A tale of three AHL cities – Part two: Chicago

Two posts down, one to go!  One week ago today I was in the fine city of Chicago watching the Checkers defeat the Wolves.  Wish I was back there this weekend, but my memories will have to get me through another day.  😉

Day two of my three day roadie (that took me five days to complete, thanks to road conditions and hangovers!) consisted of spending time in Chicago with my best friend and his partner, and heading to the lovely village of Rosemont for the Checkers game against the Chicago Wolves.  Rosemont is a small blip on the outskirts of Chicago, that basically serves as the parking lot of O’Hare airport.  The arena is adjacent to a Target, and looks like the world’s largest Whitecastle from the outside.
The view of the Wolves ice from my seats. Thanks, iPhone, for your fantastic camera! (Check out the smoke that still hangs in the air!)

Like Rockford’s home rink, the All-State arena is also about 30 years old, and home to DePaul University Men’s basketball, and other concerts and special events.  It’s been home to hockey since 1994, when the Wolves moved in.  It’s of comparable size to the Checkers home, but is incredibly dated with gaudy multi-color carpet in the hallways, a terrible sound system and a video board that might have been top-of-the-line 15 or 20 years ago.  Sightlines were clearly designed for basketball, and the shallow rake of the lower bowl makes it hard to see.  I was grateful to be sitting up high above center ice, and advise any Checkers fans who make the trip to Chicago to sit in the upper bowl at center ice!

The Wolves have a pyro spectacular before their games… and it was shocking to the theatrical technician in me. I’m not talking a few indoor fireworks to celebrate a goal.  This is like a full on KISS rock show or Trans-Siberian orchestra pyro show with giant flames, indoor fireworks, and a laser light show that would have been REALLY cool in the late 1990’s.  There was so much smoke that it didn’t really clear until the third period, and then the Wolves scored, which set off a whole new set of fireworks.
The thing about the pyro show is it all takes place in the visitors end.  The Checkers couldn’t skate out until it was over (and it was quite long…. the history of the Wolves and their IHL and AHL championships was all chronicled in laser lights), and I can only imagine that based on the heat I felt in the top of the upper bowl, the ice had to be affected.  Pyro litters a lot of debris, too.  The top of the video board had a grey, chalky film on it, and I can only imagine the ice had bits of powder and charred stuff littering it, right where Mike Murphy was about to take his position in the crease.  Talk about giving the home team some advantage… the pyro show definitely did that!
I was just amazed by all of it… knowing how expensive permits for this kind of thing is, for the safety equipment required, and special personnell that have to be on hand when you have pyro, and of course, there’s the fact that all of Chicago once burned down and therefore their fire rules and regulations are even more strict to this day… so, it was impressive, for sure, both in spectacle and cost.  Personally?  I’d rather see money spent in other ways, but hey, I’m not paying the bills, and obviously, the Wolves have a pretty unlimited budget compared to many AHL teams.
As far as in-game entertainment is concerned, there wasn’t much to speak of.  All of the announcements were simply made over the PA system, without the benefit of an actual face to the voice like we have in Charlotte.  All of the Wolves games are broadcast (home AND away) so the TV timeouts there are longer than most AHL games.  It seems like those times could be better utilized by the team for promo stuff, etc.
I feel pretty confident that like the carpet in the hallways, the sound system at All State arena hasn’t been updated since the building was opened in 1980.  All of the sound seemed to come out of one side of the building, and wasn’t balanced at all.  The one thing that is incredibly awesome inside the Wolves home arena is their goal horn.  That thing is LOUD and legitimately awesome.  It’s what a goal horn SHOULD be.  It’s no boat horn like the Hurricanes have in Raleigh (I’m a big fan of that one!), but the Wolves have an impressive, intimidating horn. Time Warner Cable Arena? You NEED one like this.  I wouldn’t advise them to blast it as frequently as they do in Chicago despite the team only scoring one goal, but it was pretty fantastic!
A view from the upper bowl - Mathieu Roy drops the gloves! (Photo - J. Propst)

As far as the fans in the stands, I saw a couple of Hurricanes jerseys, and a River Rats jersey as well, which was cool.  But then there were the Wolves fans.  Nearly everyone I ran into was decked out in Wolves sweaters and wolves colors, head to toe.  It was pretty great.  There was still a scattering of Blackhawks jerseys in the crowd, and I spotted a couple of Canucks sweaters behind the goal, but mostly?  It was all about the Wolves.

A friend of mine, who I’ve known since high school here in Charlotte, is now a Chicago resident and Wolves season ticket holder.  He said his favorite games are the ones against Rockford.  The IceHogs are undoubtedly the Wolves biggest rival, however with the Blackhawks being THE NHL team in Chicago, those games bring out a huge crowd.  Jeremy said it’s like a game with two home teams, and is just a great night to be a hockey fan.
All in all, despite the nit-picky things I’ve elaborated on, I really enjoyed the game in Chicago… then again, it was a Checkers win, so what’s not to like?  I drove the 30-40 minutes back to my best friend’s uptown apartment, and celebrated the New Year in style, knowing the Checkers had swept the weekend in their two-game roadtrip, and I got to see one more game in Milwaukee before making the 1000 mile drive back to Charlotte!

4 thoughts on “A tale of three AHL cities – Part two: Chicago

  1. Love the video of the laser / pyro show. Did the mascot “Skates” come out and shoot fireworks out of his paws like I’ve seen in the past?

    Chicago’s fanbase travels really well for Western AHL teams. There is always a handful at AHL All-Star games and I remember when WBS faced them in the Calder Cup Finals a few years ago that there were more than a few at the games in Wilkes-Barre. They also televise all of their games too, both home and away, which I think is really cool but is a testament to the fact that they have unlimited funds as an AHL franchise.

    1. That was the shortest of the videos… I probably have about three minutes of footage on my iPhone, which didn’t show the WHOLE pyro show. As a theater geek, I could think of SO MANY game presentations that would be more awesome and less “flash and trash”…. but I believe that less is more!!!

      Anyway… I didn’t see Skates with firework hands…. but sounds interesting. I hope that polyester suit is covered in fireproofing material!!!!!

  2. I imagine there was such sensory overload that you missed Skates….I’m pretty sure they do it every time. He’s the first name introduced before the starting lineup. He skates to center ice, they do a wolf howling sound effect, and then there are some fire crackers that come out of his hands. I think it’s a nice way to intro the mascot….and less flame throwers involved….

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