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Official Review by Scott Montesano, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The state of Iowa has only produced a single NHL player born in the state (Scott Clemmensen) but that fact hides truth that the sport is one of the state’s most popular spectator activities. One of the places where that is on display is in Cedar Rapids, where the vibrant fan base of the United States Hockey League’s Roughriders has been consistently filling the decade old Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. With cowbells clutched firmly in hand and covered in one of the Roughriders’ numerous jersey designs, the fan base is as passionate as any in American minor-league hockey.
Hockey was non-existent in this corridor city, except for the few who would drive 45-minutes northwest to watch the tradition-rich Waterloo Blackhawks, but that changed when the former North Iowa Huskies moved from Mason City, IA to this arena that was constructed specifically for them.
The Cedar Rapids Ice Arena (capacity 4,000) was built in 1999 and sits on the same property as the city’s minor league baseball stadium (Veterans Stadium) and a high school football stadium (Kingston). The surroundings are rather dull as the location of the sports complex is hidden behind a mixture of small residential and light industrial buildings; nonetheless access to the area is easy. The arena itself provides little in terms of architectural design on the outside as it’s a simple structure that looks like any common duel-rink facility one would find anywhere in the country.
Upon entering, one finds themselves in a standard duel-rink lobby with a concession stand, some offices between the two rinks. To the left is a simple practice sheet but up a flight of stairs is the main arena and once inside any resemblance to a community recreation facility disappears. When it was built, the C.R. Ice Arena was christened the model for any junior facility in the country with its top loading seating bowl, luxury suites and wide concourses. Though newer buildings in the USHL have opened, this arena still stands the test of time.
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 minor league baseball Kernels operate the concession stand and while there is nothing wrong with the offerings, there is nothing noteworthy either. The arena concessions are located along one side of the arena, under the luxury seats and inside the seating bowl. Most prices range from $3-$7, in line with most sporting venues with the options ranging from pizza to hot dogs to walking tacos.
There is another concession stand in the arena lobby.
Ownership of the Roughriders put a sizeable monetary investment into a full-on television production four years ago and the video board presentation matches that of any major league team. The team has a number of custom-built videos, including a heart-felt, slow-jam country song that tickles the nostalgia nerve even in the most ardent visiting fan.
Nearly everything the team does is centered on the boards which are located behind the goals on both ends of the arena.
Ownership also invested in a new paint job a couple years ago covering the entire interior in dark green and white to match the Roughriders' colors. The walls are also adorned with pictures of former players, though the signs hanging from the ceiling hawking concession items and merchandise seem a bit tacky. As if they had extra boards and didn't want them lying around the office.
The area is safe and easy to access but for a sports complex the neighborhood is lacking. There is little in the way of postgame gathering places nearby.
If you are a hockey fan who believes in the use of cowbells, this would very well be a five. If you can't stand cowbells, this one might just as well be a zero. Inside the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, spectators are engulfed in a passionate fan base that is no longer neophytes to the game after having it in the city for more than 10 years. Fans are loud and into the game, with the ever present use of cowbells to make noise. The ringing of cowbells begins immediately as you can hear them clanging in people's hands as they are walking into the arena and they go non-stop from the warm-ups until the end of the game.
A simple saucer pass in the neutral zone midway through the first period has the soundtrack of 3,000 cowbells to go with it. However, this isn't the thunderstix fad of 10 years ago as the fans know what they are doing. They aren't simply making noise because they are bored, it's what they do and they know it's their trademark now.
Cedar Rapids is located off I-380 and for those arena hunters traveling from long distances; it is also served by the Eastern Iowa Airport which has regular flights to Chicago and Minneapolis. The larger Quad Cities International Airport is roughly an hour away.
Though hockey is not a popular sport to play in Iowa, it has definitely taken hold from a spectator standpoint and that is on display in Cedar Rapids. The arena isn't overly flashy but it is very suitable and will be a viable place to see a game for many more years to come. Ticket prices range in the ballpark of $16-$25 which is a standard price around the USHL.
If planning to attend a game when arch-rival Waterloo is present, it's highly recommended that you get your tickets early as selling out the 3,500 seat arena is common place during those games. Otherwise, the Roughriders crowds are typically around 2,700 so good seats are still available on a game night.
Make sure to arrive early and soak in the pregame videos that the Roughriders have put together. Some might think its overkill, but they are well done and are a mixture of nostalgia and blood pumping excitement. If the weather is nice, it is possible to walk over the baseball stadium and peak in to get a look at the home of the Cedar Rapids' Kernels.
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957 Rockford Rd SW
Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
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