I live for October and the discernible sound of skates gliding across a fresh sheet of ice.  Nothing brings me joy quite like the site of missing teeth, black eyes and the potential of a 3-on-3 overtime.  If you can’t pronounce the names of Patrick Roy or Steve Yzerman properly, we probably won’t be friends. Combining my passion of hockey and love of adventure, I’ve made it a goal to attend at least one NHL game at every team’s home venue, as well as attend a Winter Classic, a Stadium Series game, an All-Star weekend and a game during the Stanley Cup Finals.

I started this journey 6 years ago, in March of 2011 during a trip to Buffalo for my birthday.  I’d been to a few Bruins games in Boston before, but once I visited the HSBCArena (now known as the KeyBank Center), home of the Buffalo Sabres, I realized not only how different the atmospheres and overall offerings were from my experiences at TD Garden, but also how much fun and educational it was to explore new cities and meet new people.

Unfortunately, college courses, working multiple jobs, and overall expenses have held me back a bit, but so far I’ve reached 7 of the 30 31 (now I have an excuse to go to Vegas!) home venues as well as the 2016 Winter Classic.  I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to make it to Detroit for a game at The Joe, but I’m excited to one day see the innovations and layout within the newly constructed Little Caesars Arena.

I’ll list the arenas that I’ve been to so far along with a few things that really stood out to me while I was there.  I won’t do a full venue review of these 7 places for two reasons:

1. It would be an obnoxiously long, potentially boring/redundant post

2. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a few of these places, so things are more than likely to be different, and I don’t want to pass on inaccurate/out of date information

 

Where I’ve Been So Far

TD Garden (Boston Bruins)

-Depending where you sit could determine how great of a time you have, I’m sure it’s like this at every venue, but I’ve noticed the biggest difference here.  I’ve been here more times than I can count, and I’ve always had a much better time sitting up in the “nose bleeds” with the drunk and rowdy, die-hard blue collar crowd/season ticket holders.  Sitting by the glass was a completely different experience for me; I could see the ice and the players a lot better, but it was a lot less rowdy and the fans seemed to be less social.  If you don’t want to sit with the loud and rowdy crowd, I wouldn’t recommend sitting up in the balcony.  It can get a little overwhelming up there, especially if you’re supporting the visiting team.  As you can see from my picture below, there is still a great view from up top, you can see the entire playing surface and sometimes its easier to keep track of the puck.
-If you have an out of state ID and are below the age of 26, bring a passport or a parent if you want to purchase alcohol.  If you have an out of state ID and are below the age of 26, you cannot purchase alcohol here without a passport or birth certificate to prove your date of birth.  I learned this the hard way on St. Patrick’s Day a few years ago…I swear I was the only sober person in the entire arena.  This is the only venue, in any sport, that I’ve ever run into this policy.

-The arena is located right above North Station, which makes it extremely easy to get there if you’re not interested in trying to drive through traffic or find parking in Boston.  You can park outside the city and take the T directly to the arena or take the Amtrak Downeaster; both will drop you off downstairs and all you have to do is take the escalator up to the concourse.  If you do want to drive, there is a parking garage attached to the arena, as well as a handful of reasonably priced parking garages/lots within a walking distance of 1 mile or less.  If you do take a train in, be cautious of when they stop running.  You don’t want to get stuck in the train station overnight or end up walking back to your hotel room (true story) because you missed the last train out while you were watching a shootout or overtime.

First Niagara Center (Buffalo Sabres)

– I don’t remember much about this arena, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I usually remember bad, negative experiences, and nothing about this venue or trip was bad.  At this point in my life, I had never really ventured out of Maine, so I was just in awe the entire time.  This was a birthday trip/gift from my dad and step mom, with seats right behind the Buffalo penalty box.  I’d never sat that close before, you could see a lot of details and hear everything perfectly;a much different experience compared to balcony seats. I looked through my pictures from this trip, and they aren’t that good.  I didn’t take any of the actual venue, I mostly just took pictures of Tyler Ennis (he’s cute and has nice flow).

