Sunday, January 16, 2011

Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids MI

Basic Information:
Team: Grand Rapids Griffins (American Hockey League)
Game: Griffins vs Peoria Rivermen-1/1/2011
Team Website: http://www.griffinshockey.com/
Ticket Information: (616) 774-4585 or http://www.startickets.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 678-9859 or http://www.experiencegr.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.espn961.com/
Local Newspaper: Grand Rapids Press www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

Team History: The Griffins joined the original International Hockey League as an expansion team for the 1996-97 season, and became an unqualified success in their new Van Andel Arena home. Even before the first puck was dropped, there was hockey fever in western Michigan, as the team sold more than seven thousand season tickets prior to their inaugural season. After five successful seasons in the IHL, the Griffins, along with five other teams, joined the American Hockey League, and in 2002, the Griffins became the top affiliate of the legendary Detroit Red Wings.

Team Affiliation: The Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.

How About That Name (And Some History): The sparking Van Andel Arena was opened in 1996, costing $75 million. A donation of $11.5 million came from Jay Van Andel, a life-long resident of Grand Rapids who, along with Rich DeVos, formed Amway in 1959. The city, in thanks of his generous donation, placed Van Andel's name on the arena, which has never been changed.

On The Town: Located forty miles east of Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan, with a population of just under 750,000.

Although fur trappers and missionaries first settled the area that is now known as Grand Rapids in the early nineteenth century, early native American tribes settled the area almost two thousand years ago. Around 1700, a tribe of Ottawa Indians immigrated into the area and set up several villages along what is known now as the Grand River.

In 1826, Louis Campau built a cabin and trading post on the east bank of the Grand River, and a year later, brought his wife and a supply of trade goods and began a business trading with the local natives. Ten years later, land speculators bypassed Detroit and found good land in western Michigan. The land those speculators claimed expanded the area around Campau's settlement and in 1850, the city of Grand Rapids was incorporated.

Grand Rapids is the home of several large, well known companies which include Amway, MC Sports, Meijer supermarkets, and Wolverine World Wide (producers of work clothing and footwear).

Getting There: (From I-96): Take I-96 west to I-196 west. Exit at Ottawa St (Exit towards 77C) towards downtown. Take Ottawa St for appoximately half a mile to Fulton St. Make a left on Fulton St, and follow to arena.

Nearby Airport: Gerald R Ford International Airport is located approximately 15 miles southeast of the Van Andel Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: My trip didn't allow me a lot of time to sightsee, so I would recommend contacting the visitors bureau before your visit.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several restaurants and bars within a short walk of the Van Andel Arena. Unfortuately, I didn't have time in my schedule to sample their wares.

Where To Stay: I stayed at the Red Roof Inn-Grand Rapids, which was conveniently located on I-96, approximately fifteen minutes east of the arena. Like all other Red Roofs, they are convenient, inexpensive, and are usually located near a restaurant of some manner. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.

Ticket Prices: Griffins ticket prices are as follows: $30.00 (VIP), $25.00 (lower level preferred), $20.00 (lower level center ice), $17.00 (lower level faceoff and VIP edge), $15.00 (upper level preferred), $13.00 (upper level). The Griffins are one of the better drawing teams in the AHL, so I would recommend getting your tickets in advance of your trip.

Parking: There is a large covered garage directly across the street from the Van Andel Arena, which costs $7.00 to park in. This was a big help, as a driving snowstorm started just as I approached downtown Grand Rapids.

The Good Seats: Van Andel Arena's seating bowl is in a "horseshoe" shape, with the vast majority of the dual deck design surrounding the ice rink on three sides. There is limited seating on the open end of the building. While walking around the arena, I noticed that all of the sightlines were fairly good, but I was really happy with the seat that I occupied. I sat in the first row of the upper deck in the corner. It allowed me not only an excellent view of the entire surface, I was near several concession stands and a short walk to the mens' room.

Getting In: There is a large, spacious lobby in the arena's main entrance, which also houses the box office and allows access to "the Zone" merchandise store.

Arena Food: The main concourse of the Van Andel Arena has a substantial amount of concessoin stands for an arena of its size. In addition to the standard arena concession fare, the Van Andel Arena features stands selling snow cones, fresh squeezed lemonade, funnel cakes, gourmet hamburgers, coney dogs, and italian specialties.

