I had a bit of a negative predisposition when I entered the Allstate Arena for a Chicago Wolves game. Previously, I have been in the venue for a DePaul Blue Demons basketball game, and walked away feeling unimpressed. Very quickly, for this AHL game experience, I changed my tune.
Allstate Arena works much better as a hockey venue. With a strong base of ardent fans, and great mix of interesting promotions and special effects, you'll definitely feel like minor league hockey at Allstate Arena is a great value.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You'll find plenty of great options as you walk around the concourse. There are two areas that offer premium bottled beers ($7.25), mixed drinks (ranging in price from $7.50, $10, or $12), and wine ($7.50 or $8). There is a good selection, but everything feels just a little too pricey.
Your basic food options include slices of pizza from Connie's ($6.50), Italian sausage ($6.50), nachos ($6), or hot dog ($5.50). These can all be found at the Ike's Pie Shop stand. If you feel like some Mexican cuisine (because what goes better with hockey?), then try the Cantina Rosa where you can grab the monster nacho for $9. They also have a chicken burrito ($8.50) or 3 tacos (chicken or carnita for $8.50).
My recommendation is to try the Rosemont Cafe. Their signature item is the Nacho Italiano ($9), which is your basic nacho topped with all of the items found on a traditional Chicago-style hot dog. If that's what you're in the mood for, then you are better off staying with the classic Chicago dog, with onions, sport peppers, tomato, a pickle spear, and of course mustard. Plus, it is only $6. To satisfy all of your carnivorous cravings, then try the Italian Sausage and Beef combo ($9).
To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop by the Windy City Confections Company stand where you will find an ice cream cone or cup ($4), waffle cone ($6), sundae ($6), or milkshake ($6). Non-alcoholic beverages are provided by Pepsi. A regular will cost you $5, or you can add another dollar to get a souvenir cup.
The Chicago Wolves won the Turner Cup as a part of the IHL in 1998 and 2000, and won the AHL's Calder Cup in 2002 and 2008. Those championship banners help to set the mood that this is a franchise that is serious about winning.
They are also serious about providing a great hockey viewing experience. One of the early announcements you'll hear during the pre-game warm-ups is a request that fans restrict movement throughout the stands to only during stoppages. The announcement explains that this is just good hockey etiquette, an important message especially for new fans.
The next memorable moment leading up to the game comes during introductions, when fans will be treated to an unparalleled pyrotechnics display. Fireworks shoot from the scoreboard as giant flames shoot up from a display shaped like a wolf's paws. The flames shoot so high that you can feel the heat from the other end of the ice.
The seating is a little tight when it comes to leg room, but if the crowd is sparse enough it won't be an issue. Occasionally weekend games fill up though, so get tickets ahead of time if you're going. They have cupholders at all seats, and they are padded in a theatre-style, so if you don't have long legs, you'll be comfortable and will be able to set down your drink in a safe place.
The upper section provides for a fantastic view, and has fewer fans, so you can basically choose whatever seat and angle you would like. Concessions may be closed on the upper level, so you will have to go down stairs if you want something to eat or drink throughout the game.
There is a large strip mall next door to the Allstate Arena that contains a Target and several chain restaurants. Options include Chipotle, Chili's, IHOP, Panda Express, Steak n' Shake, and Subway. Also within walking distance is a Potbelly's and a Starbucks.
My favorite place in the neighborhood is a nearby Harry Caray's restaurant (less than a mile away). To be fair, this is a chain as well, but one that is restricted to the Chicago area, so it feels a bit more special. Also, Harry Caray's serves up some of the best steaks in the city. While you certainly will get lighter in the wallet (steaks range from $30-$45), you will walk away feeling satisfied. I stopped in and sat at the bar area, and had a steak and a beer. Honestly, I don't know what they do exactly, but the steaks at Harry Caray's never let me down.
It's a mixed crowd at a Chicago Wolves game. You'll find die hards that come to every game, wear their Wolves jerseys, and are into the game from start to finish. You'll also find fans who seem like they're seeing hockey for the very first time, and seem bewildered by things like icing, line changes, and face offs. I think this is exactly the right mix for a minor league hockey game.
The biggest issue here is the number of empty seats outnumbers the filled seats by a large margin. This means that the crowd rarely rises above a dull cheer.
The upside though is that you get to hear all of those great hockey sounds. The click of the puck as it moves stick to stick, the unmistakable sound when a slap shot hits the post, the crash of one player taking another into the boards, and the swish of skates digging into the ice to change direction are all perfectly audible.
There is plenty of parking, but it is definitely priced too high at $11 per car. This is something that really needs to be addressed to encourage more fans to come to Allstate Arena to see the Wolves play. Minor league hockey should be affordable first and foremost, and this fee is simply much too high.
The arena can easily be accessed off of I-90, and in almost all cases you'll get in and out quickly.
The concourses are wide, and restrooms are very large so you won't have to miss any action waiting in a line.
Tickets start at around $13 and rise as high as $40. Honestly, there really isn't any reason to pay more than the very minimum price in most cases, as you should be able to move around easily. I think the seats in the upper section are the way to go regardless so you can have a great view of all of the action.
Overall, hockey works really well in the Allstate Arena, but everything, from tickets to parking to food, is all at least a little overpriced. It's a real shame because the overall experience is good, just not worth the current price.
The pyrotechnics are really unique, and some of the best that I have seen. They may be too much for many fans. In fact, there is a warning that is announced that some fans who are sound or light sensitive may want to stay on the concourse during the intros. You can see the pictures, but they just don't do the experience justice.
There was a fun cupcake eating contest during the first intermission. It was definitely a long time to watch people shove cake in their face, but it was entertaining.
Finally, I really appreciated the announcement encouraging fans to stay in their seats when the puck was in play. It's an important sign that they are committed to providing a great hockey experience.
There's plenty of options for food at the formerly-named Rosemont Horizon, now called Allstate Arena. Coors Light is the beer of choice for the Wolves, so be ready to fork over some money for that. It's standard stadium food: nachos, Pepsi beverages, Dippin' Dots, the like.
The atmosphere at a Wolves game, although empty seats clearly dominate the 200 level, has electric downgraded to a mere understatement. Sitting in the lower bowl, which I highly recommend, is one of the greatest experiences you can give yourself, and for lower-5-row seats for only 26 bucks, you'd better jump on that. The crowd cheering and the siren sounding and taking us back to the nostalgia of the 90s with EMF when the hometown team scores is sure to have you pumping your fist. And you should hear the surplus of boos when the opposing team, that night the Charlotte Checkers.
It's Rosemont, OK? It's not like you're smack dab in the middle of downtown Chicago. It takes a while to get there, even from the suburbs, so plan for a long car ride. But it's a nice quiet suburb with something to boast about.
These fans are CRAZY about their hockey. You have diehards who wear their Wolves jerseys with pride, some who are at their first hockey game, and some who think that the AHL is a much more affordable NHL, which makes for the perfect fan atmosphere. The crowd screams their head off when the Wolves score, boos their livers out when the opposition does. They're a great group of fans.
Rosemont being the small suburb it is, it's not really easy to get there. The Allstate Arena has the largest parking lot in the State of Illinois, however, that comes at a price as parking will set you back $13. There's a Target next store, but Rockatis Towing will be waiting on the nights of Wolves games.
You get a great hockey game for a great price, minus the parking, and good food for a good price.
I'll give Allstate Arena one extra star for Wayne Messmer singing the National Anthem, and another extra for having Al Secord drop the puck the night I was there.
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