Thoughts On The Latest Regarding Matthews Arena

Earlier this month, excellent reporting by Amelia Ballingall for The Huntington News detailed the current state of Matthews Arena, the land around it, and dove into the situation related to the future of New England’s most historic hockey arena. For those who have not yet read her article, I cannot recommend it more enthusiastically- after nearly nine months of whispers and rumors, it’s the best collection of facts and “state of the union” presentation that’s out there.

Truthfully, I’ve had a very difficult time finding the right words that I wanted to put on the screen related to this topic, and related to Matthews Arena as a whole in the last year. This article is not intended to be an addition to what Amelia reported on- rather it’s meant to serve as my attempts to prose my reaction to it, and hopefully serve as some catharsis for fans who, like me, see the state of the arena and struggle with its reality, balancing the nostalgia and fondness of memories related to the past while also yearning for a change for the future benefit of the hockey programs.

In early Fall 2023, support trusses were put in place against the southern wall of Matthews Arena, facing Gainsborough Street. In the months to come, rumors swirled related to the overall state of the 114-year-old building, with whispers abound that walls were crumbling, that the foundation was unstable, and that the Arena’s viability was in jeopardy. As a result, Northeastern moved the offices located in that part of the arena to other locations and closed off the upper deck seats opposite The DogHouse “out of an abundance of caution”. Despite the Arena’s well-being remaining a topic of every home game, the University seldom put out any official word or statement regarding what was happening behind the scenes. Now, we have some clarity.

In the article, Ballingall cites documents released in mid-April from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs detailing a plan for “pre-clearing evacuation work” around the site on which Matthews Arena sits, which would include removal of soil, chemicals, and parts of the foundation. The article further cites a report made by environmental engineering firm Haley & Aldrich which stated “reported concentrations of lead, asbestos and other toxic chemicals within the soil” around the arena, and there are plans to remove 5,000 cubic yards of soil from the parking lot extending from the Arena’s supported wall to Gainsborough Street. Furthermore, Ballingall describes the bedrock underneath the building as having weathered over time, a combination of natural environmental effects as well as a byproduct of the structures that once stood where the Arena is today.

All of this put together paints a grim picture about the viability of Matthews Arena and the land it sits on for the near-future. However, it is one that the school does appear to be working on with an eye towards the future. When Ballingall reached a University spokesperson for comment, they replied “Matthews Arena is more than a century old and reaching the end of its useful life. It has recently undergone structural modifications that will temporarily extend its use. Simultaneously, the university has been making long-term assessments regarding the increasing demand for state-of-the-art athletic and recreational facilities, and the existing building’s limitations to meet them.”

And the big line related to the future: “The university is currently “explor[ing] opportunities to build a new arena in the near future.””

Despite hearing rumor after rumor, whisper after whisper, related to Matthews Arena and its condition the entirety of the hockey season, seeing the facts laid out by Ballingall and The Huntington News still struck me like a lightning bolt. Like tens of thousands of students and millions of fans before me, I have such strong positive, formative memories from my time at the Arena. On an emotional level, I don’t want to see the Arena go- there’s so much history, including personal and institutional and American history, that has gone in within its hallowed walls. The original Arena predates Fenway Park, itself a staple of sports culture in Boston. It is the origin of nearly every hockey program to come out of Boston, the original home of the Boston Celtics, has seen legends such as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali come through its doors, hosted presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Kennedy, musical acts that span the century, and many other legendary moments in time. Personally, the arena is where I became a true hockey fan, having arrived to Northeastern in Fall 2011 without any semblance of care for the sport. It’s where I was awe-struck by The DogHouse and the impact a real student section can have over a game and over individuals; it’s where I led that same student section for 3 seasons, culminating in seeing the Huskies win their first Hockey East Championship in 28 years in 2016; it’s where I first crossed paths unknowingly with my future wife at the 2015 Hobey Baker Ceremony when Jack Eichel won the award; and it’s where I’ve made countless friends, memories, and put every fiber of my being as a Northeastern hockey fan cheering for the Huskies to reach every mountaintop they can.

And yet, Father Time remains undefeated, and the reality of the Arena’s situated has been an unpleasant truth for a few years for me personally. Putting aside the foundational and structural issues, the state of college athletics in 2024 is one of the Haves against the Have-Nots, ranging from modern and up-to-date facilities, to dedicated individualized space for each team to grow and improve, to the current albatross of NIL money pouring into college sports. For as much as I love Matthews Arena, I’ve long accepted the reality that if Northeastern is going to continue trying to keep pace with rivals and other programs at the national stage, both for men’s and women’s hockey, they will need to have every possible advantage they can attain in the space afforded to them. And unfortunately, Matthews Arena is not the building that can provide those advantages for the long term going forward.

In the last half decade, we’ve seen nearly a dozen teams in the New England region and most of Hockey East allocate funds and resources into improving their facilities, whether that’s upgrades to their current arenas or building new homes for their teams altogether. As those other institutions provide those upgrades and their respective teams take advantage of the new tools they’ve been given, that puts Northeastern at a continual disadvantage until they themselves commit to the same level of support. Locker room upgrades, film room upgrades, branding throughout the buildings and team areas, training and recovery areas, nutrition and academic-related spaces, and even a more spacious Hall of Fame area to honor program greats are just some of the upgrades the competition have in store with their plans. Northeastern needs to do everything they can to install and maintain facilities and athlete spaces as the Huskies continue to chase success at the conference and national levels. For better or for worse, the best path forward for that is a new arena.

Now, a huge obstacle of course with any building project in Boston is space. Northeastern University has transformed around Matthews Arena over the last 100+ years, but in doing so, spaces are limited (read: nonexistent) to start and finish a building project for a new arena. The only path forward, and the one the school appears to be taking based on the reports cited and reporting done by The Huntington News, is replacing the Arena where it stands now, renovating the foundation, and building a new arena from the ground up. That will of course displace three athletics teams for the short term; the hockey teams will likely have to barnstorm and play on the road for one or two seasons, possibly taking up temporary residence at Warrior Ice Arena, Walter Brown Arena, or bounce around multiple rinks in the city. Men’s basketball may be able to use Solomon Court in the Cabot Center for the short term. There will also be other impacts beyond simply where teams play, including a lack of a true “home crowd” for the time (unless Northeastern puts effort into bussing and transporting students to the games), and recruiting will likely take a short-term hit for all three programs. But my unwavering opinion is that the future 50+ years of Northeastern athletics will benefit from the short term pain the project will bring. It is my hope that the school and city can work together to at least preserve the arch entryway, which dates back to the original building, and would be a great way to connect the past and the building’s history to future generations.

Historic Matthews Arena will forever be a part of Boston’s and Northeastern University’s history. A change in the building standing on St. Botolph street will never remove the memories that generations of fans and students have made within its walls. But the clock is rapidly approaching midnight on the adored arena, and for the sake of the future for Northeastern athletics, my hope is that the University commits to the new arena and puts plans into place, including a public announcement, sooner rather than later. Fans deserve to know what is happening to their beloved barn. If rumors prove true that 2024-25 will be the final year for the Arena as we know it, expect fans to flock from across the country for one more game to reminisce about the past, cheer for the Huskies of the present, and look with optimism to the future.

As news and more reporting comes related to Matthews Arena, we will have coverage of it on our Twitter and here on the site as we can.

As always, go Huskies!