In 2009, the AHL granted the Texas Stars a limited franchise, which allowed them to begin operations for the 2009-10 season. When owner Tom Hicks was able to purchase the inactive Iowa Chops franchise in early 2010, the Stars became full-fledged members of the league, just in time for their appearance in the Calder Cup finals.
The Stars play in the Cedar Park Center, located in Cedar Park, TX, a bedroom community about 20 miles north of Austin. Built for the 2009 season, the stadium also hosts the Austin Toros of the NBDL as well as dozens of concerts annually. It rises out of the prairie like a mirage, but rest assured, the CPC is quite real as I found out on a recent visit.
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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".
There is a single spacious concourse with a number of booths and concessions selling a reasonable variety of food. The tortilla stand offers Soft Chicken Tacos for $7.75 and Jumbo Pretzels for $4.25. Price-conscious consumers will opt for the regular hot dog at $3.25. However, I would recommend moving on to the Smoky Mo's BBQ stand, where a sliced beef wrap is just $4. The beef is sliced right in front of you, something you don't see very often at sporting events. Add some mayo and you have a nice pre-game meal.
Typical snacks such as roasted peanuts ($4.50) and Cracker Jack ($4.25) are also available. There is a shaved ice stand that was offering free samples, but it was very cold outside and few fans seemed interested.
Large draft beer will run you $7.50, while a souvenir soda is $5.50. In terms of sit-down spots, there is a Club Lounge for those with Club seats and Tito's Bar for those without.
As the players warmed up, loud music blared from the PA system to get fans in the mood. There was a pregame show that saw the arena go dark and was quite interesting. During intermissions there were a few promotions that kept fans from getting bored, including the cheerleaders dressing in jean shorts, checkered shirts, and dancing to a country song. This was far more impressive than I can describe it in a family-friendly review.
The best part of this venue is the acoustics. It is a relatively small enclosed space and although I was sitting high in the press box, I could hear the players shouting on the ice, the skates, the passes, the saves, and the shots off of the boards. Some argue that the fans should make the noise, but for hockey, it is far more enthralling to pay attention to the game and let the sounds drift over you. I would strongly recommend sitting high here to get the full effect of the sounds of the game which really make hockey more thrilling.
The arena is located in the north central area of Cedar Park, which is essentially a residential community 20 miles north of Austin. The TX-183A toll road passes by east of the venue and provides a couple of entry points, while the other sides are mostly housing developments. The nearest commercial facility is the 1890 Ranch Shopping Center a mile or two south.
You need to drive in and out here, and after the game, you will likely be driving a while to find a neighborhood where you can relax, with Austin being the most likely destination.
I was very impressed with the fans here. They were lined up early, well before the gates opened an hour prior to game time. Most of them had a jersey or hat (or both) and they were surprisingly knowledgeable about the game. The most important thing is that they stayed until the last minute, which was important as the Stars mounted a comeback to win the game in a 10-round shootout.
The only minor negative was their whining after a proper penalty shot call was made. I understand that it is the fan's job to ride the ref whenever a call goes against your team, but I found the "Ref, you suck!" chant to be completely unfounded in this case.
You must drive here and parking is $10, which is too much for this level of hockey. However, the parking lot is huge and there are three entrances, so getting in and out is not a problem. With the highway right next door, you can be on your way less than 5 minutes after the final horn.
Inside the stadium, the concourse is more than wide enough and quite shiny and new. One thing I liked here was having the team store on the concourse itself, providing more space to browse around. Often team stores are enclosed spots and can get very crowded before the game.
The single seating bowl is easy to navigate with no concerns about leg room or visibility. Washrooms are clean and plentiful enough for the crowd.
Tickets range from $11 for the Terrace seats in the upper rows behind each net to $64 for the single row along the glass in the Club. The best bet is probably the Luxury seats at $21 which allow you to sit in one of the offensive zones. If you want to avoid having the glass block your view of the goaltender, row J and above is best.
There are 22 sections in the seating bowl; above each section is a separate loge area with seats that go for $27 and give you some space, excellent for groups. Note that the seats in the upper rows of sections 111-113 are just folding chairs.
The Stars give you a good variety of choices for tickets and if you choose one of the less expensive options, you will get good value for your money as the team is one of the best in the AHL.
One interesting promotion for the game I attended was the Texas Lottery Lucky Row. Each section was assigned a player and if he scored first, a row in that section would win lottery tickets.
The path from the dressing room to the ice is not blocked off and fans can stand there as the players walk out onto the ice. A nice touch that cannot be replicated in the NHL, with dressing rooms usually located beneath the seating bowl.
Finally, make sure to pick up your game notes, which are handed out as you enter the seating bowl. Just a couple of pages, but they provide a bit of useful info on both teams that makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Cedar Park Center is a beautiful facility that is hurt by its relatively remote location and parking charges. Even then, it is well worth making the trip as the Stars put on a great show with a very friendly staff who will make sure that your visit is as enjoyable as possible.
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