I sampled the personal pizza, which was hot and fairly tasty, along with the garlic breadsticks, which were also hot and tasty. My meal, which included a large Pepsi, cost $14.50. I also sampled the coney dog, which is a Michigan staple. The dog, which is served with chili, diced onions, and mustard. The hot dog wasn't much. but the mild beef chili made up for the lack of taste. The coney dog cost an agreeable $4.50.

Here is a selection of concession prices at the Van Andel Arena:

Hot Dog: $3.75 Hamburger: $6.50 Nachos: $6.75 Beer: $6.75 Soda: $4.25 Ice Cream (soft serve dish) $3.75 French Fries: $3.25 Personal Pizza: $6.50

Soft Drinks: Van Andel Arena pours Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: In addition to "the Zone" souvenir store at street level, there are two smaller souvenir counters located on the main concourse. All locations carry what I would consider a small to moderate sized line of merchandise.

Restrooms: Located on the concourse on the sides of the building, all are clean and well stocked.

Mascot: "Griff" the Griffin is a fierce looking, yet likable character that roams the concourse and seating area.

Dance Team: None

Program: "Griffiti" is a well-produced, smart looking program that is handed out free to fans as they enter the building.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: Van Andel Arena has two scoreboards, one center hanging and the other mounted on the wall on the "open" end of the seating area. The center hanging scoreboard shows the pertinent game information and has a matrix board for displays. One unusual feature of the scoreboard is that along the bottom, there is a counter which shows the current total for the team's 50/50 raffle. The raffle is tallied electronically with hand held scanners by the people selling the tickets in the concourse. The other scoreboard has full video replay capability and is used for advertisements, game replays, and entertainment videos.

The arena's PA announcer is pretty good, but sometimes he gets drowned out by the volume of the music, which is played at what seems to me a little louder than normal.

Arena Staff: The people I encountered were pleasant and quite helpful.

Atmosphere: To be honest, it was pretty quiet at the arena the night I attended, with what looked to be between four and five thousand in attendance. The Griffins drew a sellout crowd the night before, and if you combine the back-to-back game factor with the fact that both the University of Michigan and Michigan State were both playing in bowl games that day and the weather which turned frightfully cold as the afternoon wore on, the reason for the smallish crowd could easily be understood.

Overall: Van Andel Arena is a jewel of which Grand Rapids can be rightfully proud. A spotless facility, friendly staff, a forward thinking front office, and a good on-ice product all combine to make a Griffins game a pleasure to attend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

US Cellular Arena, Milwaukee WI

Basic Information
Team: Milwaukee Wave (Major Indoor Soccer League)
Game: Wave vs Missouri Comets-12/31/2010
Team Website: http://www.milwaukeewave.com/
Ticket Information: (414) 224-WAVE
Tourism Information: (800) 554-1448 or http://www.visitmilwaukee.org/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.misl.net/
Local Newspaper: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel http://www.jsonline.com/

Team History: The longest continuously operating indoor soccer team currently playing, the Milwaukee Wave have become one of the most successful, winning four indoor championships in their 26 season history. A member of the AISA, NPSL, MISL, and XSL, the Wave have weathered the many storms that have plagued the indoor game, becoming a major part of the Milwaukee community.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in 1950, the Milwaukee Arena was one of the first arenas designed for the burgeoning media known as television. It was the home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks from their first season of 1968 until 1988, when they moved to the new Bradley Center across the street. In early 2000, the naming rights to the building were purchased by the telecommunications company, and it took the name US Cellular Arena. The Wave returned to the Arena in 2003 after playing fourteen seasons at the Bradley Center.

On The Town: The largest city in the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. Milwaukee has a population of approximately 605,000, making it the 26th largest city in the United States.

First discovered by French fur traders in the early nineteenth century, what would become the city of Milwaukee was settled by French Canadian trapper Solomon Juneau in 1818. Four years later, Juneau's town, along with two other nearby towns, incorporated as the city of Milwaukee, which is an Algonquian word meaning "pleasant land".

The city experienced a influx of German and Polish immigration in the middle of the nineteenth century, which helped build its culture, and its most famous product. Families with names like Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz built breweries which manufactured fine beers like ones they had in their native Germany. Milwaukee once was the home of four of the largest breweries in the world.

Milwaukee is also the home of Harley Davidson motorcycles and the Allen-Bradley corporation, one of the world's largest manufacturers of automation equipment.

Getting There: (From I-94): Take I-94 west to I-43 north. Exit at Kilbourn Ave. Follow tunnel to Kilbourn Ave. Arena will be on the left side.

