Friday, March 9, 2012

Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates IL

Basic Information
Team: Chicago Express (ECHL)
Game: Express vs Toledo Walleye-3/3/2012
Team Website: http://www.chicagoexpresshockey.com/
Ticket Information: (224) 220-1333 or (888) SEARSTIX
Tourism Information: (847) 882-9100 or http://www.visithoffman.com/
Online Broadcasts: None
Local Newspaper: Chicago Daily Herald http://www.dailyherald.com/

Team Information: The newest member of the Chicago sports community, the Chicago Express joined the ECHL for the 2011-12 season, playing their games at the Sears Centre, located in suburban Hoffman Estates. The arena is approximately 30-35 minutes west of downtown Chicago.

Affiliation: The Express are the "Double A" affiliate of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.

Arena Capacity: The Sears Centre seats approximately 9,400 for Express hockey.

How About That Name (And Some History): The Sears Centre opened for business on October 26, 2006 with performances by Bob Dylan and Duran Duran. In addition to professional hockey, the arena has hosted indoor soccer, indoor football (men's and women's), professional wrestling, and indoor lacrosse.

The building was originally to be called the K-Mart Centre, but after the Sears Roebuck Corporation purchased K-Mart in 2004, the arena changed its name to the Sears Centre. The Sears Roebuck department store chain started in Chicago, and now has it's world headquarters in Hoffman Estates.
On The Town: Straddling portions of Kane and Cook Counties, Hoffman Estates has a population of just over 53,000. Hoffman Estates was incorporated in 1959, the development of the area would begin late in the fifties, when the Northwest Tollway road became attractive to those wanting to escape the urban sprawl of Chicago.

In addition to hosting the world headquarters of Sears, Hoffman Estates is the Midwest headquarters of AT&T, and the American headquarters of Mori Seiki, a Japanese manufacturer of machine tools.

The "crown jewel" of Hoffman Estates is the Prairie Stone business park. Located just off of I-90, the business park is the location of the Sears headquarters, as well as a large retail development, office space, and the Sears Centre.

Nearby Airport: O'Hare International Airport is 18 miles southeast of the Sears Centre.

What To Do: While there are countless things to do in downtown Chicago, if you want to learn about the "city with the broad shoulders", the Chicago History Museum is the place to go. Located not far from Wrigley Field on the north side of "the Loop", the Chicago History Museum teaches about, logically enough, the history of the Windy City, as well as several other "temporary" exhibits having to do with the city. On our visit, there were exhibits about Lincoln's Chicago and the history of the LGBT community in the city. For more information, visit http://www.chicagohistory.org/.
Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several chain and smaller restaurants on the roads leading to the Sears Centre. Near our hotel, there was a IHOP, a Romano's Macaroni Grille, a Jimmy John's sandwich shop, and the Assembly sports bar.

About a mile north of our hotel, the girls and I decided to try out the Mill Rose restaurant for our Sunday morning breakfast. While the Mill Rose is not normally a place that the three of us would patronize, it was a good choice for brunch. For twenty dollars, they had unlimited breakfast foods, baked goods, eggs, hash, and a carving station serving excellent ham and turkey. For more information, call (847) 382-ROSE or visit http://www.millroserestaurant.com/.

Where To Stay: The girls and I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in South Barrington, which was less than a less than ten minute drive from the Sears Centre and right off the Tollway (I-90). Like most Red Roof's they are convenient, comfortable, and usually fairly budget priced. However, if the Red Roof is not your style, there is a large La Quinta  directly across Sutton Rd from the Red Roof.

Ticket Prices: Express tickets are priced as follows: $26.00 (glass), $21.00 (club), $17.00 (side), $13.00 (corner), and $9.00 (end). Note that there is a one dollar surcharge for tickets purchased at the box office the night of the game.

Parking: A large lot surrounds the Sears Centre which has more than adequate parking, which costs $10.00.
Getting In: The main entrance is located on the south side of the arena. The Kia Box Office is located just to the left of the main entrance. Both the main entrance and box office are inside, which is a godsend on a cold winter night. There is another entrance on the north end of the building.

The Good Seats: The Sears Centre is set up in a horseshoe fashion with seating surrounding three quarters of the rink. Although I think the seats could have been angled a little steeper, the view was good from all of the vantage points that I investigated. The Express only open the lower level of seating for their games.

Arena Food: The Sears Centre has three fairly large concession stands, one on each side of the arena. While each serves basically the same menu, there are some "specialty" items at each.

I'm gonna let Linda's impressions lead off, and I will add mine after,

(Linda) I was pleasantly surprised with the new concession stand offerings as the Sears Center.  From my 3 previous experiences eating at events at the Sears Center, I told my travel companions that we should eat somewhere else before going to the game. (I had my first $5.00 hot dog at the Sears Center, and that was many, many years ago when no other arenas I'd been to were charging that much for a hot dog.)

