THP #37: A Comprehensive Review Of Leo D. Mahoney Arena

November 20, 2022 – Fairfield, Connecticut
Fairfield vs Michigan
Women’s Basketball

The Leo D. Mahoney Arena is the new on-campus arena at Fairfield University. The quick review is as follows: Leo D. is great.

Is it perfect? No, but the issues are minor and do not take away from enjoying a fine two hours of basketball. However, before we get into it let’s enjoy some steamed hams.

The Good Eats

A week before the game I was down in Connecticut with a friend and knew we had to stop at Ted’s in Meriden. Traveling south to Fairfield, it’s about 40 minutes north of campus but only a brief five-minute detour off Route 91.

And yes, you’re reading that right: the burgers are steamed. There’s nary a grill in sight when you walk into this incredibly tight and cozy eatery.

The custom steamer boxes sit stacked behind the counter. The burgers and cheese are both steamed. Each burger and hunk of cheese sits in its own little tray and steams away.

Jay, the cook, held it down and was a real one. It’s a neighborhood spot at its core and has the familiar feeling even for someone like me who had only been there once before way back in 2008.

As Jay said, the burgers are just big enough to make you think you want a second but having two is too much. You can get them With all sorts of toppings, and the fries complement the beef perfectly.

The steamed cheeseburger is a regional quirk that doesn’t exist outside of a small stretch of Route 91 in south-central Connecticut. I can’t recommend this more highly if you’re passing through. Hell, make a trip out of it.

The Review

The Leo D. Mahoney Arena was built to replace Fairfield’s old Alumni Hall. It sits right in the heart of the campus, which is just a mile off Route 95 in southwest Connecticut.

For years the men’s team played games at Total Mortgage Arena, a 10,000-seat arena in Bridgeport, six miles off campus.

This was just the second game in the building’s history after having been opened just two days prior with a women’s win over Stonehill.

The exterior is beautiful and feels right at home on campus, and it’ll look even better in the future when the landscaping around the plaza fills in.

After walking through the main doors you are immediately on the main concourse overlooking the floor. Everything has an industrial look without feeling cavernous, which I like. You can see the pipes and the underside of the balcony.

There’s ample room to walk around, and you have a 360-view of the court no matter where you are in the building. It’s so damn open. You’re always in the action unlike most other arenas of this caliber where going to get a soda means actively separating yourself from the playing area.

And hey, speaking of soda, let’s see the concessions.

The stands are easy in, easy out. There are three: one in two of the corners on the main level and one on the balcony. They sell a variety of sandwiches, standard arena fair like chips and soda, candy, and even a few bottled alcohol options.

The prices seem pretty fair and standard as far as arena food goes. There was no room for media/staff with a pregame meal, but I did get a voucher for a freebie at the stand and got to try it out.

I went with a chicken caesar wrap with chips and a water, and I added a candy bar.

The sandwich was quite good. For a prepacked meal I figured it would be airport quality, but it was significantly better than that. And those chips, man do I love me a good kettle-cooked chip. I will always hype a place that invests in quality chips like Deep River instead of going with the salty sandpaper that Lays makes.

There are displays at one end showcasing the history of Fairfield basketball and old Alumni Hall.

“The idea of either renovating or replacing Alumni Hall, which has its own history, has been talked about for a long time,” Fairfield athletic director Paul Schlickmann said after the game. “When I arrived they had conceptual plans, and then we just kind of kicked it into high gear not just from a planning and design perspective but from a fundraising perspective.”

Leo D. was built at a cost of $51.5 million and was almost exclusively donor funded, a point of pride for Schlickmann.

One of the things I like most about the building is how much natural light it has. Modern arenas don’t have that, so to see the room splashed all over with natural light was a delight.

With an abundance of natural light, the building feels much bigger in the afternoon and will feel different for night games. It’s two different types of home-court advantage for the Stags.

“Centerbrook Architects was the architect for us. We and they were very big on the glass aspect of it,” Schlickmann said. “It’s just such value added to not just the [exterior] aesthetics of it but inside as well.”

