The arena was an oversized barn.
The seats were tightly packed together, the press box was minuscule. The facilities were so inadequate that after the game the players, coaches, and journalists were shuttled to the high school next door for the standard post-game media sessions.
The arena was a really crummy place. It was old. They didn't have air conditioning so the smoke rose to the top. The arena was shaped like a cock-fighting arena, very steeply sloped sides. The kind of thing you'd see in small hockey towns in Canada. ... When you have a small arena ... You can hear the whoosh of the skates, even upstairs. When they hit each other, you hear that noise. [There was] something 1920s, 1930s about it. Dimly lit. Lousy locker rooms.
- Gerald Eskenazi, who covered the game for The New York Times
The official seating capacity of the arena that night was 8,500, but by some estimates over 11,000 people were in attendance, standing five-deep in the hallways and packed into any other place a human body would fit.
When viewers tuned in later that night, they saw Al Michaels announce that scalpers were selling tickets for as much as three times the face value. There was a small Soviet contingent, but the crowd was otherwise uniformly cheering on the underdog home team.
In other words, despite the long odds a passionate crowd was on hand. In the first minute of play, when Soviet winger Helmut Balderis made a poor pass that skidded out into open ice, the crowd roared as if the USA had just scored a goal. The noise got louder and louder as the game advanced, building to a thunderous, continuous roar as the final seconds ticked down.
It was completely symphonic and overwhelming. The noise. The screaming. ... It was just, whoosh! Everybody was screaming at the top of their lungs ... Nobody forgets this game, even if they weren't there. Being there, it was indelible.
- Spectator Erik Wemple