I am pleased to say that it's no longer necessary to go out to eat somewhere else before heading out to a game at the Sears Center. The concession stand offerings are now quite acceptable. The $7.50 BBQ pulled pork sandwich I had was served on a bun that was bigger-than-average and better-than-average.  The serving of pork on the sandwich was a fair-sized serving of tender chunks of pork, and the sandwich had just the right amount of sauce for neat-eating.  The sandwich did not fall apart while I was eating it, and I did not end up covered in sauce; this is important when you're trying to eat a sandwich at a sporting event.  The sandwich was hot (temperature) and freshly assembled.  The sauce was tasty and had a bit of a bite to it.  The $7.50 sandwich was served with a side of coleslaw.  The coleslaw tasted freshly made from chunky shreds of cabbage and carrots in a Miracle Whip-type sauce (as opposed to a vinegar-based sauce).  BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches were also available as were BBQ pulled chicken or pork nachos. 
The arena offered a "bottomless" soda for $6.50, and a "bottomless" tub of popcorn for $8.00.  The arena also had the "designated driver" program, where you can sign up as a designated driver in exchange for a free soda voucher for a 20 ounce soda at the concession stands.  The $6.50 fresh fruit cup or fresh veggie cup offered a nice healthy snack.  We had the fruit, which consisted of good-quality, fresh slices of honey dew, cantaloupe, pineapple and mango along with a large strawberry and a slice of lime.

I sampled the BBQ chicken sandwich and I was impressed with it as well. The sandwich was fresh and hot, and the sauce definitely was a bit spicier than I expected or was used to. However, it wasn't overpowering and made for good eating. I also had a slice of the arena pizza, which to be honest, could have been better. It was luke warm when served, and didn't have much of a taste.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the Sears Centre:

Hot Dog: $4.75   Nachos: $5.25   Draft Beer: $7.75   Pretzel: $4.50   Large Soda: $6.50 (bottomless)   Ice Cream: $6.50 (Dippin' Dots)   French Fries: $4.50   Pizza Slice: $6.50

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the Sears Centre.

ATM: A "no brand" ATM is located in the concourse near the customer service desk

Souvenirs: The "Express Depot", located in the northwest corner of the building, has a good sized line of merchandise.
Restrooms: Restrooms are located on all sides of the concourse. Although they are clean and pretty well stocked, they would be considered "small" for a crowd more than what was in attendance for the game we attended (it looked like there was about two thousand or so, but I could be wrong).

Mascot: "Trax" is one of the best mascot's I've seen in a while. He greets the fans as they enter the building, and spends the entire game in the stands or in the concourse interacting with everyone.

Dance Team: None

Program: "Express Line", a large-format newspaper is handed free to fans upon entering the building. An updated roster sheet is available to fans at the ticket sales and customer service tables.
Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Sears Centre features a large scoreboard mounted on the open end of the building above the east goal. It has a large video screen which shows in-game action, replays, and advertising. On either side of the video board, there are two smaller boards which show the pertinent game information. The main scoreboard is assisted by ribbon boards which are mounted along the lower wall of the upper deck seating. The video screen has good resolution and a clear picture.

The Sears Centre has excellent acoustics, and the music selection is fairly good and is played at an appropriate level. The public address announcer is good as well.

Arena Staff: Simply outstanding. The Express believe in the applying the "personal touch" to every fan they encounter, and they do it extremely well. It seemed that every fans got a smile, a warm welcome and a "can I help you". Everyone I came into contact with had time to chat and get to know people, which will definitely pay off in the long run.

A special thanks to Craig Drecktrah, Wade Welsh, Katrina Hinsberg, and Sarah Oates from the Express office and Georgieanne Michels from the Sears Centre for their warm hospitality during my visit.
Arena Features: The Express do an excellent job when it comes to appealing to families and young fans. To keep the young ones entertained, they have set up "TraxTown", an interactive area with video games and inflatables, "Graffiti Alley", an area on the concourse where young fans can write on large, wall sized blackboards", and even a kid-sized train where young fans can ride around the concourse!

Atmosphere: While the crowd was on the smallish side, those that were in attendance were into the game and very enthusiastic.

Overall Rating: I had been to the Sears Centre several years back for indoor soccer, and the building seemed like it didn't have much of a "soul" to it. However, the Express, while only in their first season, are beginning to bring the building to life. They do a lot of things "right", and hopefully, the hockey fans of the area can see what a "diamond in the rough" they have in the Sears Centre and the Chicago Express.