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.