Centre Ice Arena was completed in 1997 as the second community hockey complex in Traverse City, Michigan (along with Howe Arena). The arena seats approximately 1,100 fans, and can be a fun place to see some junior level hockey.
The Traverse City North Stars were introduced to the North American Hockey League (NAHL) for the 2005-2006 season. While the North Stars have seen limited success both in terms of the league playoffs, and in attendance, you still find a relatively rowdy atmosphere at this small venue. The North Stars will appear in the 2012 NAHL playoffs, which hopefully will boost local support of the team.
The venue has also been the home of the Detroit Red Wings for training camp for the past 15 seasons, and has been known as "Hockeytown North."
The Traverse City North Stars are one of two options in Grand Traverse County for athletics beyond the high school level, along with the Traverse City Beach Bums at Wuerfel Park.
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 is a surprisingly good selection of food and drink at a North Stars game, and the prices are very reasonable. Local chain, Mancino's, offers up its pizza ($2 per slice or $12 for a full pie) and grinders ($6). You've got to try the bread balls, garlic with marinara or cinnamon with frosting. Either way, they are delicious and are worth the $4 price tag.
Hot chocolate, hot tea, and coffee are available for only $1 each, as are the bottles of water. There is no alcohol served at Centre Ice Area's concession stands. There is a bit of a wait during intermission, so this is one venue where you will want to cut out a couple of minutes early to avoid the wait.
There's something really calming about seeing a game in a small arena like this. Not that you will be watching a calm game. The players of the Traverse City North Stars are young amateurs who are competing with their NAHL opponents for college scholarships or future professional paychecks. Nonetheless, you can be sure that you can sit back and enjoy the click of the puck as it moves from stick to stick.
The presentation is kept very low tech. The scoreboard is very basic, but gives you the information to enjoy the game.
The team does a chuck-a-puck contest where there is a prize given to whomever is closest to the target. This is a pretty standard contest at many minor league and junior league hockey venues. What is different about this one, is that they allow kids to come down on the ice to help pick up the pucks. This is a great way to ensure some interaction with the young fans, as well as get some free labor. My 4 year-old son was at the game, and it was his favorite part of the experience.
Ten rows of green plastic bleachers make up the entirety of the seating, and there are heaters if you choose to sit up further away from the action. It can be fun to sit near the boards, but your best view and comfort can be found closer to the top of the seating area.
I was disappointed that they didn't offer a ticket stub, a stadium travelers best souvenir. Instead, they simply stamped your hand. If you want to stamp my hand to make it easier, that's fine, but I want that stub as a memento.
Centre Ice Arena is located on the southeast side of Traverse City, about a 10 minute drive from downtown. This certainly isn't ideal if you are planning to combine dinner into your trip to see a North Stars game, but Traverse City is really a beautiful town, and it is worth exploring.
The nearest restaurant of note is Peegeo's, a little pizza place with a decent beer selection and cozy atmosphere. It was a little cramped the night I visited, but the pizza was good.
If you are headed downtown after the game for a drink, I recommend the Seven Monks Taproom, a large bar with a great beer selection. If you want to catch a movie while in town, the revitalized State Theatre is an excellent place to see a show. They have a rotating schedule of newer movies, as well as classic films.
The fun thing about a small venue like this is that super fans can really stand out and elevate the experience. At many NAHL games you will find host families for some of the players, as well as friends and families. There will likely be a small contingent of fans that travel to support the visiting team as well. This was certainly the case at the Traverse City North Stars game.
You'll also find fans who just really love hockey, and the simplicity of this level of the game is really appealing.
I'm a bit of a stickler for fan conduct, most notably not walking around while the puck is in play. Unfortunately, there was a lot of movement during play, and I found that rather annoying. In an arena this small, it is pretty easy to wait for a whistle before entering or exiting the seating area.
That gripe aside though, the fans were pretty engaged in the game, and I found it to be one of the better crowds that I have seen at an NAHL game.
Parking is free. Entering and exiting the parking lot is extremely easy as you might expect, and the bathrooms were clean and large enough for the size of the crowd. Moving around the arena was very easy as well.
I thought that the tickets were a little expensive at $8 each, and there were no discounts for children, veterans, or older spectators. This is a gross miscalculation in my estimation. For the level of hockey being played, a $5 ticket would probably be more reasonable. More importantly, the North Stars should encourage attendance by offering discounts to the groups mentioned.
On the positive side though, parking is free and concessions are very affordable and surprisingly good. Your overall cost will be about right for an NAHL game.
The Traverse City North Stars mascot, Wild Cherry, does a good job of representing the region and engaging with the young fans. Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World, so the mascot is a good choice to represent the franchise.
Another extra point for the decision to allow kids on the ice after the chuck-a-puck contest, a very wise marketing decision.
The future of the Traverse City North Stars is very much in doubt, and the team may not continue in the area much longer. It would be a great loss to this hockey-loving region to lose this team. I am hopeful that fans will begin to attend games on a more regular basis, and that the team will take the necessary steps to ensure their interest and attendance.
Had a chance for the first (and perhaps last time) to watch the North Stars play at Centre Ice Area in TC. Took the young grandsons, who really enjoyed the game - especially the banging on the floorboards every time the Stars got a goal.
The team & fans who were there really showed some team spirit. Food was o.k., popcorn really good. Attendants came through almost immediately & cleaned up the spilled popcorn. I would definitely go again, if the North Stars or some other team decides to play there next year.
Team: Though I wasn't in the stands, it seemed as though I was right in the action as I watched from the balcony as the North Stars burned up the ice. For a small town team they play with a great deal of heart, and their beautiful facility reflects the passion they have for the game.
Food: Good selection, but nothing spectacular.
Atmosphere: Small town crowd with lots of loving parents.
Neighborhood: Set off of Hammond Road it isn't near anything, but realtively close to almost everything.
Fans: Though not great in numbers, they make up for it in loyalty and spirit.
Access: Ease of access as its near main roadways and has free parking.
Return on Investment: Expensive for a small town hocky game, but an affordable date night, or entertaining night with the guys.
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