If you’re attending a hockey game at Bird Arena, you’ll want to get there long before the game starts.
That’s because every weekend, students and community members from across Athens flock to see Ohio face-off against other teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. No matter who Ohio is playing, there is hardly a seat to be had by the time the lights go out at 7 p.m. and the starting lineups are announced.
The Bobcats currently sit at No. 4 in the ACHA and just clinched the Central States Collegiate Hockey League regular season championship. Their talent is a big part of what drives people to games, but the fun little moments that occur during intermissions, after goals and throughout the game keep people coming back as well.
Jackie Forquer, President of the Ohio Hockey Blueline Booster Club, knows the importance of having a packed house every weekend. She and the rest of the boosters work hard to implement promotions to keep fans engaged and loud, even when Ohio isn’t on the ice.
During the first intermission, one lucky child is selected to attempt to shoot a puck through a narrow goal in Ohio’s “Score-O” challenge. After the second period, all fans are welcome to play “chuck-a-puck,” where they attempt to throw a puck as close to center ice as possible. Some weekends, Ohio welcomes little league players from around the city to play a game of their own on the Bird Arena ice during intermission, as well as so much more.
Forquer enjoyed going to Ohio’s games as a student from 1988-92 and wants the students today to have that same experience.
“I love seeing the students because I know it was such an important, fun time when I was here and watching the guys play,” Forquer said.
Almost 35 years later, the students still love it. The atmosphere at Bird Arena is unlike anything they have experienced at other events across campus, which is a huge draw.
“I enjoy when they win, but I think the crowd and the energy here is really great, especially compared to some of the other games that I’ve been to,” Audrey Beers, a student at Ohio University, said. “There’s just like an actual presence of a crowd here.”
Arguably, the people who love the crowd the most are the players. They feed off the energy that the fans at Bird Arena bring, which helps them to play better. When Ohio scores a goal against an opponent, fans erupt in chants of “you suck.” Sometimes, the players mouth it along with them.
When Bird Arena is hyped, Ohio is hyped as well.
“We love the support that we get at Bird Arena,” team captain Sam Turner said. “Our fans are amazing, and when we have more fans, when they're louder, we tend to play better because we're playing for them … anytime we have a packed house, we're saying in locker room ‘oh boys, a lot of fans here, let's go out and play well for them.’”
The crowd does make a difference. 19 of Ohio’s 23 wins so far this season have been in front of a decent number of people at home. During the 2020 season, when attendance was highly limited due to COVID-19, it only won three of its 10 games at home.
Because of this, the Bobcats have gone out into the community in an attempt to bring more fans in. On Nov. 30, they held a meet and greet with students at Nelson Dining Hall where they passed out tickets to their series at home against Toledo. Turner had class for the first hour of the event and by the time he showed up to help, the tickets were gone.
“I think that just shows how supportive the school is and people are of the hockey team,” Turner said.
Win or lose, games at Bird Arena are something special. They’ve been entertaining students since 1958 and probably will for many years to come.