Underneath the seating bowl are the locker rooms and offices galore. No stone was left unturned. The room for watching film is luxurious.

Some quick hits:

There is a small team shop just off to the right side of the entry area. Small, yes, but certainly full of a variety of Fairfield merch.

The center-hung video board is a good one and sized perfectly to the building.

The game production studio is in a room right on the main concourse so you can get a live look at how the game and in-arena entertainment is produced, a true rarity in D1 athletics.

And Lucas the Stag is a cool dude.

I did have two critiques of the building, one bigger than the other.

The smaller one is the cup holders in the front row of the balcony. Every seat in the balcony has a cup holder, which is good. The back rows have a holder discretely placed behind the chairback in front of them.

The cupholders in the front row though are on the arms of the seat. This narrows the seat slightly and can be a bit abrasive if you reset your position in the seat. Again, a very minor issue.

This photo is the best I had showing the difference in cup holders. It also showcases the banners of past Fairfield successes.

The second is more specific and something a bit bigger. There’s almost no space for working media. There was one table tucked between two railings that sat four people and was packed with student writers from the Michigan Daily.

My seat was at the drink rail that surrounds most of the court at the top of the main level just a few feet away from the main media table.

The drink rails

The rails are comfortable, which is great, but I was just sitting there out with the crowd. It wasn’t a problem on this day because this blog is different from traditional reporting, and I was roaming around. But if I was with the Hartford Courant or Connecticut Post or New London Day, and that table is full, what do I do?

Do I just leave my laptop and notes right there where someone who gets a bit too tipsy can easily grab? Where do I plug in my laptop to charge so I can make deadline? There was a media workroom underneath the main arena and it was also quite small.

I hope there’s a plan for when Fairfield hosts a big game or a conference final because otherwise it could become a real problem for the people there covering the game.

Overall, Leo D. rocks. I really can’t say enough nice things about this building. So much thought and care went into the planning and execution, and you see it from the moment you enter the room.

I’ve said for a long time that the best 21st-century arena in New England is the Ryan Center at my alma mater, URI. Leo D. might surpass it or at least make it a 1A, 1B situation. The teams and students at Fairfield are incredibly lucky to call this place home.

The Game

The Stags welcomed the nationally-ranked Wolverines to town in a showcase game, and the hosts came out of the gate hot.

Fairfield didn’t crumble under the moment and led early. Of course, Michigan leaned on their experience to weather the early storm and ended the first with a flourish thanks to Laila Phelia.

That put the Wolverines up five after the first 10 minutes. The Stags kept it close though and wouldn’t let Michigan put their foot down.

This triple from Izabela Nicoletti Leite cut the deficit to two.

Phelia and the Wolverines, though, had answers and plenty of them. She would finish with 17 points.

Michigan pushed the lead back to six in the final minutes of the second quarter and then the Stags came alive.

That three from Lauren Beach made it a one-point game and had the home crowd rocking.

And then the floor fell out.

This bucket from Emily Kiser put Michigan up five.

The Wolverines went into halftime up 34-25. The third quarter was all about quashing any possibility of an upset on a cold Connecticut afternoon.

By the time the third quarter ended it was a 16-point lead for the Wolverines. Fittingly, it was Emily Kiser who put a bow on this one with a textbook layup.

Michigan 69, Fairfield 53. Final.
Player Of The Game – Emily Kiser (UM): 20 points, 5-7 shooting, 3 steals
Time Of Game – 1:53:36

One of the best moments when I was a kid was getting to go onto the field and play games between innings or on the court or rink during a timeout in the game.

I remember being a kid at UMass-Lowell hockey when I was 11 or 12 on the ice cleaning up the foam pucks from the chuck-a-puck promotion in the second intermission. I thought it would be fun to throw the pucks back into the crowd. I was removed from the ice by the assistant athletic director and the crowd booed in support of me. Was a formative experience.

Sure, it’s silly but it meant something. And I hope for the two young girls who got to play the game at the break after the third quarter it’ll be something to remember for years to come. Sports are supposed to be fun, and this left me with a big smile.

