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Lawson Ice Arena

March 3, 2022

  • 2009 Howard Street
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49008
  • (269) 387-3050
  • Website

Growing up in Illinois in the 80’s and 90’s, hockey wasn’t really a thing anyone cared about. I was the odd kid. I liked hockey. Watching Blackhawks games at the time was a challenge…to say the least. The Wirtz family refused to air home games on Chicago television so half the year, I had to listen to the radio broadcast on my walkman while I was supposed to be in bed.

I had never seen a college hockey game before moving to Michigan. I didn’t really know it existed. All I knew of was the University of Illinois and I knew that it wasn’t a varsity sport.

The first college hockey game I went to was at Michigan State when we lived in Lansing. I got hired to work at game at Munn Arena and that was really the first time I had been to a hockey game in an atmosphere outside of a pro league.

Moving to Kalamazoo introduced me to Western Michigan University hockey. I’ve worked several games at Lawson Ice Arena and we’ve gone skating there many times before the pandemic. Lawson is easily one of the best places I’ve ever watched a hockey game.

Lawson Ice Arena is on the west end of Western Michigan University’s campus. The arena is on Lawson Drive (or Recreation Drive) but the physical address is a Howard Street address. The arena is a little hard to get to if you’re not familiar with it. If you’re coming from the south, you need to go on to campus like you’re going to Miller Auditorium then go over the bridge to get to the parking lots that surround the arena.

Parking around the arena is free. The lot closest to the arena is a pass lot though. There are lots all around the building so even on a sold out night, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot.

The student section is known as the Lawson Lunatics and they’re a lot of fun…but not always PG. Their entrance is right next to the main entrance and if you get there when doors open, there will be a line wrapped around the building waiting to get in.

There are a lot of highly ranked teams that come through Kalamazoo. Most non-hockey fans get all worked up when Michigan comes to town but conference play in the NCHC can be some of the best games all year. The NCHC usually has several teams ranked in the Top Ten.

When the team is good…and good teams are in town, tickets sell out fast. There is a ticket window right inside the doors but it’s really a good idea to plan ahead. I’ve tried going to a couple of games this year only to find out the only thing left was standing room only.

The 3,667 seat arena is named after Harry Lawson, the man who founded the hockey program at Western. When you come in the front doors, you come in at concourse level. The playing surface is below you. The concourse doesn’t go all the way around. It makes a U-shape and while there are usually a couple of free standing concession stands in the endzone, there’s not much room for much other than walking to your seats. The walkway is pretty narrow…especially on sold out nights. Recently, a room at the end of the concourse has been used a souvenir shop where they’ve had some pretty sick replica hockey jersey’s on sale.

Almost all of the seating at Lawson is metal bench seating. There are no individual seats. The only exception to the bench seating is seating in the luxury suites above the Zamboni entrance.

Lawson is not a big arena so there’s not a bad seat in the house. The arena was built in 1974 and is currently the third smallest arena in the NCHC. Sellouts are pretty common and the main criticism of the arena is there really isn’t much in the way of fan amenities.

There’s been talk for years of building a new publicly funded arena in downtown Kalamazoo but so far, Western has resisted signing on to move the hockey team if that should ever happen. There are much nicer arena’s in the NCHC and Lawson probably prevents WMU from hosting NCAA games on campus but you really can’t beat the atmosphere in this place. As hockey gets more popular, there’s more of a push, even in college hockey, to move in to newer stadiums and replace the old barns. Lawson could use an expansion…especially now since the Natatorium has been shut down…there’s a lot of extra space. But nothing beats an on campus hockey game in a place like Lawson Ice Arena.

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