While Ontario is typically associated with a country to the north, California also contains a city of the same name. Ontario is part of the Inland Empire, one of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. You may remember it from one of my other reviews on the nearby minor league baseball team known as the Inland Empire 66ers or the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
The hockey team of the Inland Empire is the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, which is the AA of minor league hockey. A fairly new franchise, the team began play in during the 2008-2009 season. As an affiliate of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, it is said that the Reign was chosen as a name in reference to royalty, following suit with the other affiliates known as the Manchester Monarchs and Reading Royals.
The Reign call Citizens Business Bank Arena their home, which opened on October 18, 2008 at a construction cost of $150 million. While the name of the arena is not so easy on the tongue, the exterior and interior of the arena certainly is easy on the eyes.
The arena holds roughly 10,832 fans for hockey and has 36 suites that surround the ice in a horseshoe shape. When you enter the arena, you'll notice a spacious concourse. As you enter the blue seating area, you'll get a rather intimate feel. Above center ice, you will quickly spot the four-sided scoreboard with three LED panels on each side. The bottom panel acts as a traditional scoreboard while the top is primarily used for advertising. The largest and middle panel typically shows views of the action or other promotional activity.
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".
While there was not a multitude of concession stands, the five that I noticed were each substantial in size and never seemed to have a backlog of customers waiting to place their orders.
Like many of the other Southern California venues, this arena has stepped up their menu to offer some more non-traditional offerings. Some of these include meatball sandwich ($7), three-cheese pizza slice ($5 & pepperoni for the same price), sausage melt ($7), victory knot ($16), grilled chicken sandwich with apricot bbq sauce and crispy onions ($7.50), BBQ pulled pork nachos ($7), BBQ tri-tip sandwich ($7 or add slaw and pickles for $1.50), BBQ pulled pork big dog ($7), smoked dragon wings ($8),BBQ pulled pork sandwich ($7), nacho grande ($7.50), taco sampler ($7.50), baja-style taco ($6.50), quesadilla ($6.50), sabor dog ($6), tostada salad ($8), or a BBQ chicken salad ($8).
Of course, some of the more conservative fare includes a cheeseburger ($7), chili big dawg ($7), hot dog ($4.50), veggie burger ($7), garlic or chili fries ($4.50), french fries ($4), cheeseburger combo with fries ($9), bottomless popcorn ($5.50), nachos ($5), pretzel ($3.50 & add cheese for $1), peanuts ($4), churro ($3), caesar salad ($7), and chili ($7). My favorite menu name was the "Nacho Average Hot Dog" for $6.
Some of the dessert options included candy ($3.50), dessert of the day ($6), yogurt sundae ($6), soft serve ice cream cone ($3.50), waffle cone ($4.50), and a rather obscure Dippin' Dots stand that was hidden in a corner.
The beverage options included soda ($3.75 for regular or bottomless souvenir for $6), juice ($4), bottled water ($3.75), coffee or hot chocolate ($3), energy drink ($5), or vitamin water ($4).
The beer selection was rather lacking as it consisted of primarily Budweiser, Bud Light, Shocktop, Heineken, and the gluten-free Redbridge. The premium draft beers were $9, while the more typical were $7 for a regular and $8.50 for a large. A 24-ounce Corona was also available for $12. Other alcoholic drink options included a margarita and other mixed beverages could be had for $10.
The atmosphere was really tuned up from the get-go as the "Dark Knight" mascot skated around the rink with a Reign flag with the lights dimmed and a climatic drum sound beating until game time.
Next, the scoreboard shows some impressive images of a castle with a drawbridge and a fire-breathing dragon. Parents may want to cover their children's eyes during these scenes because it's not the cuddly dragon you would come to expect in mascots. The actual dragon mascot known as "Blaze" does later appear in the form of a more child-friendly mascot that you would come to expect at a sporting event.
Throughout the night, the fan engagement remained at a high level thanks to promotions such as the puck shuffle, loudest fan, and sumo wrestling, and even allowing some fans to take zamboni rides during intermission.
Regardless of the night or opponent, I believe that the intimacy of the arena and ability to keep the fans engaged keeps the atmosphere at a high level throughout the night. If you do want to get away from the action for a few moments, the concourse is so wide that you can certainly find a quiet spot in the arena.
While most perceive the Inland Empire as this vast desert area between Vegas and Los Angeles, you would be surprised by how developed it is. Ontario even offers an airport that acts as an alternative to the LAX airport with carriers such as Southwest, Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines all providing daily flights.
Just a few minutes away you can find Ontario Mills, one of the largest shopping malls in America with a racetrack layout and multiple "neighborhoods." You'll also find a 30 screen AMC movie theater on site. Probably the most impressive fact regarding this mall is that it is home to the only remaining Kenny Rogers Roasters in the United States. If you are not familiar of why this is so important to pop culture, please sit yourself down and watch the 142nd episode of Seinfeld.
