Photo Credit: Rockford IceHogs
Rockford Road Trip: Great Hockey at a Fraction of the Cost
One of the things I put on my “to do” list when I moved back to the Chicago area after a long time away was attending at least one game in Rockford. Guys are constantly getting called up to the big leagues to fill in for an injured Blackhawk. It just made sense to catch a game to get a closer look at some of these Hawks-to-be.
That chance finally came about a week ago last Sunday, when I attended an afternoon game against the Lake Erie Monsters. From where I live, the drive took maybe an hour and a half, thanks to light weekend afternoon traffic. By contrast, traveling to a game at the United Center (less than half the distance) can sometimes take that long thanks to crazy traffic.
My immediate impression when I arrived was that the atmosphere was much more laid back. Granted, the attendance is significantly lower, but the vibe seemed to stem from something other than just having fewer people. There were more families, and the demographics tended to be skewed to the much younger and much older, rather than the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who seem to make up the majority of the United Center crowd on a given night.
My seat was three rows from the glass, behind the IceHogs bench. It was amazing to be able to see these guys up close, even if that meant being in a bit more of a danger zone for flying pucks – one of which landed a few seats away at some point during the game. The cost of that ticket was probably 95% less than the cost to sit in a similar spot at the United Center.
There was a lot of engagement with the crowd. No “kiss cams” or anything silly, but they would pan the camera around to various fans at times whenever the puck was not in play. They also had a costume contest for kids and adults, as well as having fans skate on the ice afterward with players passing out candy (unfortunately I had neither a costume nor skates).
Another interesting aspect was whenever the Hogs would score a goal. I didn’t expect to hear “Chelsea Dagger,” but I wasn’t sure what song to expect – just hoping it wasn’t the overused “Kernkraft 400.” Instead, the Hogs use “Boom! Shake the Room.” Catchier, and more fun. But when they announce the the scorer and time of goal, they shout, “Woo!” to which the crowd replies in kind. I found it a bit disconcerting at first, since this is what the Boston Bruins do. But four goals later, I got used to it.
Probably the part I liked best was watching some great work by the Not Yet Ready for Prime Time [Hockey] Players. Even if they weren’t deemed as worthy to hang with the big kids by Bowman or Coach Q, they are clearly in Rockford for a reason. That one can watch this without having to practically take out a loan or put a second mortgage on your house to afford tickets is what makes all the empty seats so mind-boggling.
Great players. Cheap tickets and reasonably priced concessions. Relatively short drive. But you don’t even have stray far from the city! The Chicago Wolves, AHL affiliate for the St. Louis Blues, play at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and frequently host the Hogs.
These are just a few reasons why I’m looking forward to my next Rockford Road Trip. At the end of the day, it’s not really about seeing the players before they move up to the NHL or win a Stanley Cup championship. It’s just about having fun watching pro hockey without having to break the bank.