Rochester, New York is the prototypical American minor-league city. They boast no franchises in the four major sports, yet host a plethora of second-tier franchises, and have done so for a very long time.
A great example of this is the Rochester Americans.
The Amerks are the 2nd longest running team in the AHL, and boast a history that dates, uninterrupted, back to 1956. That is second only to the Hershey Bears. The Amerks enjoy one of the best affiliations in sports. The Amerks are affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres. They are owned by Terry Pegula who also owns the Sabres and Buffalo Bandits of the NLL. Located a mere hour's drive from the First Niagara Center, the Amerks have that unique, yet vital situation, where the fan base of Rochester is also genuinely interested in what is happening with the parent club. In their time in the AHL, the Amerks have amassed a great deal of success, culminating in 6 Calder Cup championships.
Although an institution in Rochester since 1955, The War Memorial has undergone renovations that bring it up to league standards, and there is very little evidence that the arena is as old as it is. Owned by the City of Rochester, the War Memorial re-opened after renovations in 1998 with a naming rights deal that was signed with Blue Cross.
An outing to see the Amerks is a solid evening of entertainment, especially for the AHL. Rochester is doing it their way ... the American way.
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".
The concessions that are available at the Blue Cross Arena are fairly average. There is enough selection to make the average fan happy, but there is really nothing that is going to get you overly excited. Hot dogs, nachos, burgers and popcorn are all available.
Philly cheesesteaks and Chicken Philly Steaks offer a bit of a release from the standard arena fare. Soda features are all Pepsi products, and draught beers are Molson Canadian or Bud Light. The prices are to be expected, and are neither blow your mind cheap nor blow your mind expensive. You won't go hungry at Blue Cross Arena, but that might not be a problem anyway (see Neighborhood below).
As mentioned above, The War Memorial does not look like an arena that has been around for over 50 years. As part of the renovations, a large narthex was built complete with a team store and ticket windows. It is surrounded by large windows, which do a great job of allowing in that natural light, and avoids the dank, dark interior that can accompany older arenas like Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The narthex is actually a great place to wait INSIDE on those cold, Western New York, winter evenings before the gates open.
Once giving your ticket, and heading up the stairs, fans have the opportunity to enter a large carpeted area adjacent to one of the windowed areas of the arena. In this area you will find most of the history of the Amerks. This includes banners from all of the championships, as well as those individuals who have been inducted, not the least of which is Canadian television hockey icon, Don Cherry. Cherry is a former player and coach with the Americans.
Inside the seating bowl, the sightlines are good and the seats are newly replaced. This gives the fan a comfortable atmosphere to watch the game. Overhead, you will find numerous championship banners, including the 6 banners for the Calder Cups. You will also find 3 banners for the 2 retired numbers. These include Norm Armstrong's number 6, and Dick Gamble and Jody Gage's number 9.
The videoboard is what you would expect for an AHL facility. However it does not hang directly over center-ice. This takes a bit of getting used to, and it is difficult to figure out the reason behind this. The in-game production is solid and features a mix of classic hockey organ music with contemporary music.
Downtown Rochester is decent. The Blue Cross Arena is located a ways from Frontier Field and Sahlen's Stadium. There are a couple of options around the arena for things to do and eat. You won't be overwhelmed by the selection, but you won't need to be. When making a trip to Rochester, it is imperative to stop in at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Featured on numerous Food Network shows, the Dinosaur features some of the greatest BBQ that you can get. It will most definitely change how you approach concessions at the game. A pregame meal will mean that you won't need to eat at the game, and a postgame meal will mean that you won't want to eat at the game. It does get quite busy even when a game is not being played that day, so you will want to get there early.
To fill your day, or weekend, a trip to Rochester must also include a trip to the National Museum of Play. A fantastic outing for kids young and old, one could spend hours and hours in this hidden gem.
Rochester has had a bit of a resurgence at the turnstile. At the time of this review during the 2012-2013 season, they are averaging nearly 7,000 fans per game, which is good for the top third of the AHL. Just a few short years ago, they were closer to the bottom third of the league, but a combination of a lack of NHL hockey during the lockout, and a stronger, more connected ownership group and affiliation with the Sabres, has brought the fans back. Amerks fans are passionate, and intelligent. They know their hockey.
Getting to the War Memorial is absolutely no problem at all. It is located just a few blocks from I-490. There are a few parking options around the arena, and you will have to pay a bit. If you are adventurous, you could take a crack at finding some street parking. Inside, the washroom facilities are adequate for the crowds.
Amerks tickets are not too expensive. There is a bit of a discount for purchasing before the day of the game. The majority of seats inside Blue Cross Arena will run you less than $20. The concession prices are pretty decent, and parking is not too bad. Overall, a trip to see the Amerks is a solid investment in your entertainment. You will definitely have a good time, and you won't blow the kids' college fund to do it.
An extra point for the playing of the old Hulk Hogan theme song "Real American" at the beginning of warm-ups. A bit of nostalgia, and a funny link.
An extra point for the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It's that good!
An extra point for the vast history of the Amerks.
If you want to get a real taste for minor league America, then a trip to Rochester is where it is at. It is a pure minor league town that is not overshadowed by major professional sports, or a major NCAA program. The Amerks have the spotlight and the attention of Rochester. Give them your attention for a few hours.
The American Hockey League (AHL) has a long history, all the way back to 1936. While no teams remain from that inaugural season, a few have been around for a long time and the Rochester Americans are among them. Since 1956, the Rochester Americans have been members of the AHL, playing their games in the same building for all 55 years of their existence.
Call it anything you want, but the Blue Cross Arena at War Memorial remains to many just "The War Memorial". Even after a renovation, the building still exudes the charm of a time long ago with great features no longer found in modern arenas.
It also helps that after several years of estrangement, the Americans and NHL's Buffalo Sabres are back as partners and the result makes seeing a game at the War Memorial so much better. Being just 80 miles apart, it is a natural relationship that serves the region and hockey fans well.
99 Court St
Rochester, NY 14604
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