game in which Matty broke his nose. Of course the young center signed and posed for pictures with the fan.

This hockey landmark, lamentably, is unfit to host high-level hockey in the present. It can’t really host much of anything that might draw a big crowd. The building’s simply not to today’s fire and safety codes. The Bears can practice at HPA, they can devote some days of fall training camp there, but there are no more full-scale athletic events held there. Lebanon Valley College still plays its home games there, however. But every hockey fan I think ought to make at least one pilgrimage up to HPA for a Bears’ skate, or a Sunday afternoon public skating session in fall and winter, and behold the vantages of this mecca’s super steeply pitched seats — every seat in this home for hockey is situated right on top of the action.

Old wood benches are occasionally used by today's Bears' players to dull a bit of a skate's edge judged a bit too sharp

I'm sure most high school locker rooms in central Pennsylvania offer more amenities and comforts than does the home team's in HPA. But when I observed Bears' players lacing up their skates Friday there was nothing but smiles and the usual pre-practice banter enveloping this primitive dressing room.

Practice drills and rituals are no different in HPA than at Giant Center. But the spectator feels time-capsuled back into another era altogether.

Mathieu Perreault was all obliging for a fan who arrived at practice bearing one of his Capitals' sweaters.

After practice Friday Bears' radio voice John Walton gave Ben Raby and me a personalized tour of HPA, including this stop at the oh so primitive broadcast booth used by visiting teams' announcers years ago. Before Walton's work in Hershey, he also called games for the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL. "I think we won three of eighteen games here," he told me Friday. To enter and exit this remarkable broadcast pen, announcers literally had to step onto armrests of adjoining seats. "But you had the best view in the AHL here," Walton noted.



11 Comments

  1. Adriana wrote:

    Took my kids to a public skate here a couple months back before going to a Bears game next door. SO cool to skate there! I highly recommend it! Would love to watch a real hockey game from those awesome wooden fear-of-height-inducing seats!!!

    5 March, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Adriana, that’s a wonderful description of those seats. You don’t want to be unsteady of foot in the least navigating HPA’s stairs. I asked my hosts yesterday if there were beer and soda and food vendors who worked the arena’s precipice pitch descents and Mt. Everest climbs during games, and they said Yes! What a workout!

    5 March, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  3. Stephen wrote:

    I spent a few months working for HP one fall and my favorite part of the job was walking into the arena via the players entrance and walking through the bench and up the stairs to get to the parking lot. Love that barn!

    5 March, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  4. SKINSCAPSTERPS wrote:

    My high school locker room for gym was more elaborate than that dressing room.

    Must have been a miserable place to play for visiting teams. Something to be said for the great old “dumps” of arenas. And I mean “dump” in the best possible way,loud, actual fans who didnt need to be prompted to cheer, close to action. I spent many a night at Cole Field House (and a few afternons at RFK Stadium), visiting teams always rated it one of their least favorite places to play. I can just imagine what Nassau Coliseum must been like during the Islanders dynasty.

    5 March, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  5. T9Tookey wrote:

    For everything the Arena doesn’t have, I’d still rather watch hockey there than at the Giant Center. I get chills even thinking about walking into the Old Barn. It was all about the hockey, not how many graphics you can get on the screen or commercials you can run. And the fans sat right on top of the players. So many times we had opposing players looking or talking back.

    So sad that HERCO isn’t taking better care of the Arena.

    6 March, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  6. Monicarh09 wrote:

    How do you find out about practices they are having there and how do you get into it? I would love to witness a practice!

    6 March, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  7. Curt Boyd wrote:

    I miss the Old Barn every time there’s a Bears game. I’ve been to about 40 different arenas to see a hockey game, but I still haven’t been to one that has the character (or the sightlines) of the Hersheypark Arena.

    6 March, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  8. Monicarh09 — Follow OnFrozenBlog on Twitter ( http://www.twitter.com/OnFrozenBlog ). I promise that we’ll pass along word of the very next Bears’ practice skate at HPA. It happens more often than you might think. For instance, March brings high school hoops playoffs to Giant Center. It’s a multi-purpose venue, obviously, and once in a while the Bears must take their paces over at HPA. You won’t regret making the effort to catch a practice in the old barn.

    6 March, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  9. Doug wrote:

    Other than the 1980 Rink at Lake Placid, the Hersheypark Arena is the coolest place I ever played at.

    6 March, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  10. HBH WC wrote:

    I regularly play with a group of guys at HPA.
    We usually play on Friday evenings sometimes we get the Giant Ctr. other times we get HPA.
    There are a few different locker rooms in the Old Barn. They are pretty close to what the home team locker rooms are like but with their own little unique quirks.
    One locker room is so warm that we usually open up any windows that will open to cool it off (even if it’s ten degrees outside). One other locker room is relatively cold all the time except in the summer.
    I remember that the showers are kind of like nozzles on a sand blaster and if your not careful, the spray can come out with such force sometimes you don’t even need soap to get clean.
    Playing there in the summer is a unique experience also. Sometimes playing there is reminiscent of the Flyers/Sabres playoff game at the Aud in Buffalo. To cut down on the fog, the rink crew takes two sheets of glass out (on opposite corners of the rink) and place huge fans in the openings in an effort to circulate the air. The efforts are mostly futile but the skate is always fun and kind of surrealistic.

    6 March, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  11. Bruce wrote:

    Great piece. My dad was a huge Pittsburgh Hornets fan and never tired of talking about going to see the Hornets at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Gardens. For many years we made an annual pilgrimage to Chocolatetown for a Bears game. Great memories of the place…

    22 April, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink