Monday, December 28, 2009

Blue Cross Arena at War Memorial-Rochester NY

Basic Information
Team: Rochester Americans (American Hockey League)
Game: Americans vs Hamilton Bulldogs-12/26/09
Team Website: http://www.amerks.com/
Ticket Information: (585) 454-5335 or Ticketmaster (585) 232-1900
Tourism Information: (800) 677-7282 or http://www.visitrochester.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.whtk.com/

Team History: The Rochester Americans are one of the most storied franchises in all of minor league hockey, having been a part of the American Hockey League since 1956. The Americans have won the Calder Cup (the American Hockey League’s championship trophy) on six occasions, most recently in 1996.

Some of the legendary names that have worn the Amerks crest include Gerry Cheevers, Al Arbour, Jody gage, and Don Cherry. In addition to his time as an Americans player, Cherry coached the team for three seasons.

The team was purchased in June of 2008 by Curt Styres, the first Native American to own a professional sports franchise. Styres is a member of the Grand River First Nation tribe. Styres then hired Ted Nolan, another Native American, as the team’s vice president. Nolan played with the Americans in 1984-85 before beginning his NHL career.

Team Affiliation: The Americans are the top affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

How About That Name (and Some History): In 1945, the good people of Rochester began planning the possibility of a downtown civic center, which according to a committee, would cost 2.5 million dollars. The seven thousand seat arena would finally open in 1955, and the Americans hockey team would be one of its first tenants. In 1996, the city decided to renovate and expand their showplace, and two years later, the building, now seating over ten thousand, would re-open under its new name, the Blue Cross Arena at War Memorial.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the New York Thruway east to exit 47 (I-490). Go north on I-490 for approximately 12 miles to the Plymouth Ave/Inner Loop exit (exit 13). Make a right onto Plymouth Ave, and proceed three lights to Broad St. Make a left onto Broad St, and follow to Arena. The arena will be on your right side on the intersection of Broad and Exchange streets.

Nearby Airport: Greater Rochester International Airport is approximately six miles southwest of the Blue Cross Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: One of the more picturesque parts of downtown Rochester is the High Falls neighborhood. As one might expect, there is a substantial waterfall as the Genessee River flows through the city. In the neighborhood around the Falls, there is a welcome center which helps visitors learn more about Rochester, as well as many art gallerys, shops, and restaurants. For more information about the High Falls district, call (585) 325-2030 or visit http://www.centerathighfalls.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: As in this trip, I was just heading into Rochester for the game, I didn’t have the time to survey the local cuisine. I would suggest getting a Rochester visitors guide or visiting the visitor’s bureau website at the address listed above.

Where To Stay: There are many hotels of all price levels in the Rochester area. I would check with your favorite hotel chain for the lodging choices.

Tickets: Americans tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (100 level premium), $18.00 (200 level premium), $17.00 (100 level end), $14.00 (200 level end), $11.00 (200 upper level end and 200 level balcony). There is an additional $2.25 charge for tickets purchased at the box office on game day.

Parking: There are several municipal lots within a walking distance of the Blue Cross Arena. I parked at a lot directly behind the building which cost $7.00.

The Good Seats: Most of the seating at the Arena gives a good view of the action. However, the seats in the upper 200 “balcony” (sections 201, 202, and 203), are substantially back from the rink, and don’t have a clear view of the scoreboard. However, arena management has hung an auxiliary scoreboard just under the lip of the balcony, which gives those in the upper balcony all the pertinent game information.

Getting In: The main entrance to the Blue Cross Arena was one of the areas which was rebuilt during the most recent renovation. It now has a glassed-in atrium, which is the home of the box office and “the Zone” souvenir shop. After purchasing your ticket, fans go up a flight of stairs which takes them to the main concourse level. Just at the top of the stairs is a full service bar, where some of the team’s older championship flags are hung.

Arena Food: There are two main food courts located in the main concourse on either side of the center line. The food selections are limited to arena basics: hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries, etc. I sampled the $3.00 hot dogs on my last trip to Rochester, and to be honest, they weren’t exactly my favorite. Instead, I had a hamburger and fries, which for $6.50, wasn’t a bad deal. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it was hot. One of the more unusual things was that you had to order your burger at one stand, then head over to another one to purchase your fries.

There are smaller carts set up in the concourse selling beer, Dippin’ Dots, and flavored nuts.

Restrooms: There are sufficient restrooms set up along the main concourse. They are old, but clean and well stocked.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Blue Cross Arena has a large center hanging scoreboard which features full video capability. There are also auxiliary scoreboards hung in the balcony, and on
the opposite end behind the goal.

The PA announcer was surprisingly subdued, and the music played was your standard “jock rock”, also played at a lower level. I’m not sure if this was intentional or the fault of the poor acoustics in the building.

Game Staff: Each section has its own usher which handles just about any issue. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a “customer service” area which is now a standard in most of the larger arenas.

Souvenirs: “The Zone” shop has a small lineup of team merchandise for the Americans and the Knighthawks indoor lacrosse team. There is another souvenir table set up to the right of the main entrance on the concourse.

Atmosphere: The Americans’ fans might seem a little quiet, but I think that is because they are intently watching the action on the ice. The promotions are kept to a minimum, and the team’s two mascots, a moose and an eagle, circulate in the stands, but don’t distract from the action. The Amerks also have a four-girl cheerleading/promotional team and an in-stands master of ceremonies, but again, they don’t take away from what is going on inside the boards.

Overall Rating: The Blue Cross Arena is a pleasant place to watch hockey, but as I mentioned, as many of these players are soon to be headed to the NHL, it’s an intense experience, as Rochester fans know their hockey. They should, since they have had a proud franchise for over fifty years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jack Gatecliffe Arena-St. Catherines, ON

Basic Information
Team: Niagara Ice Dogs (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Ice Dogs vs Ottawa 67s-11/28/09
Team Website: http://www.niagaraicedogs.net/
Ticket Information: (905) 687-3641
Tourism Information: (800) 305-5134 or http://www.stcatherines.ca/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.river.fm/

Team History: The 2009-10 season is the third in the short history of the Niagara Ice Dogs. The team played in Mississauga’s Hershey Centre from 1998 until the end of the 2006-07 season, when it was purchased by Bill and Denise Burke, and moved to St. Catherines.

How About That Name (and Some History): The Jack Gatecliff Arena, the home of the Ice Dogs, was built in 1938, and was called the Garden City Arena. In 1996, prior to the arrival of the Ice Dogs, the city of St. Catherines renovated the facility, and renamed it the Gatorade Garden City Complex. The Complex actually has two separate rinks, the main Gatecliff Arena, and the smaller Rex Stimers Arena.

Before the Ice Dogs moved to St. Catherines, the arena was the home of the AHL’s St. Catherines Saints, who were the American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Saints played at “the Jack” from 1982-1986.

“The Jack” is the smallest arena in the OHL, with a capacity of 3,145, which includes almost 500 standing room places.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (aka the “QEW”) towards Toronto for approximately 20 miles. Exit onto Thorold Stone Rd (exit 32) going towards Thorold . At the top of the exit ramp, make a left. Follow Thorold Stone Rd (Rt 57) for approximately 5 miles (note: Rt 57 turns into Rt 58.) Take Rt 58 to Rt 406 north going towards St. Catherines. Exit the 406 on Geneva St north. The complex will be on your left hand side virtually as you exit the 406.

Nearby Airport: Toronto’s Lester Pearson International Airport, Hamilton International Airport, and Buffalo International Airport are all less than an hour’s drive from St. Catherines.

What To Do Before The Game: A short drive from St. Catherines brings you to Niagara Falls, ON. The “Canadian side” features many tourist destinations, including the Skylon observation tower, Marineland, and two world-class casinos, the Fallsview and Casino Niagara. For more information, visit the friendly folks at the Ontario Welcome Centres located just over the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Dining in the area of the arena is EXTREMELY limited, and the neighborhood isn’t exactly the best. I recommend getting a copy of the St. Catherines visitors guide for more information. You can get one at http://www.stcatherines.ca/.

Where To Stay: Since I stayed in Buffalo during my trip to see the Ice Dogs, I can’t really give much information here. I would consult with the folks at the St. Catherines Tourism Bureau.

Tickets: Ice Dogs tickets are priced as follows: C$18.00 (premium), C$17.00 (end), C$15.00 (youth/seniors), and C$13.00 (standing).

Parking: Parking at the complex is limited, but free.

The Good Seats: Every seat at “the Jack” is a good one. While seating is of the traditional wooden fold-down type, instead of being set up for one butt per, they are wide enough for two...kind of like a wooden love seat! The standing room is a good choice if the seating has been sold out, with the a standing area in the concourse about the seating bowl providing good views from almost any position. A bonus to the standing room is a shelf, provided by team management, to place your beer and hot dog on.

Getting In: There is one major entrance, which also hosts the box office, which leads you to the stairs which take you up to the seating area. Beware, the team locker room is the first thing you will encounter when you walk in, so you might be dodging the visiting team during their calisthenics!

Arena Food: “The Jack” is an old community rink , so concession stands are at a premium. In the slightly chaotic area which takes you into the seating bowl, there is one small concession stand selling basic arena food, a table set up nearby selling beer and pizza, and another table selling pulled pork sandwiches. The price wasn’t too bad, and the quality was acceptable.

Inside the arena proper, there are beer tables set up on the concourse where you can get a brew and watch the game. There is also a smaller concession stand below the grandstand on the opposite end of the arena from the main entrance.

Restrooms: There are restrooms set up in the entrance to the seating area and below the seating area near the smaller concession stand. They are small, but they are clean and well kept up.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Gatecliff Arena has an old-fashioned center hanging scoreboard which gives the basic game information only. Like the Hershey Centre, St. Catherines has four projection video screens which give a view of anything that you might have missed.

The PA announcer has a good delivery and the music played has a good selection.

Game Staff: The Ice Dogs have some of the friendliest, most helpful people that I have ever encountered in my sports travels. Everyone there had a smile on their face and had time to chat about the team. Even me, a first timer, was welcomed as a friend and not a stranger.
If you happen to visit the Ice Dogs, be sure and say hello to Bill and Denise Burke, the team’s owners. They sit under the press box near the center line. You will not meet two nicer people and more classy and genial hosts.

Souvenirs: The Ice Dogs have a small souvenir store located at the entrance to the seating bowl.

Atmosphere: You could not have more of a contrast. The evening before in Mississauga. It was comfortable, yet quiet…almost passionless. St. Catherines was a diametric opposite. It was loud, rowdy, and intense from the warm-ups to the final buzzer. You can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere, and even me, who didn’t know anything about the team when I walked in, was cheering loudly for the Ice Dogs when the clock reached zero.

One of the ushers told me that when “the Jack” is full, the cheering is so loud that it can be heard in the apartment building across the street!

Overall Rating: Gatecliff Arena is small, old, and chaotic on a game night. It’s a cracker box of a city rink which has a lot of drawbacks. However, once you walk in, none of that is worth a looney. All of the things I just listed make “the Jack” a special place when the puck drops. If you want a true hockey experience with a team that is intertwined with the community, a Saturday night with the Ice Dogs is the place to be, and is worth the drive.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hershey Centre, Mississauga ON

Basic Information
Team: Mississauga St. Michaels Majors (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Majors vs Barrie Colts-11/27/09
Team Website: http://www.stmichaelsmajors.com/
Ticket Information: (905) 502-7788
Tourism Information: (866) 327-4093 or http://www.visitmississauga.com/
Internet Broadcast: none

Team History: The St. Michaels Majors are one of the most storied names in the annals of major “Junior A” hockey in Canada. In 1907, a team representing St. Michaels College in Toronto started a hockey program. Just three years later, the Majors won their first Ontario Hockey League championship. The Majors would quickly become a powerful force in the burgeoning sport of junior hockey, winning the Memorial Cup (symbolic of the Canadian Junior Hockey championship) in 1934, 1945, 1947, and 1961. However, the school felt that the schedule was too grueling for the players, and the team was disbanded in 1961.

The team was reborn in 1997, when the Ontario Hockey League awarded a group of St. Michael’s alumni an expansion team. In 2001, another St. Mike’s grad, Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, purchased the team. He moved the club from its Toronto base in 2007 to Mississauga’s Hershey Centre to start the 2007-08 campaign.

How About That Name (and Some history): The home of the Majors has been known as the Hershey Centre since opening in 1998. The building is located on Rose Cherry Place, named after the late wife of Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry, who was instrumental in the building of the arena and it’s first tenant, the Mississauga Ice Dogs. In 2007, a new multi-sport facility called Hershey SportZone opened just to the north of the main bowl. SportZone houses a full size indoor soccer field, a full size basketball court, a gymnastics facility, and two outdoor soccer fields.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (aka the “QEW”) towards Toronto for approximately 80 miles. Exit onto the 403 Hwy (exit 123) going towards Toronto for approximately 8 miles. Exit the 403 on Hurontario St. Go north on Hurontario St for approximately a mile and a half. Make a right onto Matheson Blvd E. Proceed on Matheson Blvd E until you see the complex on the left. There is a large sign at the entrance to the complex.

Nearby Airport: Lester Pearson International Airport is less than five miles from the Hershey Centre.

What To Do Before The Game: Obviously downtown Toronto, which is less than a half an hour from the Hershey Centre is located, is an obvious choice. But, if you don’t want to brave the notorious traffic heading into downtown, there are alternatives in Mississauga. The incredibly helpful and friendly staff at the Ontario Welcome Centre in Fort Erie (just over the Peace Bridge which connects Buffalo to Canada) suggested visiting the Playdium. A 40,000 square foot interactive arcade, the Playdium features over 200 arcade games, a roller coaster simulator, a miniature golf course, bowling lanes, batting cages, and a go-kart track. For more information, visit http://www.playdium.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many choices along Hurontario St, ranging from fast food to sit-down ethnic restaurants.

Where To Stay: There are many choices in the Mississauga area for lodgings. I recommend getting a copy of the city’s visitor guide either at the Ontario Welcome Centre or at the website listed at the top of this article.

Tickets: Majors tickets purchased the day of the game are priced as follows: C$21.95 (platinum level),C$16.95 (gold level), and C$14.95 (red level). There is a discount if you purchase prior to the game you are attending.

Parking: Parking at the Hershey Centre is plentiful and free.

The Good Seats: All of the seats at the Hershey Centre have a good view of the ice, so any where you want to sit will more than likely satisfy you. The Majors average around two thousand or so per game, so good seats at all price levels should be available at the box office.

Getting In: There is one major entrance at the box office, and a separate entrance for club seat holders.

Arena Food: This is a mixed bag. At each corner of the building are concession stands, cleverly named “Hershey (snack) Bars”. The selection is limited to hot dogs, pizza, drinks, and (to no one’s surprise) Hershey candy. There are several smaller tables selling roasted nuts in the inner concourse. Just below the press box is the “Bistro”, which has two full service bars, a small concession stand, and booths to eat at. Two slices of pizza and a bottle of Pepsi cost C$11.00 and a hot dog was C$3.50. The pizza wasn’t the most spectacular, but the hot dog was fairly tasty. Interestingly enough, the hot dog was served on what might be considered a sandwich bun, instead of the normal hot dog bun.

Restrooms: There are sufficient rest rooms in the main concourse, which are clean and serviceable.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Hershey Centre has a moderate sized center-hanging scoreboard which has the basic game information. The main scoreboard is assisted by two projection video screens, which are hung on either side the arena. Unfortunately, the screens are hung at a level where the view is obscured by the roof scaffolding.

The PA announcer was fairly sedate, and gave just the basic game information.

Game Staff: The Hershey Centre arena staff was all friendly and very helpful during my visit.

Souvenirs: The team’s main souvenir stand, the “Maniac Shack”, is located at the main entrance to the building. The small store has a very limited line of merchandise, but the prices weren’t too bad. There is another souvenir table located in the concourse, which also sells a limited line.

Atmosphere: I was surprised at how quiet and reserved the fans for the Majors were. I assumed that there would be some kind of hardcore following, but if there was, I didn’t see it.

Overall Rating: The Hershey Centre is a very good building to watch hockey. However, if you’re looking for a intense experience, this isn’t going to be it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wings Stadium, Kalamazoo MI

Basic Information
Team: Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL)
Game: Wings vs Cincinnati Cyclones-11/14/09
Team Website: http://www.kwings.com/ or http://www.wingsstadium.com/
Ticket Information: (269) 34-WINGS
Tourism Information: (800) 888-0509 or http://www.discoverkalamazoo.com/
Internet Broadcast: http://www.kwings.com/

Team History: Kalamazoo's journey in the world of pro hockey began in October 1973 when a group of local investors recieved an expansion franchise in the original International Hockey League. Four months later, construction began on what would become known as Wings Stadium, and was finished in an incredible nine months later, when the Wings played their first game at their new home. The Wings would win the IHL's Turner Cup championship twice, taking the title in back to back seasons of 1978-79 and 1979-80.

The Wings would cease their IHL operations after the 1999-2000 season, but hockey fans would not be without hockey for long. The Madison Kodiaks of the United Hockey League (now the second International Hockey League) recieved permission to move to Kalamazoo, and with the blessings of the Parfet family (the original owners of the Wings), recieved permisison to revive the Wings name in their new home.

The Wings would play in the UHL and second IHL until the summer of 2009, when they announced that they would be moving up to the ECHL for the 2009-10 season.

Team Affiliation: The Wings are the ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and the San Jose Sharks.

How About That Name (and some History): The home of hockey in Kalamazoo has had the Wings Stadium name since the facility opened its doors in 1974.

While the big club spends most of its time within the confines of the Stadium, Wings Stadium has become the focus of youth and amateur hockey in the area as well. In order to handle the need for rink space, Wings Stadium has also opened up two other buildings on the premises. The first, which is called "the Annex", is the home of another full sized ice pad and a pro shop and was opened in 1989. The other new addition, called "the Cube" opened in 1997, has its own full sized rink. Both have seating areas and can host other community events as well as hockey and figure skating.

Getting There: Take I-94 to Sprinkle Rd (Exit 80). Go south on Sprinkle Rd for 200 yards to the first traffic light (Vanrick Dr). Turn right into Vanrick Dr and follow into Wings Stadium entrance.

Nearby Airport: Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport is less than five miles from Wings Stadium.

What To Do Before The Game: Located twenty minutes from Wings Stadium, the brand new Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek features the best in slots and table games for your gambling pleasure.

The new casino is conveniently located just a quarter mile off I-94, and has substantial free parking on site. Once in the building, there are slots of all denominations, poker, and other table games such as blackjack and craps.

Firekeepers also boasts five restaurants in the casino.

For more information, call (877) FKC-8777 or visit http://www.firekeeperscasino.com/

For those of you who are interested in the history of manned flight, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo is the place for you. Adjacent to the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, the Air Zoo features many restored air and space craft from the last century, flight simulators where you can see if you have the “Right Stuff”, a multi-media presentation of a World War II fighter mission, and more.

For information on the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, call (866) 524-7966 or visit http://www.airzoo.com/.

Where to Eat Before The Game: There really isn’t too much in the area immediately adjacent to Wings Stadium, but if you go north on Sprinkle Rd and cross back over I-94, there are several smaller restaurants, including Perkins, Wendy’s, Godfather’s Pizza, and Benucci’s (an outstanding little Italian-American restaurant).

Where to Stay: Just north of Wings Stadium is the Red Roof Inn. For price and convenience, this location is excellent. For reservations, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.

Tickets: Wings tickets are priced as follows: $14.90, $12.90, $9.90 and $6.90 (kids 2 to 12). There is a $1.00 per ticket surcharge for tickets purchased on game night.

Parking: Wings Stadium has a large parking area and is free. Valet parking is $10.00.

The Good Seats: With a seating capacity of around five thousand, all of the seats at Wings Stadium are good. With the exception of the corners, there are approximately 15-18 rows from the boards to the top, so Wings Stadium boasts excellent sightlines with an intimate feel.

Getting In: There is a large, carpeted main entrance/foyer which also serves as the box office and the entrance to the team offices.

Arena Food: For a smaller building, Wings Stadium features a significant list of concessions. The four main concession stands are cleverly named for nearby landmarks: I-94 Express, Covington Corner, Exit 80 Diner, and the South Lot CafĂ©. Each features a substantial menu at fairly reasonable prices. I purchased two hot dogs, a pretzel, and a large Pepsi for $13.00. In addition, spread around the concourse are a selection of beer stands, a Little Caesar’s Pizza stand, a cart selling fresh popcorn, a barbecue sandwich stand, and a table where they were selling fresh roasted nuts..with a scent that almost dragged you there!

Wings Stadium also boasts the Underground Sports Bar, which provides a full service bar and is located under section 3.

Restrooms: There are two sets of restrooms, one on each side of the building. Both are functional, clean, and well stocked.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: Wings Stadium has a fairly good sized center-hanging scoreboard, which provides basic game information. Under the main scoreboard is a full color message center, which gets almost constant use.

The arena PA announcer has a good, solid delivery. He is assisted by a good selection of music, much of which is a mix of classic rock and recent hard rock.

Game Staff: Excellent! All of my dealings with team and arena staff left me with nothing but a
positive experience. Everyone was friendly and helpful, almost to a fault.

Souvenirs: In the arena proper, there were two fairly well stocked souvenir stands, selling basic team gear. In addition, the Pro Shop in the Annex remained open during the Wings’ game and did a brisk business with team jerseys and other gear.

Atmosphere: Wings fans know their hockey, and that passion and enthusiasm makes going to a game at Wings Stadium that much more of a positive one. The focus is on the game, which creates a more educated and intense fan base. Slappy, the teams mascot does a great job in motivating the fans and making friends with the kids. He carries around a sack of “clappers”, which he autographs and gives to young fans around the arena.

One of the nice things that they do for long-time season ticket holders is a pre-game “Meet the Coach” session, which is held in one of the small alcoves under the stands. In these little “meetings”, Wings coach Nick Bootland gives a rundown of what to expect that evening’s game, a recap of recent events, and if time permits, takes some questions. A classy act from a class organization.

Overall: I highly recommend a trip to Wings Stadium if you are in the area. Visitors will get a combination of a sparkling clean arena, intense hockey action, and a friendly, smiling face from those who work there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hara Arena, Trotwood OH

Basic Information
Team: Dayton Gems (International Hockey League)
Game: Gems vs Flint Generals-10/25/09
Team Website: http://www.daytongems.com/
Ticket Information: Hara Arena box office (937) 278-4776
Tourism Information: http://www.daytoncvb.com/ or (800) 221-8235
Internet Broadcast: None

Team History: The 2009-10 season is the first for the "new" Dayton Gems in the International Hockey League, but both the team and the league have a long history in Dayton. The original version of the Gems played in the first incarnation of the IHL from 1964-1997 and from 1979-80. The Gems, owned by local businessman Lefty McFadden, were a hit at the Hara Arena, often drawing sellout crowds. Hara hosted several IHL All-Star Games during the team's tenure. The club won three Turner Cup championships: 1968-69, 1969-70, and 1975-76. The Gems ceased operations due to financial difficulties in 1980.
After the Dayton Bombers dropped out of the ECHL last summer, a new ownership group resurrected the Gems, and returned them to the new IHL in July 2009.

How About That Name (and some history): The Hara Arena was opened in 1964 on a fruit orchard adjacent to the Wampler Ballarena, a local dance hall. The building was named for HArold and RAlph Wampler. Over it's 45 year history, Hara has hosted not only professional hockey, but also pro wrestling, indoor soccer, and major musical acts like The Who, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and the Grateful Dead.

Getting There: Take I-75 to Needmore Rd. Go west on Needmore Rd (note: Needmore Rd changes names to Shoup Mill Rd and then to Turner Rd) for approximately 4 miles. Make a right onto Wolf Rd. Go approximately a half mile on Wolf Rd to Shiloh Springs Rd. Make a left on Shiloh Springs Rd, and the arena will be on your right.

Nearby Airports: Dayton International Airport is 8 miles north of Hara Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: Less than fifteen minutes from Hara Arena is the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The museum boasts three large hangars, which features the aircraft, technology, and missiles which made the USAF the powerful international deterrent force that it is today. Included in the musuem's collection is the B-29 "Bockscar", which dropped the second atomic bomb in World War II, the SR-71 "Blackbird", one of the world's fastest aircraft, exhibits about how the USAF overcame the blockade of Berlin and provided supplies to the people of West Berlin, as well as the command module that went to the moon on Apollo 15.

In an adjacent hangar, the USAF boasts several of the aircraft which transported Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and John F Kennedy.

The best part of this museum is that admission is free. The only cost would be if you wished to watch one of the IMAX movies which run constantly throughout the day.

For more information, call (937) 255-3286 or visit http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Prior to the game, your best bet for eating is one exit north of Needmore Rd at Wyse Rd. Exit at Wyse Rd, and make the first right onto Miller Ln. There are many choices on Miller Ln, including Steak and Shake, Hooters, Olive Garden, Smokey Bones, Red Lobster and Bob Evans.

Where To Stay: Again, your best bet would be checking out the locations on Miller Ln. On that road there is a Red Roof, a Comfort Inn, a Courtyard by Marriott, and a Days Inn amongst others major chains.

Tickets: Gems tickets are $14.00 (lower level) and $10.00 (upper level) for adults and $7.00 (lower level) and $5.00 (upper level) for kids.

Parking: Parking at Hara is plentiful and costs $5.00.

The Good Seats: All of the seats at Hara give a good view of the action, and as the building holds just over five thousand, virtually every seat is on top of the game. One of the nice things is that the floor of the first row of seats is level with the top of the wood portion of the dasher boards, so even those close in seats give a terrific view without too much distortion.

Getting In: The only entrance to Hara is at the front of the building, where the ticket office is located inside the entrance area.

Arena Food: There are two main concession stands, located on the south end of the building. They sell basic arena fare at fairly reasonable prices (I paid $8.00 for two hot dogs and a pretzel). In addition, there are small beer and pizza stands set up in the concourse.

There is the Hara Pub located just off the main concourse at the arena entrance for those who
want to inbibe.

Rest Rooms: The restrooms are located on either side of the seating area. While the facilities are rather old, they are relatively clean and are sufficiently stocked.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: Hara has a large center-hanging scoreboard which posts basic game information. In addition, there are two smaller scoreboards hanging along the sides of the seating area. These seemed to be inoperative for my visit.

The PA announcer had a good voice and good delivery. The music was a good mix of classic rock.

Game Staff: While limited, the staff for the Gems was friendly and helpful, as was the majority of the arena staff.

Souvenirs: There is a small store located on the main concourse near the front entrance. As the team is just getting started, the line of souvenirs was small, but I was assured that more item were coming.

Atmosphere: I'm going to have to rate this as "incomplete". The game I attended had (by my untrained eye) less than five hundred people in attendance. I have to say that some of this was due to the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals were playing at the same time. The staff worked hard with some clever promotions (musical pucks-a take off on musical chairs), it was still not particularly lively.

Overall: If you want a true "old-time" hockey experience, Hara Arena would be a place to visit. While some renovations have been done over the years, it still has that "hockey barn" atmosphere which can't be replicated.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Compuware Arena, Plymouth MI

Basic Information
Team: Plymouth Whalers (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Whalers vs Ottawa 67s-10/16/09
Team Website: http://www.plymouthwhalers.com/
Ticket Information: (734) 453-8400
Tourism Information: http://www.visitdetroit.com/ or (800) DETROIT
Internet Broadcast: http://www.plymouthwhalers.com/

Team History: The 2009-10 season marks the 20th season for the Whalers in the metropolitan Detroit area. The team was originally known as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, the Detroit Junior Red Wings, and the Detroit Whalers, and played at the downtown Cobo Arena. In 1996, the Whalers moved to a new arena built by team owner Peter Karmanos, Jnr in suburban Plymouth, approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown. The move enabled the team to change their name to the Plymouth Whalers.

How About That Name (and some history): Peter Karmanos Jnr, who owned both the Detroit Whalers and their NHL counterparts in Hartford, decided to build a community ice rink/arena in Plymouth to enable the team to move to the Detroit suburbs for the 1996-97 season. In just 6 months time, Karmanos built a 4,000 seat arena which he named after the company that he was the president of, software manufacturer Compuware. Not only does the new arena serve as the host of the Whalers, it is also the home rink for the Compuware Ambassadors junior hockey program, as well as hosting local high school events. In the past, Compuware was also the home of the Detroit Rockers and Detroit Ignition indoor soccer teams.

Getting There: From the south: Take I-75 north to I-275 west (towards Flint). Take I-275 to M-14 (approximately 30 miles). Take M-14 west to the Beck Rd exit. At top of ramp, make a right, and go approximately half a mile. Compuware will be on your right.

Nearby Airports: Detroit International Airport is approximately 15 miles south of Compuware Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: Not far from Compuware is one of the countrys top historical sites, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Located in nearby Dearborn, the museum complex features four top flight attractions, which include the Henry Ford Museum, which focuses on the man, as well as the automobile as a part of the American lifestyle, Greenfield Village, a recreation of a turn of the 20th century village, an IMAX theater, as well as (schedule permitting) a tour of the Ford River Rouge factory, where the Ford F-150 pickup is assembled. To be honest, to do the Ford museum complecx "right", you need more than one day. If you're like me, you will want to see all the exhibits, and read all the explanations, you will want to plan it around a weekend. Also at Greenfield Village, there is a restaurant/cafeteria called "A Taste of History", which has some of the most amazing food! As you can guess, I highly recommend it. For more information, call (800) 835-5237 or visit http://www.thehenryford.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There is a restaurant at the Arena called CJ's Brewing Company, which features pizza, burgers, and as one might guess, an assortment of Microbrews. There isn't a lot of food choices immediately around the arena as far as I know, but if you have time, there are several restaurants in the nearby towns of Novi, Livonia, and Northville.

Where To Stay: As far as I'm aware, there isn't a lot in the way of lodgings immediately near Compuwware, but there are several hotels off I-275 near Livonia, Novi, and Northville.

Tickets: The Whalers tickets are priced as follows $15.00 (Center Ice seating-between the blue lines) and $11.00 (Executive-rest of the arena). Tickets are usually available the day of the game at the Compuware box office.

Parking: There is sufficent on-site parking, which costs $5.00.

The Good Seats: Compuware is an intimate building, with seating for just over 3,600, which means all the seats are good. There are just 15 rows of seats, so you're right on top of the action, even if you're at the top. If you're more into standing, you can still get an excellent view while watching the game from the concourse, which has room for about 500 standees.

Arena Food: For a building of it's size, Compuware has a better than average amount of concession stands. In addition to CJ's Brewing Company, there are two Slapshot Snackshops. which carry your standard arena fare, a smaller portable stand on the other side of the seating area, and two portable bar carts, selling beer and a small supply of other hard liquors. I did sample the pizza, which I assume was made on-site. The two slices I had were not the best, yet not the worst either, and cost a total of $7.00. Although I didn't sample the other food choices, from previous visits, I remember them being fairly tasty, and pretty much average in terms of cost.

Rest Rooms: There are rest rooms located behind each goal at Compuware. They seem to be fairly clean, well stocked, and of an appropriate size.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Compuware has a small four sided scoreboard over center ice which provides the basic game information. The main scoreboard is assisted by two smaller matrix boards located in opposite corners of the arena. The PA announcer and music are of average quality, but they are almost impossible to hear due to the poor acoustics in the building. From wherever I stood, everything seemed garbled. I mentioned to a member of the Whalers' staff, and she told me that it was on their "To Do" List, but she doesn't see it getting improved due to the current economic situation.

Game Staff: There is sufficent staffing for an arena the size of Compuware, and all seemed helpful and friendly.

Souvenirs: There is a decent sized pro-shop behind the north goal, which sells a fairly substantial line of Whalers and Compuware Ambassadors merchandise, as well as some standard hockey equipment for those who play at the arena when the Whalers are out of town.

Atmosphere: The arena was only half full for the Friday night game that I attended. However, those who were there knew hockey, and appreciated when a good play was made. With that being said, it was surprisingly quiet (to me anyway). I had discussed this with a member of the team staff, and she told me that once high school football (big in the area) was completed, Friday nights games would have more fans. In additon, when the Whalers play nearby rivals Windsor (which they hosted the next evening), there would be a good crowd representing both teams.

Overall: Compuware Arena is the place to go if you want to watch hard hitting hockey played by some younger guys who are looking to make it to the "show". The OHL overall has some surprisingly good hockey that is played in (for the most part) smaller markets who are fiercely loyal and proud of their local teams. It's good value and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

PGE Park, Portland OR

Basic Information
Team: Portland Timbers (United Soccer League)
Game: Timbers vs Cleveland City Stars-9/13/09 and 9/17/09
Team Website: http://www.portlandtimbers.com/
Ticket Information: (503) 553-5555
Tourism Information: http://www.travelportland.com/ or (800) 962-3700
Internet Broadcast: http://www.955thegame.com/ or http://www.usllive.com/

Team History: The Portland Timbers are one of the legendary names in American professional soccer, as their history goes all the way back to 1975 and the halcyon days of the NASL. The Timbers quickly developed a rabid following, earning the city the nickname of "Soccer City USA". The Timbers played in the NASL until 1982, when ownership issues caused the team to fold after the season. The "Rose City" was without professional soccer until 1985, when FC Portland began play in the new Western Soccer Alliance. In 1989, new ownership revived the Timbers name for two more years until that edition of the Timbers ceased operations. The most recent incarnation of the Timbers started in 2001, when a new ownership group revitalized the Timber name with a team which began play in the United Soccer League. The team reached full circle earlier this year when it was announced that the Timbers would be joining Major League Soccer for the 2011 season.

How About That Name (and Some History): The stadium that is currently known as PGE Park has a history that stretches back over a hundred years. Originally known as Multnomah Field, the current home of the Timbers had it's first sporting event in the late 1890's. In 1925, the Multnomah Athletic Club, who owned the facility, unveiled plans for a new 28,000 seat stadium on the site, and within a year, Multnomah Stadium was opened. It has hosted minor league baseball, college and professional football, dog racing, and even ski jumping. In 2001, after a major renovation, the stadium was renamed PGE Park, after a naming rights deal was struck with local utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric.

Getting There: PGE Park is located on the west side of downtown Portland. From the Airport: Take I-84 West to I-5 South. Exit immediately onto Morrison St. Take Morrison St. After crossing bridge, make a slight left onto SW Washington St. Take SW Washington to SW 13th Ave. Take SW 13th Ave. to Morrison St. Stadium will be on your left side.

What to Do Before The Game: If you want to spend the afternoon a short trip from PGE Park, then I highly recommend pointing yourself towards the incredibly beautiful Washington Park. A five minute drive from the home of the Timbers, Washington Park as a jewel of nature next to a bustling city, covering over 400 acres and featuring 15 miles of walking and hiking trails. Inside Washington Park, you will find the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Gardens, the Portland Children's Museum, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, the Hoyt Arboretum, and the International Rose Test Gardens. All of which boast some of most beautiful and calming scenery I have seen in some time. For more information, visit http://www.washingtonparkpdx.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several restaurants within a short walk from PGE Park's front door, but if you want to go where the Timbers Army supporters group hangs out before the match, visit the Bitter End. Right across the street from PGE Park, the Bitter End is not much on decor, but it makes up for that in atmosphere, passion, and a fine selection of local and international brews. Just don't go in wearing the colors of the Seattle Sounders, the "blood enemies" of the Timbers!

Where To Stay: During my trip to Portland, I stayed at the Quality Inn & Suites Airport/Convention Center. Conveniently located four minutes from Portland International Airport and about fifteen minutes from downtown Portland, I found the rooms at this facility spacious, well kept up, clean, and quiet. This hotel also has a pool, and an on-site coffee and sandwich shop, and has an adjacent stop on the city's light rail system. The rates for our stay were in the area of $89.00 per night, which considering all of the above, not unreasonable at all. For reservations, call (503) 255-1404.

Tickets: Tickets for Timbers games are as follows: $28.00 (premier), $19.00 (level 2), $15.00 (level 3), $11.00 (level 4). Ticket prices go up a dollar eaach on game day.

Parking: There are several lots of varying quality and size around the PGE Park neigborhood. The first game we attended, we paid $8.00 in a rather shady looking building a block from the park. The second game, we paid $10.00 in the lot of a bank next to the park.

The Good Seats: PGE Park has a lot of quirks, which makes it a unique place to watch a game. Unlike many stadiums, PGE Park was designed in a "J" or "fish hook" pattern, ostensibly since at one time, it probably featured a running track. Since the Timbers only open the bottom two thirds of the seating for most games, you're not too far away from the action no matter where you sit. If you want the best panorama of the game, try getting seats on the sideline in sections 208-210. If you want to be where the supporters sit, you'll be behind the goal in sections 105-108. One the more unique vantage points at PGE is on the SW 18th Ave side of the park. Since the street level on SW 18th is higher than the main entrance, there is a walkway in the park where you can stand and get a birds eye view of the action.

Stadium Food: There are a good selection of food stands located all around PGE Park. Although I really didn't get to sample much of the food, the PGE Dog was quite tasty, but cost $5.25. They had a better than average selection of beers on tap and in a bottle, but I was shocked when my Newcastle Brown draft cost me $8.25. However, the Timbers did have a "Thirst Thursday" promotion, where on that day, domestic beers were $2.50 and importeds were $3.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The park has two scoreboards, one in what would be considered left center field for the Beavers baseball team, and one in right center for the Timbers. The baseball scoreboard is an old-fashioned hand operated model, and the soccer board is a modern, average sized video display unit. To be honest, I couldn't really hear the PA announcer at PGE because I was standing with the vociferous Timbers Army, and you really couldn't hear anything other than them!

Game Staff: Pretty much invisible. Everything seemed professional enough, but when I asked about getting a Timbers media guide, the team sales person looked at me with kind of a blank stare.

Souvenirs: The Timbers have several souvenir stands inside PGE Park and hawkers outside the park selling scarves, hats, and programs to early arrivals.

Atmosphere: This is where PGE really shines. In the tradition of soccer parks around the world, the Timbers have their "home end", where much of the noise and atmosphere comes from. At PGE Park, it's the North End, better known as sections 105-108. The two games I was able to attend, all four of these sections were packed virtually to the gills with some of the loudest, craziest, and most passionate fans I have ever seen in this country. Each section had their own "capo", who in synch with the other sections, led the chants and songs, which made for an incredible racket. When you combine the singing with the fact that the park has a roof which keeps the noise near field level, PGE Park has to be one of the most intimidating venues in US soccer. Two of the most visible members of the Timbers Army are Timber Jim and Timber Joey. Timber Jim, a former professional lumberjack, led cheers at the original Timbers games in the seventies, and returned when the team joined the USL. Jim retired as the team cheerleader a few years ago, but was succeeded by Timber Joey, who maintains the traditions of firing up his chainsaw to get the crowd motivated, and cutting off a slab off a ceremonial log when the team puts one into the onion bag.