-The scoreboard really stood out, it was bright and had the buffalo from their logo on every corner, smoke would come of out the nostrils whenever the Sabres scored a goal.  They did a really great job utilizing their board; they showed replays, had trivia and player fun facts during stoppages/tv timeouts, and had a wide variety of eye catching graphics.  The game I went to was at the end of March, during NCAA March Madness, and they even made sure to show game/score updates throughout the game.  My dad and step mom, as well as many other fans in attendance appreciated that they could keep up with their brackets throughout the game.

Prudential Center (New Jersey Devils)

-I will never forget the game I saw at the Prudential Center.  What initially started out as a weekend road trip to see my favorite player, Jaromir Jagr, turned out to be an incredibly emotional, historic night.  This was the final game of the 2013-2014 season for the Devils, and it also turned out to be the final game Martin Brodeur would have between the pipes as a member of their organization.  Brodeur was drafted by the Devils in 1990, the same year that I was born, and holds numerous NHL records; he’s a legend.  After the game, he came back out to the ice, knowing that this was his last game there, and thanked the fans in a farewell speech.  The emotions being exuded from not only Marty, but also from the fans showed the amount of passion and respect between the organization, the players and their fans.  From a business and a fan perspective, that’s an important relationship.

 

-Because it was the final game/home game of the season, it was fan appreciation day at the arena.  They had a lot of giveaways and raffles throughout the game, like autographed jerseys, pucks, and sticks, as well as chances to win tickets for games the following season.  They also handed out a panoramic high quality team photo to every fan as they left the game.  I liked that they included every fan in this giveaway, and not just the first ‘X’ number of fans in attendance, like almost every other promotional giveaway in sports.

Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia  Flyers)

– Philadelphia has a really cool setup where all of their sports stadiums are together in one big plaza.  The football stadium, baseball stadium, and hockey/basketball arena are all clustered together, which I thought was really cool.  If you plan it right, you may be able to see more than one game in the same day.  I’d never seen a set up like that before, and I liked how everything was together in one place, with plenty of on-site parking.-They do a really great job here showcasing the team and their history, there’s a lot on display in the concourse areas.  If you’re a fan of the Flyers or even just a fan of the NHL, I’d recommend getting there early or taking a few minutes during  game play, when the crowds are minimal, to walk around and look at everything on display.  One of my favorite things they had was a hat trick wall, which was a glass encased wall filled with plaques honoring each player that had scored a hat trick, along with all of the hats fans had tossed onto the ice to celebrate the feat.

-They have a really great food selection here, including authentic cheese steaks, loaded tator tots and pizza slices bigger than your head.  I love food and love seeing the different items offered per city; Philly had a lot of great options (get the tots).

Barclays Center (New York Islanders)

-The Barclays Center is a relatively new venue, that just opened in 2012, so it seems a lot nicer and more innovative than other venues within the league.  However, this place was not built or intended to be used as an ice arena/NHL venue  Because of this, there are a lot of seats here with an obstructed view of the ice, there are a few angles/sections where you can’t see one of the goals or the corners, so use caution and do your research if you plan on seeing a game here.

 

-Although there are quite a few bad hockey seats here, they also have some of the best seats for viewing a game.  There’s a section that almost hangs over the edge of one of the corners, and it gives you a really unique perspective and view of the game that you won’t be able to get at any other arena.  This is where I ended up sitting, and it was really cool.  You were sitting above glass level, and almost over the actual playing surface, as if you were floating over the game.  Although the crowd was small, the fans were loud and supportive, giving off a good atmosphere.  I had a great experience here, and would love to go back for another Islanders’ game.

-You can get authentic New York cheesecake here.  And they have BIG beers for the same price as smaller beers at other arenas.  I love cheesecake, I love beer, and I love hockey.  This was euphoric for me.

