Friday, January 8, 2010

Allstate Arena-Rosemont, IL

Basic Information
Team: Chicago Wolves (American Hockey League)
Game: Wolves vs Peoria Rivermen-1/2/10
Team Website: http://www.chicagowolves.com/
Ticket Information: (800) THE-WOLVES
Tourism Information: (312) 576-8500 or http://www.choosechicago.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.chicagowolves.com/

Team History: On October 14, 1994, the NHL's hold on hockey in the Windy City was broken when a sellout crowd of over sixteen thousand welcomed the Chicago Wolves to the International Hockey League with a 4-2 victory over the Detroit Vipers at the newly renovated Rosemont Horizon. The Wolves quickly became one of the most successful teams in the IHL, winnigng two Turner Cup championships. When the IHL ceased operations after the 2000-2001 season, the Wolves, along with several other IHL teams, joined the American Hockey League. The Wolves kept up their success in the AHL, winning two Calder Cup titles, most recently in 2008.

Team Affiliation: The Wolves are the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers.

How About That Name (And Some History): The city of Rosemont, which sits in the shadow of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, had there eyes set on building a professional sports arena going back to 1975, when plans began for a building to host the WHA's Chicago Cougars. The Cougars folded, but the people of Rosemont pressed on, and in 1980, the Horizon opened for business, with the Chicago Horizons indoor soccer team and the DePaul University Blue Demons basketball team as their main tenants.

In 1994, the building underwent a $4 million renovation for the new Wolves hockey team. In 1999, Allstate Insurance Company purchased the naming rights for the arena, and underwriting more renovations for the newly named Allstate Arena.

Getting There: From I-90 eastbound, exit at I-190 west. Proceed on I-190 to Mannheim Rd north exit. Follow Mannheim Rd for 1 1/2 miles, and arena will be on your left. From I-90 westbound, exit at Lee St. The arena will be on your right side after exiting.

Nearby Airport: O'Hare International Airport is 1 1/2 miles from the Allstate Arena.

Where to Go Before The Game: Downtown Chicago, a half an hour trip from Rosemont, has something that will pique just about anyone's interest. I would suggest checking with the Chicago Convention and Visitors Bureau (contact information above) to set up an itinerary.

Where to Eat Before The Game: There is a small family style restaurant and a McDonalds just south of the arena on Mannheim Rd, and a sandwich place just across the street.

Where to Stay: There is a Holiday Inn Express and a Wyndham Hotel within walking distance of the Allstate Arena, but these will be pricey. However, there are other hotels nearby which are more wallet friendly. We stayed at the Red Roof Inn-Arlington Heights, which was about five miles west of the Allstate Arena.

Tickets: Wolves tickets are priced as follows: $48.00, $33.00, $24.00, $17.00, $14.00, and $9.00. There is a two dollar surcharge for tickets purchased on gameday at the arena.

Parking: Parking at the Allstate Arena lot is $11.00.

The Good Seats: Sadly, there aren't really too many. It seems that when the architect first put pen to paper with the Allstate Arena, he must have thought that people were a lot shorter than they actually are, and didn't angle the seats steeply enough to give everyone a clear view. However, just about every seat gives a good panorama of the action, as long as the guy in front of you is Mini-Me.

Getting In: In another feature which didn't exactly win the Allstate Arena high marks, is that the box office is in a building across the street from the actual arena. In addition, there is no signage that tells you where the ticket office is, which thrilled me no end, since temperatures that day were close to zero. So, after getting frostbite trying to find the box office, I noticed that there are no organized lines, just a mob of people milling around, looking for the line that is moving the fastest.

Arena Food: I didn't notice anything food-wise that was out of the ordinary, with the usual arena fare on the menu. What I did notice was the price...a hot dog, pretzel, and a souvenir soda cost a whopping $15.25! I knew that since we were near a big city, prices were gonna be a bit higher than normal, but, come on! On the upside, the quality wasn't too bad, and there were plenty of food stations to choose from.

Restrooms: There are plenty and all are functional.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Allstate Arena has a large, eight-sided hanging scoreboard with full video capability. In addition, there are two matrix boards (I think these are the original scoreboards from when the building was built), above the upper deck at the red line.

The PA announcer for the Wolves is a good one, but the highlight for me was being able to hear for the first time live Chicago icon Wayne Messmer sing the Star Spangled Banner. Messmer was the former vocalist for the Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Sting, and the Chicago Cubs, where he also handled the public address duties. A classically trained singer, Messmer sang the Star Spangled Banner at the 1991 NHL All-Star Game at the Chicago Stadium, which was generally considered the greates version of the song ever sung (by me, anyways). A column in Hockey News summed it up best when the writer said "if it didn't give you goosebumps, you're either a dead beat, or just plain dead". It's on Youtube, so check it out.

Gme Staff: Professional, but helpful. I wanted to shoot a video of the Wolves' impressive pregame ceremony. When I scouted out a good position, I mentioned what I wanted to do to the nearest usher and policeman. Both were perfectly happy to make sure I had a good view.

Souvenirs: There are several souvenir tables laid out on the main concourse.

Atmosphere: After the game, the girls and I both felt that a Wolves game is just about as close as you can get to an NHL game without having to mortgage your house for a ticket. It's an intellegent, intense, hockey-centric crowd which appreciates good "blue-collar" hockey.