With a mall across the street, you can find every type of fast food imaginable as well as some other notable restaurants including Benihana, Hooters, Fushion's Bar & Grill, Applebees, Fatburger, Philly's Best, and Crabby Bob's.
If you love barbeque, I'd recommend stopping by Dickey's Barbeque Pit. This nationally-known chain serves all of the typical barbeque entrees and sides as well as a free ice cream with purchase promotion. They also offer "The Big Yellow Cup" club which offers yet another plastic souvenir cup as well as information on all upcoming promotions at the restaurant.
In Southern California, I've quickly grown to love Yardhouse. With over 200 beer options to choose from, the visit never seems to be the same. They also offer a vast menu of appetizers and entrees, so if you are looking for more than a liquid diet, you're in luck!
Also nearby is Boston's Restaurant and Sports Bar. A good choice after the Reign game as all patrons receive 15% off their with ticket stub. While they offer most of the typical sports bar food, their focus seems to be on gourmet pizza and pasta. Some of their more interesting pizza options include buffalo, Tuscan, and tropical chicken!
I was rather impressed with the fans' level of engagement during the contest. In fact, they seemed to be much more into the action of the game itself rather than many of the promotions going on throughout the game. Many of the fans brought their cowbells while others relied on their hands and feet for percussion. The mascots would often get them started by tapping a sword on the glass to begin a "Let's Go Reign" chant.
When a goal was scored, the sound was rather deafening despite a rather moderate crowd on this very evening. They were so loud that I couldn't even make out what song was being played over the PA system.
Many of the fans were wearing the jerseys of the Los Angeles Kings, embracing the organization from the farm all the way up to the pros. If they weren't wearing the colors of the Kings, they were wearing the orange and blue of the Reign. The team has a lot of quality giveaways during the season that many of the fans seemed to be sporting at the game.
Having an airport nearby allows fans that would otherwise need to drive to the venue to a quick means of getting to Ontario. If you are driving, it is very accessible from the 91, 10, 210, and 15 freeways. The arena is just a few minutes off of any of the exit ramps.
The arena offers over 3,500 parking spaces and on gameday these spots are free! I really appreciated not having to shell out cash for a parking spot and it was relatively easy to get in and out with only 3,500 spaces.
Remember everything before you enter the arena as there is no re-entry. Once you step through the doors, you'll notice the vast single concourse. The areas are extremely spacious and not often obstructed by the concession lines. There are several large flat-screen televisions at each concession stand, so you do not have to miss any of the action should you go grab a bite to eat.
You'll enter the seating area at the suite level and either walk down to the lower seating or take a small staircase of 10-15 steps to the upper-level seating. The lower bowl surrounds nearly 360 degrees of the ice while the upper bowl is more of a horseshoe shape. Suites surround about 80% of the lower bowl and the upper bowl has a few suites above the bottom of the horseshoe.
While I did not observe some of the lower bowl seats, none of the seats in the upper bowl offered cupholders.
For such a new facility, I was surprised by the size and simplicity of the restrooms. There were about four on the main concourse, but all were rather small and quickly backed up between periods. While they did have the eco-friendly urinals, there were not any other frills associated with the restroom.
While the Reign offer season ticket and group rates, most fans purchase from the six single game options. If you want to sit in the lower level, your options include glass ($50), center ice ($25), or the wrap around ($18 or $22 depending on side). Seats in the upper bowl are neutral zone (or center for $18) cross bar ($12), and top shelf ($10).
Unfortunately the Reign also charge the ridiculous "facility fee" of $3 on each ticket. When is legislation going to be passed so that teams stop "nickel-and-diming" us on fees like this? Put it in the price of the ticket already, don't tack on a bunch of fees!
Regardless of my disgust of the additional ticket fees, the free parking does balance the value out for a rather entertaining night in Ontario, CA. On some of the slower evenings, you can move from seat to seat to get different vantage points of the action without much fuss.
While the extras section is probably my favorite part of any review, I really found it challenging to name much here.
Probably the most notable part of the arena was a section known as "The Cross Bar" that was seated at one end of the arena. It offered a full bar with tables and chairs that overlooked the ice. This was extremely accessible for all fans (over 21 of course) with the only restriction being a two drink minimum.
Also a nice feature was the many photos throughout the concourse that were behind glass panels that commemorated the many events that had been held at the arena. My favorite shot was one of the Los Angeles Lakers playing a pre-season game at the arena.
During my visit, I learned that minor league hockey can exist in Southern California. Beyond just existing, it seems to thrive here as the Reign have been at the top of the ECHL in attendance.
It seems the more that I visit this region the more it grows on me. All of my visits to see sporting events in the Inland Empire have been positive ones because the teams seem so centered around the community.
It appears that the Reign have become a welcomed addition to the Inland Empire with their beautiful arena, reasonable value, and ties to the local Los Angeles Kings.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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