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Thompson Arena, Where Does it Rank?

Dartmouth College's Thompson Arena opened in 1975, when the Big Green and the U.S. Olympic team played to a 3-3 tie. (Mark Washburn photo)

Dartmouth College's Thompson Arena opened in 1975, when the Big Green and the U.S. Olympic team played to a 3-3 tie. (Mark Washburn photo)

During Dartmouth College hockey games at Thompson Arena, a public-address announcement is read that describes the facility as one of the finest in college hockey and asks fans to keep the arena clean. While the concrete barn, which opened in 1975, has aged with amazing grace, referring to it that way seems increasingly off the mark.

Thompson’s boards, glass and the recently-updated humidity-control and ventilation system are all first-rate. It’s been kept clean and I haven’t heard any complaints about the ice in the five years I’ve covered the Big Green teams. But its press box, long home to radio broadcasters and sports information statisticians, now resembles a mosh pit on game nights with the inclusion of seemingly countless video-technology types. Visiting scouts and reporters routinely find themselves sitting in folding chairs on the concourse.

Dartmouth has nowhere for administrators, boosters, players’ parents or potential donors to mingle while watching a game. The arena features its original bench-style seating (with individual backs), tiny coaches offices and training rooms and, unlike an increasing number of newer rinks, doesn’t have a video scoreboard. By comparison, Harvard has had a four-panel version since 2008.

Harvard is also undertaking a 20,000-square-foot renovation of its rink. The school’s website touts the following: “Upgraded spectator amenities will include new concession, souvenir, and hospitality areas plus additional family-friendly restrooms. Enhancements... will include new team locker rooms for the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs, sports medicine and workout facilities, coaches’ offices, and a facility operations center.”

Another New England program that recently renovated its rink is Providence. Here’s what the Friars’ website has to say: “The renovation project was completed in just under eight months and included a 30,000-square-foot addition. Highlights include a new atrium, ticket office, concession stands, coaches offices, shooting room, locker rooms, meeting rooms, athletic training room, press box, five luxury suites, dasher boards, glass, video boards, video ribbon boards, scoreboards, a renovated Friends of Friars Room and a strength and conditioning facility.” Whoa.

Yale spent $23 million to redo Ingalls Rink, renovating 13,000 square feet to include new locker rooms, workout areas, a new press box, a hockey heritage area, coaches’ offices, a study area and new lights and a sound system. There’s little doubt the new digs helped the Bulldogs in recruiting, which in turn aided their run to last season’s national title.

Boston University has the gorgeous Agganis Arena, opened in 2005. Boston College’s Conte Forum isn’t as nice, but includes luxury and media suites, a 7,000-square-foot strength and conditioning room, an athletes’ lounge and also houses the Eagles student band. New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center opened in 1995 and is one of the few college rinks to feature larger, Olympic-sized ice.

Quinnipiac, one of the Big Green’s ECAC rivals, plays in an arena opened in 2007 and built for $52 million. It lost last season’s national title game to Yale. ECAC member Colgate is working to build a $37 million, 97,000-square-foot facility, contingent on the receipt of $25 million in gifts. It will house a new hockey arena, multi-use spaces and offices for coaches of hockey, soccer and lacrosse.

In terms of functionality and fan experience, Thompson Arena is clearly superior to the rinks at Brown, Vermont, Cornell, Princeton, Northeastern. But on a national level, more and more schools play in newer, nicer arenas. It’s a given that mammoth institutions like Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota and Penn State are going to have state-of-the-art facilities and objections can be raised that they shouldn’t be included in comparisons to Dartmouth. But the Big Green does compete for recruits against those schools from time to time.

Dartmouth athletic director Harry Sheehy has said he doesn’t want to get into a facilities arms race with other schools, but that he also doesn’t want the Big Green to lose recruits because of its home venues. Dartmouth’s football program has seen its fortunes rise of late, in no small part because of the opening of the Floren Varsity House in 2008. Baseball and softball have also gotten boosts in recent years when they moved into new digs and the basketball programs received new offices at the Berry Center.

It’s doubtful that Thompson Arena is turning off many hockey prospects at this point, but those same teenagers are doubtless having their heads turned by what they see at other schools.