Thanks for reading. Go see a game at Leo D. Here’s one for the road.




THP #18: Huntington

January 4, 2021 – Boston, Massachusetts
Northeastern vs Delaware
Women’s Basketball

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.” — Karn Evil 9 – First Impresion – Part 2 by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.

Man, did I miss this. The last time I was inside a gym was back on March 7. I was at Tufts for the second round of the D3 men’s NCAA tournament. The Jumbos held off a talented RPI team to win by nine and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. I was covering the game for the Times Union in Albany.

The gym was packed to the gills. As the final seconds wound down the student section sang along with John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. I didn’t pay it much mind because I was on deadline and the following week was a big one.

I had assignments in Maine, New York, and Connecticut lined up. And then poof. Five days after I saw Tufts beat the Engineers the whole season got chucked in the bin.

I cried when the NCAA tournament was cancelled. It wasn’t even about the basketball. It was about losing an anchor point in my life that had defined every year for me for more than 20 years.

The opening weekend was almost my personal start to spring. Sure, it may have still been 35 degrees outside, but it was opening Thursday and that meant sunny skies and warmer nights were coming soon.

Every March I could tie the dance back to my memories of chaos growing up. TJ Sorrentine hit it from the parking lot when I was a kid. Ty Rogers and WKU blowing my bracket apart and beating Drake when I was in high school. Picking Norfolk State to beat Missouri because I had a hunch Frank Haith would blow another big game.

Every March tied into the ones before and would into the ones to come. But 2020 had no March. It was devastating.

So far this season I had reached out to contacts I had about picking up work, both written and broadcast. Anything to just get me in a gym. Places I’d worked for years either weren’t playing or weren’t welcoming people inside.

It was shaping up to be the first winter since 1996, when I was five, that I wouldn’t see a live college basketball game. I got a gig working the PA at one place. Then I got an email that morning that the game was postponed.

Man, did it suck. As I’ve gotten older, college basketball has become an almost spiritual experience of connecting with the land. I’m a New Englander to my core. Born here. Raised here. Married here. Will die here.

This project has been a way for me to get out and see all of New England. All the small towns and little hideaways tucked in corners that I’d never have thought to look. That’s the greatest joy of this. It never matters who wins or loses. What matters is the journey.

And I thought there would be no miles to log or gyms to see this year. It dragged on me like a weight. But, like the song lyric above, college hoops finds a way (for better or worse) to roll on.

. . .

Northeastern is a hockey school through and through. Nothing matters more to the student body than winning the Beanpot, Boston’s annual tournament to crowd the city champion between NU, Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University.

I’ve always been fond of Northeastern. I grew up going to Husky football. Played on a tiny field tucked away in Brookline far from campus, I saw NU’s best teams ever. A 10-2 squad in 2002 that made the NCAA tournament before being upset by Fordham in the first round was the highlight.

Although being 11 and seeing that loss live was crushing. But what was more crushing was when the team was dropped in 2009. I was a freshman at Rhode Island and was at the Huskies’ last ever game, a 33-27 win over the Rams. John Griffin scored Northeastern’s last touchdown, an 18-yard run with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.

At last year’s Beanpot final the students filled more than half of the upper deak at TD Garden and made a ruckus all night long, capped by a rousing rendition of the greatest song ever after the Huskies beat BU in a thrilling 5-4 game.

Even with a student body that comes out to support the teams, basketball does not have much history of success on Huntington Avenue. The men’s team found great success in the 80s led by Reggie Lewis on the court and Jim Calhoun on the sideline, making six NCAA tournaments and winning three tournament games during the decade.

The women have made just one tournament (1999) , and that was back when the program competed in America East and not its current home, the CAA.

Other than that the best team was the 2015 men’s team that won the CAA and gave Notre Dame a heart attack before losing 69-65 in the opening round.

But even without much history, Northeastern does stand out from the crowd. It is one of just four schools in New England (UMass Lowell, Fairfield, and Providence) to have two venues for basketball.

One is the oldest continuously operating arena in the country. The other is our stop today.

