The Rockford IceHogs originated as a team in the now defunct UHL (United Hockey League) in 1999. In 2007 they joined the prestigious AHL, and became the top minor league affiliate of the nearby Chicago Blackhawks.
Known for years as the Rockford MetroCentre, the arena was renamed in August 2011 as the BMO Harris Bank Center, although many fans continue to simply call it the "Big Orange Box." With outstanding food offerings, fair prices, and a few interesting twists, the BMO Harris Bank Center is a great place to catch a game.
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You'll find just about anything that you're looking for, and at a reasonable price at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If you're feeling the Chicago vibe, you may want one of the many hot dogs available from Vienna Beef. The jumbo is $5.50 with the junior $4.50, and you can select from the Chicago Style, Coney, Frankfurt, or nacho dog.
One slight variation on the typical pizza is the panizza at the Panino's stand. These are essentially pizzas, but served on bread. The plain cheese goes for $4.50 with the pepperoni or sausage versions at $5.
My recommendation is to stop at the Pig Pit, on the second level at the open end of the concourse. There you can pick up the BBQ platter for $8 which includes two sides and a heaping portion of pulled BBQ pork, with several sauces to choose from. Not only is the BBQ great, but if there is a table available, you have an outstanding view from behind the goalie. It's not a bad place to camp out for the entire game.
Pepsi is the soda vendor of choice at the BMO Harris Bank Center, with three sizes available ($3.25, $3.75, & $4.50). Beer is available at $6.50 for an import (Corona was the only option I found) or $6 for domestic (Budweiser products). There are several bars set up throughout the concourse where you can also get a glass of wine or mixed drink. Wednesdays are dollar beer night, so be prepared for a line, especially during intermissions.
Unfortunately, the IceHogs don't have the same tradition of cheering throughout the National Anthem the way that their parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks, do. I heard perhaps the worst rendition since Roseanne disrespected the nation, although this time it was by an elementary school choir so it's hard to be too critical. Sentiments aside, it was bad.
The mascot's name is Hammy, and he does a good job of making his way through the stands to pose for pictures, and exchange high-fives with the fans. He's generally holding a cowbell to try to incite a cheer, or just play along to the music. Hammy also makes several appearances out on the ice in a mini-car, which he slides around in to great effect.
The lower section offers blue plastic seats, and the upper section has blue yellow seats with a padded bottom. All of the seats have above average legroom, and cupholders, so you should be comfortable and available to cheer without the fear of spilling your beverage or being overly crowded.
The arena is just the right size for AHL hockey, and the open end of the concourse is a great change from the typical venue. There are three levels to enjoy unique views of the action. The first level is primarily for season ticket holders, although you can purchase access to individual games and be able to grab a seat right along the boards. Above that is the Pig Pit, which I mentioned previously and is open to anyone with a ticket. Finally, at the top level there is the Arena Club, which is generally used for large group outings, offering a bar.
The experience is focused on the hockey, with ushers holding stop signs up to avoid patrons from moving about while the puck is in play. Hockey in general seems to do a better job of this than most sports, but it is the proper etiquette regardless of what live sporting event you attend, so I was happy to see the commitment here.
The BMO Harris Bank Center can be found smack dab in downtown Rockford, so there are several options to spend some time before or after the game. I've heard good things about the Carlyle Brewing Company, but unfortunately they were closed for their annual mid-winter break during my visit, so I can't endorse them first hand.
I tried the Kiwi Cafe, which sits adjacent to the main entrance of the arena. It was nothing special, but seems to be a place where many IceHogs fans congregate. They have some standard beer and mixed drink options, as well as soups and sandwiches. I tried the muffaletta panini, which was rather plain, but certainly packed a lot of meat in for the price. A beer and the sandwich cost me $9.
The Hawk's Nest is on the opposite side of the arena. It also seemed to be a popular place for pre-game with several people dressed in hockey jerseys moving to and fro. The menu is limited during IceHogs games, but they do serve burgers, ribs, and such.
I wasn't overwhelmed by the noise that the fans created, but they certainly seemed to be focused on the action, and the talk I heard from those around me centered around hockey- always a good thing. Overall, the team has a solid fan base.
Many fans brought various types of noisemakers to the arena including clappers, bells, and the recently popular vuvuzelas. There were a lot of kids and families at the game, and the team helps to facilitate the ease of taking a family by having most night games start at 6:35pm.
Parking is available in several nearby garages and also along the street, although be sure to check signs to see if you need to pay a meter (for many of the spaces there is no charge after 5pm). I read beforehand that most lots charge $5-$10 for most events at the BMO Harris Bank Center, although I drove away without having to pay anything at the Church Street Parking Ramp.
Inside, the concourses are wide and there are several restrooms to ensure that there are not lines, even during intermissions.
If there is a full house, it can get a little congested as you leave the downtown area, but nothing that should frustrate you enough to justify leaving a game early.
Tickets start for as little as $7 for terrace level seats. Unless you want to get right up to the glass ($26) I would recommend going for the cheap seat option. Even the seat furthest from the ice offers a great view of the action.
With free parking and wonderful concession stands, you'll definitely get a good value for your dollar at a Rockford IceHogs game.
I loved the name of the gift shop, "Oink Outfitters," where you can find any gear that you may want.
The open ended concourse allows you to watch the game from practically right above the goalie's head, something I would recommend doing for at least a portion of the game.
I also thought the scoreboard provided the modern niceties of the age (four HD video screens and all of the digitalized information you need) without being overly large and distracting from the game.
BMO Harris Bank Center offers a fantastic venue to see AHL hockey. If you live in the northern suburbs of Chicago, it is worth the extra time in the car to see the IceHogs, especially if you're a Blackhawks fan as you have the opportunity to see some future NHL talent.
The bowl-style area has a college atmosphere feel to it. There are no bad seats in the arena, which does not have an upper deck. The fans are energetic and supportive of the team. The arena is located in the downtown area of Rockford. There are a few restaurants in the area, but clearly there's a revitalization afoot. Tickets and parking is affordable. I absolutely love going here for games. I could go to Rosemont to see the Wolves, but prefer Rockford instead by leaps and bounds. I have yet to have a poor experience here.
215 East State St
Rockford, IL 61104
211 Elm St
Rockford, IL 61101
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