Nearby Airport: General Mitchell International Airport is located approximately 15 minutes south of the US Cellular Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: Unfortunately, my trip didn't allow time for me to explore Milwaukee this time. I would contact the Milwaukee visitors bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are two well-known restaurants within a five minute walk of the US Cellular Arena. Directly across the street from the arena is the famous sports bar Major Goolsby's. Once known as the "liquid locker room" of the NBA, Major Goolsby's features typical sports bar type food at reasonable prices. Just up the North 4th St from "the Cell" is Historic Turner's Restaurant. Located in a building built in 1883, Turner's features delicioius German and American cuisine, as well as a substantial selection of beers on tap and bottled.

Where To Stay: While the outstanding Hyatt is right across the street, on this trip, it was slightly out of my price range. I stayed at the Red Roof Inn-Milwaukee Airport. Located about 15 minutes from US Cellular Arena, it is coveniently located off I-94, and is just west of General Mitchell Airport. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.

Ticket Prices: Wave tickets are priced as follows: $50.00/$40.00/$30.00 (Flood Zone), $25.00 (VIP), $20.00 (Preferred), $16.00 (Premier), and $12.00 (Supporters Section).

Parking: There really isn't any parking at the arena proper, but there are a fairly decent selection of lots in the vicinity. I parked across the street from the arena at the Frontier Airlines Center (a convention center). The $15.00 charge was a bit of a shock, but part of that had to be due to the fact that the Harlem Globetrotters were playing at the same time at the Bradley Center.

The Good Seats: The views are fairly good from all sections that I checked out, however the seats in the corners are a little farther away from the field than in other arenas. This is due to the configuration of the building, as the "corners" are more squared off than in most newer buildings, which hug the contours of the boards. There is no "glass" along the sidelines, so if you're in the lower level in that area, it is recommended that you watch the ball at all times!

Getting In: There is a large, airy lobby along the Kilbourne St side of the building. The lobby holds the box office and will call windows.

Arena Food: Concession stands are plentiful at "the Cell". For the most part, the food is your standard arena fare, but what they sell is fairly good. Prior to the game, I sampled the hot dogs, which despite being premade and served on a somewhat mangled bun, were relatively hot and tasty.

Here is a selection of concession prices from the US Cellular Arena:

Hot Dog: $4.50 Nachos: $5.00 Draft Beer: $6.50 Pretzel: $3.00 Large Soda: $5.00 Ice Cream: Various Prices Personal Pizza: $6.00

In addition, there are two bars serving draft beer and wine in the concourse.

Soft Drinks: The US Cellular Arena serves Royal Crown Cola and 7UP products.

Souvenirs: There is a moderate sized souvenir store on the concourse behind section 207. The store has an average line of team merchandise.

Rest Rooms: There are restrooms on each corner of the main concourse and in the upper level seating areas. Although they are on the older side, they are clean and in good working order.

Mascot: Brad Beach, a "surfer dude" character who was redesigned for this season.

Dance Team: The Riptide

Program: The full-color Wave program is given out free to all game attendees.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: "The Cell" has a large center hanging scoreboard which features video projection screen capability. Although it isn't a "state of the art" video system like in newer buildings, it works well, and has a good, clear picture which is used to it's fullest. The acoustics at the arena are very good, and the music selections are fairly good and are played at an appropriate level.

There is a vast divergence in people's opinions about Wave PA announcer Van McNeil. Some say that the long-time Wave arena host is a Milwaukee instituion. Others say that he belongs in an institution. Van does have a good voice and delivery, but sometime he wants to be too much of a part of the "show", and his towel waving antics can be a distraction.

Arena Staff: While most of the Wave staff and arena ushers were pleasant and easy to deal with, the food service people I encountered were defintiely not cut from the same cloth. At one stand where I purchased my pre-game meal, the guy who took my order brought me nachos when I ordered a pretzel, and couldn't make change from a twenty dollar bill. At another stand where I bought a large RC cola, the girl who served me looked and acted like she would rather be almost anywhere else than where she was.

Atmosphere: The Wave's traditional New Years Eve matinee drew a respectable crowd of over five thousand. It was a typical crowd, which meant it was heavy on the families and youth soccer players, but they were fairly enthusiastic.

Overall: While the US Cellular Arena has recently passed its fiftieth birthday, the building has aged very gracefully. It has recently been renovated, and is kept quite clean and up to standards. While it doesn't have the bells and whistles of its "Big Brother" next door, the Bradley Center, "the Cell" is more than adequate and will serve the good people of Milwaukee for many years to come.