The Hub of the Universe

The Good Eats

With a unique 1 p.m. Monday start time there was a need to grab a quick lunch before tip. Luckily, being in the heart of Boston, there are many great places to bop in and grab a quick bite.

I was feeling mediterranean and Boston Shwarma was open. the fact that there was no line was gravy.

A small storefront just down the road from the gym, it sits about a seven iron away from Symphony Hall. And it’s great. Small, compact, well-priced, and a damn good spot to get a shwarma on the go.

I went classic, a lamb shwarma and chips sandwich. It came with all the fixings so it was meaty and savory and crunchy and messy and perfect for crisp winter day in Boston.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed grubbing up on the go. Walking down Huntington having a sandwich, feeling the familiar embrace of cold winter air wrap itself in and around me was something I hadn’t thought I’d yearned for.

Covid has taken away so many of the daily smells of being out and about because of masks. Masks are good. It was nice, even for just two minutes, to feel the burning sensation of cold air in my nostrils.

A perfect shwarma

The Neighborhood

Like the other big schools in Boston, Northeastern doesn’t so much have a campus as it’s a distinct neighborhood. Located on the E train branch of the Green Line, Northeastern is in the heart of Boston.

It’s also so close to BU that the banners on the lampposts change from one school to the other and you don’t even notice.

The E train

The Museum of Fine Arts was around the corner from the gym. When it’s open it’s one of the great art institutions in America. My favorite painting, Renoir’s Dance at Bougival sits in the Impressionists’ gallery at the MFA. It’s a wonderful place.

Next time I’m at Northeastern I’ll stop in and hopefully show you what’s on exhibition.


The Game

About 30 minutes before tip my friend Brandon called me. I pace when I’m on the phone and I’m glad I did because I wound face to face with Cy Young.

Cy Young

Located between the gym and Churchill Hall there’s a small patch of grass and Cy is looking in on home plate for the sign.

This was the site of the Huntington Avenue Ground, the original home of the Boston Americans baseball team. Today the club is better known as the Red Sox. The Grounds hosted the first World Series in 1903, in which Young led the Americans to a 5-3 series win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Home plate

Now the Cabot Center sits on the sit of the old ballfield along with other campus buildings.

Cabot Center entrance

While both basketball teams are playing at the Cabot this year, traditionally it’s only home to games for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.

Two things strike you immediately upon walking in: the immense amount of natural light and the gray playing surface.

The natural light is lovely. I can’t think of any other D1 facility in New England with windows overlooking the court. It gives the building a brightness that fluorescent lights just can’t.

The matchup was the first of a back-to-back between the Huskies and Delaware, another former America East program. The Blue Hens have made four NCAA tournaments this century, making it back-to-back in 2012-2013 on the shoulders of Elena Della Donne.

The Blue Hens made the Sweet 16 in 2013.

The game was great in the early going as the teams traded the lead with zeal. Up 15-14 in the first quarter the Blue Hens found a different gear and scored 13 straight points to widen the lead and never looked back.

The Blue Hens rolled. A strong game inside (outrebounding NU 43-35) and a strong game outside (47.7 percent shooting) compounded with timely defense allowed Delaware to win with ease.

The Blue Hens outscored Northeastern 50-19 over the second and third quarters.

Delaware had five players with 11 or more points including a team-high 16 points from Tyi Walker. The Blue Hen bench outscored the Husky reserves 35-9.

Mide Oriyomi had 20 for Northeastern and Stella had a full day with 13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and four steals for the Huskies. Delaware was just too much.

Delaware 86, Northeastern 59. Final.
Time of game – 1:50
Player of the game – Ty Battle (Delaware) — 13 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals

One of the more surprising things for me was how familiar everything felt once I got in the gym. Sure, there are no fans and no general gameday buzz, but once I was in the gym I was vibing with the pregame music. It was like putting on your favorite jacket after it spent all year folded up in the closet.

Yes, there was plexiglass surrounding everyone’s seat at the media table but even then couldn’t take me out of the moment. It was basketball. It was familiar. It was home.