The Wolves kick off each game with an impressive pre-game show which features lasers, fireworks, and flame throwers. The pre-game show might just be worth the price of admission in itself.

The game we attended drew a season-high crowd of over fifteen thousand. While a good portion of them were Girl Scouts, they were very well behaved and were not a distraction.

Overall Rating: If you're in the Chicagoland area, I would highly recommend a Wolves game. The Allstate Arena is nothing to write home about, but the show inside defintely is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lucas County Arena-Toledo, OH

Basic Information
Team: Toledo Walleye (ECHL)
Game: Walleye vs Kalamazoo Wings-1/1/10
Team Website: http://www.toledowalleye.com/
Ticket Information: (419) 725-WALL
Tourism Information: http://www.dotoledo.com/ or (800) 243-4667
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wcwa.com/

Team History: While this is the first season for the Toledo Walleye, hockey has a long and colorful past in the Glass City. Professional hockey has been played in Toledo since halfway through the previous century at the legendary, yet infamous, Toledo Sports Arena. Teams with names like the Mercurys, the Buckeyes, the Golddiggers, and the Storm all have thrilled the fans of Toledo with a special brand of physical, "rock-em, sock-em" hockey in the cramped comfines of the Sports Arena.

Team Affiliation: The Walleye are the ECHL affiliates of two of the NHL's "Original Six", the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

How About That Name: The home of the Walleye has been called the Lucas County Arena since it's opening last fall.

Getting There: (from the Ohio Turnpike) Exit onto I-75 north (exit 64). take I-75 into Toledo, and exit at the Downtown Exit (exit 201B). At the bottom of the exit ramp, bear to the left, which puts you on Erie St. Follow Erie St for three lights and make a left onto Jefferson St. The arena will be on your left side.

Nearby Airport: Toledo Express Airport is twenty miles southwest of Lucas County Arena.

Where to Go and Where to Eat Before The Game: Check out my post about Toledo's Fifth Third Field for more information.

Where To Stay: While I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in the suburb of Maumee for this trip, one of the Walleye's sponsors is the downtown Park Inn, which is adjacent to the Arena. The Park Inn features a covered walkway to the Arena, and has special Walleye rates. For more information, call (419) 241-3000 or visit www.parkinn.com/toledooh.

Tickets: All Walleye tickets are $15.00.

Parking: There are several private lots in the general area of Lucas County Arena. I parked at a lot diagonally across the street from the building, which cost $8.00.

The Good Seats: Virtually all of the seats at the home of the Walleye give a good view of the game. For the game that my roommates and I had attended, our seats were four rows from the ice in the corner. However, since the leg room was extremely limited, and our view was somewhat obstructed due to the angling of the section, we moved up to seats higher behind the goal, which, other than the protective netting, game an excellent view of the entire building.

There is a standing area behind one of the goals where there are small tables for people to watch the game while eating their meal. It's not a bad idea, except that the night we were there, the television monitors were showing the Rose Bowl, which featured Ohio State. There were substantial crowds around the monitors which clogged up the concourse.

Getting In: The main concourse of the arena also is the home of the Swamp Shop, the team's main souvenir store. After entering the arena and having your ticket scanned, fans proceed up a staircase to the concourse level.

Arena Food: The main concourse has many concession points of sale, which include the standard arena fare, as well as a barbecue cart, and a Mexican food cart. I sampled two hot dogs, a pretzel, and a large Pepsi, which cost $13.00. The hot dogs weren't bad, except that they were obviously pre-made and the bun was a bit mangled.

Restrooms: There are an adequate amount of facilities on the councourse level. As the building is only a few months old, all are in excellent repair and function.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: Instead of a center-hanging scoreboard, the Lucas County Arena has a large, high quality video screen mounted on the wall behind one of the goals. The picture is crystal clear, but the score and time is shown in small print along the top of the screen. More of the pertinent game information is posted on the fascia boards which overhang the upper deck seating.

Bobb Vergiels is the arena "Voice of the Walleye". A Toledo institution, Vergeils was the voice of the Toledo Storm, the ECHL predecessors of the Walleye at the Sports Arena, as well as the Toledo Mud Hens at Ned Skelton Stadium and at Fifth Third Field. In addition to his Walleye duties, he spends his summers in Detroit, where he serves as the public address announcer at Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers.

Game Staff: Everyone at the Lucas County Arena was helpful and friendly.

Souvenirs: In addition to the "Swamp Shop" store on the entrance level, there is a smaller souvenir shop on the concourse. The main "Swamp Shop" also sells a small line of Toledo Mud Hens items.

Atmosphere: While the home of the Walleye has all of the bells and whistles you might expect from a state-of-the-art arena, team management chooses to keep the focus on the game, with in-game promotions kept to a minimum.

The team has two mascots: Spike the Walleye, and Cat-Trick, a big blue cat dressed in a fishing vest. Both circulate in the seating area and concourse greeting the fans and participating in between periods events.

Overall Rating: After for years having to deal with all the ideosyncracies of the Sports Arena, the good citizens of Toledo now have a first class arena in which to view not only the Walleye, but other events as well. Since 1947, Toledo has proven to be a minor-league hockey hotbed, and now with the marketing muscle of the wildly successful Toledo Mud Hens behind them, the Walleye will be a force in the ECHL for years to come.