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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
The United States Hockey League (USHL) was founded in 1947, and has grown into a stable league of 16 teams based in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. The USHL is an amateur league whose players go on to play in college, or turn pro. Players in the league must be age 20 or younger, and it is filled with talented players.
The team based in Ann Arbor, Michigan is home to the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP). There are actually two teams in the program, an Under-18 team which plays in tournaments and against collegiate teams, and the Under-17 team which plays in the USHL.
The Under-17 team is actually outmatched against many teams in the USHL because of the age difference, as other teams have players as much as three years older.
Their home arena is the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, known in short as the A˛Ił. It’s a community ice center with three rinks, playing host to games for Eastern Michigan hockey, high school, and several adult leagues and youth leagues. There are three rinks in the Ice Cube, and games may be simultaneously played on the various rinks.
The main arena’s capacity is only 1,000, but you can witness junior hockey at a very high level, and at a very affordable price.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's a surprising array of food options at the Ice Cube. I generally write something about how the usual options are available like hot dogs, etc. In this case, there are no hot dogs to be found. Instead, choose from bosco sticks ($3.25), mozzarella sticks ($4.50), sweet potato fries ($3.50), and pre-made sandwiches and wraps ($4). You can get some hummus and pita ($2) as well.
Hot beverages include coffee, tea, cappuccino, and cocoa ($1.75 & $2). Coca-Cola products are available ($1-$2), as are frozen Coke ($2.50 and $3). There is no alcohol served at the Ice Cube.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a major sporting event. You will get quality hockey and little else. Depending on what you're looking for, that's not at all a bad thing. There are 11 rows of bleacher seating, with no seat backs. They are comfy enough bleachers, but may get troublesome if you have any back issues.
There are some low grade promotions during the game. My 4 year-old son was actually named "kid of the game" and given a cardboard Zamboni filled with candy and a hockey puck, much to his delight. There was a trivia contest as well, with the winner taking home a burrito.
The scoreboards are very basic. There are two; one in between the benches with just time and score. The larger scoreboard at one end contains the score, time, and penalty information.
The good news is that you are in Ann Arbor, one of the great college towns in the United States. The bad news is that there isn't anything nearby the arena. If you want to drive 5-10 minutes you will be in downtown Ann Arbor, with plenty of options, but your best bet is probably just to eat at the arena for this game experience.
Many of the fans at a USA Development Team game seem to be family or friends of the players. There was a relatively large away supporters section, sporting Green Bay Gamblers jerseys and gear. The home squad was well supported as well. Players on the USA team attend high school in Ann Arbor in most cases and stay with host families during the season.
Parking is free. That's a good decision and always a draw for a sporting event. Bathrooms are adequate and located just inside the entryway.
There's plenty of room to walk around inside the arena. The seating is all facing the benches with the teams and the penalty box opposite the seating areas. All seating is general admission, so whether you want to sit in the front row or at the top (11th row), the world is your oyster.
Adult admission is only $6, and there are discounts for students and youths. The food is below average in pricing and parking is free. These are all good things, and this is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening, just watching hockey. There's no pretense, just sit back and listen to the crash of the boards and the click of the puck roaming stick to stick during a power play.
There are well over 100 players who have begun their careers in the USHL, and made it to the NHL. Current NHL stars Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Sharp. Even Gordie Howe got his start in this league, with the Omaha Knights. The pint is that you will likely be seeing future NHL players on the ice, so make a note so you can tell a story of you remember them when.
Also, there is a great pro shop located inside the facility. Worth a look for any hockey player at any level.
Hockey has a certain rhythm that is unmatched in every other sport. The USHL, and specifically a trip to the Ann Arbor Ice Cube to see Team USA Development Team hockey, is a wonderful way to tune in to the music of hockey.
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