Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tullio Arena, Erie PA

Basic Information
Team: Erie Otters (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Otters vs Saginaw Spirit-9/25/2010
Team Website: http://www.ottershockey.com/
Ticket Information: (814) 455-7779
Tourism Information: (800) 524-ERIE or http://www.visiteriepa.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.ottershockey.com/
Local Newspaper: Erie Times-News http://www.goerie.com/

Team History: Now in their fifteenth season in the Ontario Hockey League, the Erie Otters have become one of the strongest teams in all of Junior A hockey. The Otters arrived in Erie in 1996, when the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Thunder made the move to the northwestern Pennsylvania town. Prior to the Otters arrival, the city was the home of the Erie Blades, who played in several different minor hockey leagues in the mid to late seventies, and the Erie Panthers, who played in the ECHL. The Otters won the Robertson Cup, the OHL's championship trophy in 2002, making them only the second American OHL team to hoist the title.

How About That Name (And Some History): The Tullio Arena is named for Louis J. Tullio, a former mayor of Erie. The arena, built in 1983, is a part of the Erie Civic Center, which also includes the Warner Theater and Jerry Uht Park, the home of the Erie Seawolves minor league baseball team. Arena management is looking into a major renovation of the arena, which would include an increased seating capacity, a new suite level, more office space, and other additions. The renovation plan is a part of the team's bid to host the 2014 Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League's national championship. Tullio Arena is also the home of the Erie Storm indoor football team, the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA's developmental league, and this spring will host the 2011 NCAA Women's Hockey Championships.

Getting There: From I-90: Exit at Perry Hwy (Exit 27). Go north on Perry Hwy for approximately four miles (note: Perry Hwy turns into Rt 505/Glenwood Park Ave. Simply stay on the road going north-use the main entrance for the Erie Zoo as a landmark). Glenwood Park Ave comes to an end at State St. At the light, go north on State St. Follow State St. to E 8th St. Make a right on E 8th St, and the arena will be at the intersection of E 8th and French St.

Nearby Airport: Erie International Airport is approximately seven miles southwest of Tullio Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: I can recommend two choices if you've got a few hours to kill in Erie prior to your game. First is the Presque Isle Downs and Casino, which is located south of Erie just south of I-90 on Perry Hwy (Exit 27). The casino, opened in 2007 as a part of the Presque Isle Downs horse racing facility, features over two thousand slot machines, table games, as well as several dining choices. For more information, call (866) ERIE-FUN or visit http://www.presqueisledowns.com/. If gaming isn't your...game, might I suggest the Erie Maritime Museum, located near downtown Erie. The museum tells the story of the early days of Erie, and it's history as a shipbuilding and shipping port. It also gives visitors a look at how important Erie was in the War of 1812. It is also the home of the Flagship Niagara, a recreation of a 19th century sailing vessel. The Niagara has made several trips to "Tall Ships" events in the US and Canada, and is recognized by the US Coast Guard as a registered training vessel. For more info, call (814) 452-2744 or visit http://www.flagshipniagara.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Since it is convenient to I-90, I usually send people who are heading to Erie to find a restaurant of their choice right off the highway on Peach St. There are many different choices, including Bob Evans, Country Buffet, Steak and Shake, Applebee's, and Quaker Stake and Lube, but my favorite is Boston's. Boston's is an upscale "family" sports bar, which serves some excellent Italian food and hand tossed pizzas at agreeable prices.

Where To Stay: Right off Perry Hwy, there is a La Quinta and a Red Roof Inn, but if you are heading to Erie during the summer months, you will be charged seriously high prices, due to Erie's closeness to Presque Isle State Park. However, those same rooms during the winter can be had for more civilized prices.

Ticket Prices: Otters tickets are priced as follows: $13.50 (platinum), $11.50 (gold), and $9.50 (children). There is a two dollar surcharge per ticket purchased at the box office on game day.

Parking: There are several public lots within a walking distance of the arena. I parked at the Civic Center's on-site parking lot for $4.00.

The Good Seats: Virtually all of the seating at the Tullio Arena is located along the sidelines, with only a few rows of seating behind one of the goals. The far end of the rink goes right up to the back wall of the building, with no seating on the floor level. However, there are a row of suites built into the wall, which look virtually straight down onto the goal.

Getting In: There is one main entrance, which is also the location of the box office. The arena lobby isn't particularly spacious, so getting in can be an adventure.

Arena Food: Sad to say, after a large delicious dinner at Boston's, I really didn't have much room left to sample the concession offerings at Tullio Arena on this trip. There are two main concession stands under each of the main stands, as well as one "beer only" stand on each side as well. The food service people were friendly enough, but they weren't the fastest I've ever seen.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the arena:

Hot Dog: $3.00 Cheeseburger: $4.00 Nachos: $4.00 Draft Beer: $4.75 Pretzel: $2.75 Large Soda: $3.75 Ice Cream (Dippin Dots): $5.00 French Fries: $3.00 Pizza: $3.00

Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola products are served at Tullio Arena.

Souvenirs: There are two souvenir booths, set up on opposite corners of the main concourse. Each sells a fairly large line of merchandise.

Restrooms: Sad to say, these are one of the areas at Tullio Arena that are in desperate need of the promised renovations. There are one mens and one womens on each side of the concourse. The mens rooms are small, not the cleanest, and in between periods, there is a line which gives an almost interminable wait.

Mascot: Shooter the Otter

Program: "Home Ice" magazine costs $3.00.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: A recent renovation brought a new scoreboard with video capability to Tullio Arena. The four-sided scoreboard features a small area which displays the pertinent game information and a projection-type video board system. Despite not exactly the "state of the art", the video screen has a very clear picture and is almost always in use. One thing that made me laugh before the game was the announcement that replays of "disputed" goals would not be shown. With the very hockey-knowledgeable crowd, I could see why not getting the home fans riled up would be a good idea!

The PA was not as loud or as enthusiastic as I would have liked, and there was not a lot of music played during the game.

Arena Staff: Friendly enough, but kind of laid back EXCEPT when you want to take a picture. Then they are all over you! I had to show my media credential several times to the locals to get around the "no photos" commandment in the arena.

Atmosphere: Erie fans know good hockey, and since my visit occurred on opening night, there was a sense of excitement to see what this year's team would look like. However, this was tinged with a bit of sorrow, as they would also retire the number of Vinny Scott, an Otter player who died in a car accident last spring. The Otters held a touching and very classy ceremony in which they brought together Vinny's parents, his host family, his fiancee (who he met in Erie), and other members of his immediate family for a memorial.

Overall: While Tullio Arena is less than thirty years old, in a lot of ways, it has an "old soul". It has all the ingredients of an old time cracker-box hockey barn which was the place to be on a Saturday night. While Tullio Arena has some shortcomings, it's a loud and intense place to be on a hockey night in Erie.