Gila River Arena (Arizona Coyotes)

–  This is the first time I’ve ever been to a professional sporting event where the visiting team had more fans than the home team.  The Coyotes have one of the smaller fan bases and lowest attendance levels in the league, which can be a benefit to you as a consumer.  You can get really great seats in the lower level for the same price as upper balcony seats at other venues; I sat 5 rows off the ice for a Bruins/Coyotes game for $50 less than I usually pay for second market balcony seats at TD Garden.  The arena is nice and they do a great job entertaining guests and maintaining a fun atmosphere.  I want to reiterate that just because the tickets are cheap(er) and the crowds aren’t sellouts, does not mean that it’s a bad product.  This area of Arizona is BIG and has a lot of people that have relocated here, so their fandoms lay elsewhere.  I also can’t imagine hockey being a popular sport in the desert; I went to an NFL game while I was out there too, and it was a lot different in terms of crowd and level of support.  If you’re a hockey fan, I would 100% recommend trying to get to a Coyote’s game, they have a young team with a lot of talent, you’ll be getting a lot of overall value from your ticket price.

-While I was living in Arizona, I learned about “snowbirds” which are what they call people that relocate to the area from Canada and the cooler states up north during the winter months.  They had a Tim Horton’s in the arena, which I thought was a brilliant idea, and showed how much they pay attention to and know their target audience and demographic.  They also have Molson, a Canadian beer, on tap.  This is my favorite beer and I was so excited to finally find it in the desert after searching for almost 3 months.  I had a box of Tim Bits and my $9.00 glass of happiness, and was content the entire night (don’t knock donuts and beer until you try it).

-The arena was located in a large, beautiful plaza, with lots of parking, shopping and restaurants (drawing the snowbird crowd).  There was a lot to do there besides just go to a game, it was a fun, clean, welcoming environment.

Scottrade Center (St. Louis Blues)

-On my drive back to Maine from Arizona, I stopped in St. Louis to see my aunt and uncle for a few days.  They had heard about my bucket list and surprised me with club seats for a Blues/Predators game.  Let me tell you, club seats are the way to go, I felt like a queen.  Prior to puck drop, we went to an all you can eat pre-game buffet inside the arena, drinks (beer) included, as part of the ticket price.  They had typical finger/buffet foods as well as pasta, bread, salads, and a carving station with several different types of meat, along with a full bar.  Sounds great, right? Well, it gets better.  Once you get to your seats, you have a host/hostess and their job is to ensure that you’re taken care of.  Are you hungry? They will bring you whatever you want for food.  Thirsty? Boom, ice cold beer delivered right to your seat, unlimited, and included in your ticket price. Does it get any better than this? You’re damn right it does!  After 2nd intermission, the pre-game buffet area is transformed into a dessert buffet.  Yes, you read that correctly, a DESSERT BUFFET.  Cake, cookies, ice cream, cream puffs, brownies, you name it, they had it….unlimited, and included in your ticket.  You know that euphoria I felt in New York? This experience topped that.  I was one cookie away from having to be rolled out of there, which I’m sure their staff would have happily done for me.  The staff was friendly and helpful, you could tell that the Blues organization cares about their guests and their experience.  I just want to note that I cannot comment on the ticket price, as these were a gift, but I can imagine that they are more expensive than your average seats.  There is a lot of value here; you don’t have to get up or wait in food/beer lines, so you won’t miss the game, and all the food/drinks are unlimited and included.  If you eat or drink a lot, the expenses add up, with beers averaging around $9 at the concession stands.

-The entire atmosphere in this arena was amazing.  It was fun and loud, and you could tell that everyone was having a great time.  I don’t know if it’s like that every game, or if it was because of their opponent, but the entire arena was rocking and the fans were really into the game.  The music was played at perfect times, and it wasn’t overbearing or obnoxious, as it sometimes can be.  The DJ was really good at getting the crowd hyped up for power plays, which I think is important to maintaining a fun, energetic atmosphere for both the fans and the players.

Because of the significance of this journey to me, I’ve created a separate page within the blog to keep track of my progress.  I’ll update the page as I cross new venues off the list and include any plans for future/upcoming trips!  I will also be sure to make a separate blog post about any new venues I visit, complete with pictures, reviews and what makes the stadium unique compared to the others that I’ve visited within the league.

Have you been to any of these arenas?  What’s you’re favorite venue?  How was your overall experience?  What did you like/dislike?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

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