- Paul Swaney
Taffy Abel Arena - Lake Superior State Lakers
Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Taffy Abel Ice Arena
1000 College Dr
Sault Ste Marie, MI 49783
Lake Superior State Lakers website
Year Opened: 1995
Hockey by the Lake
Lake Superior State University, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, has an enrollment of about 3,000 students. They are one of the smaller schools in Division I hockey, and in 1988, they did the impossible. That Lakers team, led by the goaltending of Bruce Hofford, became the smallest school to win the NCAA hockey championship. Even more remarkably, the school was able to win championships again in 1992 and 1994.
Those banners hang proudly in Taffy Abel Arena alongside two NAIA championship banners (1972 and 1974), but the program has lost some of its success in recent years. However, hockey is still very much in the blood of this town and the university’s students.
Taffy Abel Arena, named for Sault Ste. Marie native Clarence “Taffy” Abel, is a part of the larger James Norris Physical Education Center. The Center also includes the basketball arena, the Ronald “Bud” Cooper Gymnasium.
Food & Beverage 4
If you have ever been to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, then you probably have had a pasty, which is basically personal-sized meat and vegetable pie. The pasty on the menu at Taffy Abel Ice Arena may not be the best you have ever had, but it’s certainly a unique local addition to the menu.
Outside of the pasty, it’s a pretty basic menu at Lakers games. Pizza, hot dogs, nachos ($3.50), popcorn ($2), and soft pretzels ($2) are on the menu, just like you’ll find at most arenas.
Coca-Cola is the soft drink provider with fountain drinks available ($2), as well as energy drinks ($2.75), water ($2.25) and juice. Coffee, hot chocolate, and hot cider ($1.50) are on hand if you want to warm up. Unlike many college arenas, beer is also available for $3.50, discounted to $3 for each additional beer you order.
Your first impression of the seating area may be that it looks a little bit like it was sponsored by IKEA. The bright royal blue and “gold” (which is really yellow) is omnipresent throughout the arena. That impression aside, it really is a comfortable little arena.
Fans will find comfortable blue plastic seats with above-averageno-frillsleg room, although there are no cup holders. Because this is a border town with Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario you will hear O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner before every home game, something that makes the experience feel somewhat exotic if you’re not from the area.
The team benches are on opposite sides of the ice, something that is fairly common in college hockey. If you want to sit behind the visiting team, then section D will be where you want to aim, or section P to sit behind the home side. A small pep band does its best from one corner of the arena to interject some energy into the game, but they end up being just a little too small to make a real noticeable difference in the atmosphere.
The scoreboard is small and basic, with only essential information and no video capabilities. Overall, it is a no frills presentation when you go to a Lake Superior State hockey game. That can either be a huge plus, or a slight drawback depending on how much the hockey purity appeals to you as a fan.
With a population of just over 14,000 (2010 census), Sault Ste. Marie is certainly a small town, but there are a few places worth checking out while in downtown, which is about a five minute drive from the LSSU campus.
Huge ships pass through the Soo Locks, the busiest canal in the world as far as the weight that passes through it. It is an amazing sight to see a five-minute1,000-foot-long boat pass by the town of mostly two-story buildings.
The main downtown drag is Portage Avenue. Soo Brewery is a great spot for travelers who like to sample local beers on their sports trips, with 10 locally made beers on tap ($3.50 a pint). Next door is Maloney’s, where you can find a sandwich, burgers, good fish and chips, or the odd Mexican dish. There are several TVs and a pool table here as well, and 10 beers on tap.
Further down the street is The Alpha, a slightly more divey bar, with $2 drafts if you’re merely looking to belly up to the bar before or after a game.
The Antlers Restaurant is a local landmark, and any fan of taxidermy should be sure to stop in for a meal and a chance to see more than 200 mounted animals.
The Ramada Plaza Hotel Ojibway is located on the same downtown stretch and has reasonable rates of about $100 a night in a perfect location for fans who may be coming in for a weekend of hockey.
Lake Superior State averages about 2,000 fans per game at Taffy Abel Arena, ranking them in the bottom third for Division I college hockey. The pep band and student section are both small and disappointing, hurting the overall atmosphere somewhat.
Fans no doubt love hockey in this area, and they are a knowledgeable bunch, but they are lacking that extra level which could make this arena a tough place to play.
Taffy Abel Ice Arena is a part of the larger James Norris Physical Education Building, which houses Cooper Gymnasium where the basketball and volleyball teams of Lake Superior State play. It’s a large building with a very large parking lot.
Parking is free, and getting in or out of the arena is no trouble at all, as there is plenty of personnel to guide you to your parking space, and to ease the egress of traffic afterward.
Inside the arena, it is a little tricky. A walk around the entire arena will take you up and down as you alternate between walking beneath the stands or around the seats. In some places, the concourse can be rather narrow, and if it is a full house, then the lines for the concessions can obstruct the walkways during intermissions.
The restrooms are of adequate size and are clean.
Return on Investment 5
Single-game tickets are only $12 for adults or $6 for all of those aged 18 or under. Students and kids under 18 can purchase a full season ticket for $95, while non-student adults will pay $199 for a full slate of games. With few other sports options, I would think that anyone who could afford it would spring for a season ticket, although single games are certainly reasonably priced. Add in parking, a drink, and a pasty, and you’ll still spend less than $20 on a Division I hockey game. It is a great bargain.
The chance to sit beneath three championship banners certainly adds to the experience and is worth an extra point.
Seamore the Sea Duck, makes his rounds throughout the crowd. He covers a lot of territory during the contest, seemingly giving every fan a chance to interact with this big blue-clad bird.
One final extra point for all of the displays of the hockey past of Lake Superior State. There is also a jersey of every former player to have made it to the NHL, a chance for fans to reminisce about former players and dream of current players making their way to the top level of hockey.
Just an hour north of the iconic Mackinac Bridge, Lake Superior State is the most accessible of the Upper Peninsula college hockey venues for hockey fans in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Combine a trip to LSSU with a stop on historic Mackinac Island during the early part of the season (October). For residents of the Upper Peninsula or across the International Bridge to Ontario, you will certainly get your money’s worth if you go to see a game at Taffy Abel Ice Arena.