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.