Overall: There are times when I believed that one can't fall in love again. Over the past few years, I have, more than a few times, been disgusted with what has been happening in American professonal soccer. I've wanted to give it up. However, after my trip to Portland, and my exposure to some of the craziest, most passionate, and warmest fans I've encountered, well, perhaps there is hope again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sovereign Bank Stadium, York PA

Basic Information
Team: York Revolution (Atlantic League)
Game: Revolution vs Bridgeport Bluefish-9/5/09
Ticket Information: (717) 801-HITS
Tourism Information: http://www.yorkpa.com/ or (888) 858-YORK
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wsba910.com/

Team History: After a 38 year hiatus, professional baseball returned in 2007 when the Atlantic League granted an expansion franchise to the city of York, PA in the form of the York Revolution. In their second season, the Revs made the playoffs for the first time, eventually losing to the Somerset (NJ) Patriots in the league's semi-final series.

Team Affiliation: As a member of the Atlantic League, the Revolution are an independent team, as is the same with the remainder of the league.

How About That Name: The home of the Revolution is named for Sovereign Bank, an institution with branches throughout the Northeast. The bank is also the naming sponsor of the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, and the Sovereign Center arena, located in the bank's hometown of Reading, PA.

Getting There: Take I-83 South to Route 30 West Exit 22 (N. George St.) Stay in the middle lane and turn right at the light on to North George Street. Follow that straight through 4 lights, Sovereign Bank Stadium on left.

What to Do Before The Game: According to the city's fine tourist website, York is the "Factory Tour Capital of the World". After reading their site, I have to agree, as well-known companies such as Harley-Davidson, Utz Quality Foods, and Susquehanna Glass all have visitor-friendly factories which offer tours. The visitors bureau website offers links to all of the above companies and more.

Thirty five miles to the west is one of this country's most sacred sites, Gettysburg. The city which was the site of what many feel was the turning point of the Civil War, features guided bus tours, walking tours, and presentations by US Park Rangers detaling all facets of the three day battle. A good place to start your tour is the Gettysburg National Military Parks new visitor center. Located just outside of downtown Gettysburg, the visitor center features an excellent twenty minute orientation movie and an amazing "cyclorama" painting of the days of the battle. It also has a restaurant and gift store. For more information, call (717) 334-1124 or visit http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There isn't really anything restaurant-wise in the immediate area of the ballpark, but there are many fast-food and family-type restaurants on US-30.

Where To Stay: There are no hotels immediately around the ballpark, but there are a selection on US-30, and there are more on I-83. The Revolutions official host hotel is the Yorktowne Hotel, which is located in downtown York. For more information, visit http://www.yorktowne.com/ or call (800) 233-9324.

Tickets: Revolution tickets are as follows: $12.00 (Dugout Box), $10.00 (Field Box), $6.00 (Ollie's "Cheap Seats"-Lawn Seating).

Parking: There is a small lot at the railroad station adjacent to the park, but that is restricted to handicapped pass holders. The general parking is in private lots around the stadium. I parked at a lot belonging to an office building one block south of Sovereign Bank Stadium for three dollars. One word of warning, the park is not exactly in the best neighborhood in the world, but if you leave the game with the rest of the crowd, you'll be OK.

The Good Seats: Sovereign Bank Stadium is designed in the traditional "wishbone" shape, and with the main seating bowl having about 15-18 rows, all of the seats give an outstanding view of the field.

Stadium Food: Sovereign Bank Stadium has an excellent selection of concessions. Down the first base side, there is a barbecue stand (White Rose Barbecue), and down third base there is the Philly Grill and a Pizza Hut stand, as well as stands on both sides which sell the normal ballpark fare. In addition, the home of the Revs features local favorites Turkey Hill ice cream, Auntie Anne's pretzels, and a local french fry company (I can't remember the name). The french fry folks also have their own stand in center field, next to the playground.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: SBS features an in-game, manually operated scoreboard set into the base of the 38' foot tall wall in left field, called the "Arch Nemesis", as well as a video board in right-center. The video board gets substantial use, but until the sun sinks behind the park's roof, it can get a little washed out.

My new friend, Rev's Corporate Sales Manager Mary Beth Ching, did a terrific job as the PA voice as well as the singer of the national anthem.

Game Staff: Exceedingly friendly and helpful! Everyone from top to bottom was welcoming and helpful, even the scoreboard operators! While I was walking around the park shooting some photographs, I got into a discussion with the two guys who were charged were putting the appropriate numbers in the left field scoreboard. After a few seconds, they invited me to come into their area and take a few pictures!

Souvenirs: The Rev's have a very good merchandise store (which was thankfully air-conditioned) just adjacent to the park's main entrance.

Atmosphere: For a "smaller" team, the Revolution put on an excellent "show". The crowd was lively, and very much into the game. A few sections over from where I was sitting was an older gentleman, who was obviously a long-time fan, encouraged the fans to yell out "Hit the Wall!" everytime a Rev's player stepped up to the plate.

Another fixture at SBS is "Cannonball Charlie". A staffer dressed as a Revolutionary War infantryman, Charlie's job is to set off his cannon every time the Revolution hit a homer or fire off a celebratory shot after a Rev's win.

Overall: Simply an outstanding experience. I highly recommend for anyone that is going to be in central Pennsylvania to take a trip down to York for a Revolution game. You won't be disappointed!