The Saginaw Spirit joined the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the 2001-2002 season after their move from North Bay, Ontario. The franchise also has been continuously playing hockey dating back to 1943 when they were the St. Catharines Falcons of the Ontario Hockey Association.
The Spirit have done well in the standings in the recent past, usually finishing first or second in the West Division of the OHL, which has helped to encourage the fan support that they see today.
The Dow Event Center is the home of the Saginaw Spirit as well as the Saginaw Sting of the Ultimate Indoor Football League. Located in downtown Saginaw, the Dow Event Center features an attractive entry, and a comfortable environment for some entertaining hockey.
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".
Food prices were across the board, higher than I expected. I happened to attend on a $1 beer night, which produced long lines for Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Molson Canadian, and Labatt Blue (normally $5.50 for a large pour). Harp, Guinness, and Smithwick's are also available ($7). Other options include Koegel-brand hot dogs ($3.50) and brats ($4.50), and Jets Pizza providing slices ($3.75) or whole pies ($12 medium or $15 for a large).
Pepsi was the soda provider of choice ($3 or $4) and there were the welcomed hot beverages available as well. Coffee, hot chocolate, or cappuccino ($2.50) were on hand. I don't know what it is about hockey, but I almost always crave a hot chocolate.
The Dow Event Center, or specifically Wendler Arena, is a comfortable place to see a game. The seats have above average leg room, although don't offer you cupholders, which makes it especially difficult for the fans to clap during $1 beer night.
The center scoreboard offers video of the live action and occasional replays, but only the score and time left to accompany the pictures. In opposite corners of the arena you'll find the additional detail you may need such as shots on goal and penalty information.
Sammie the Eagle, does a wonderful job interacting with the crowd. It is amazing how much of a difference a good mascot can make to the overall experience, especially in a minor league or junior league setting, where the players change rapidly. Fans begin to associate with the mascot, and certainly the kids look forward to the opportunity to high five or hug Sammie.
In the immediate neighborhood things are a little sparse. There are some fast food options like Rally Burger or KFC, but I decided to venture a couple of miles away into the Old Town area of Saginaw. Here you can find some good pubs to grab a drink or a bite. My recommendation is Jake's Old City Grill. It's a good option if you want to go upscale or just get some quality food or drink. Steaks and seafood are at the forefront of the menu, but they also have a good selection of burgers, sandwiches, pasta and salads. I had a rather tasty burger and a couple of Michigan-brewed beers, which ran me about $20 after tax and tip.
I was pretty impressed with the fans in Saginaw. There was little doubt that they knew their hockey and cared about their team. They were engaged throughout, and certainly like their hard hits, goals, and beer, but also appreciated some of the finer points. I tend to move around a bit when I can at a game to get some different perspectives, and everywhere I sat I overheard fairly nuanced conversations about the sport.
The Dow Event Center is found just off of I-675, which is only a couple of miles off the major highway of I-75. There is a parking garage across the street which charges $5 for the game, or there was some limited parking right next to the arena for $10. I chose to park along Jefferson Street for free, and there were still spots available about 20 minutes before game time that were just a block away. As always, pay attention to applicable signs, but after 6pm parking was free and is definitely a good value, and not far away.
The restrooms were a little interesting in that to enter one you had to walk down a short flight of stairs. I didn't notice a handicap-accessible restroom, but the arena is ADA compliant so there must be access somewhere in the arena.
Concourses were down below, so you were forced to miss the game action if you needed to leave your seat, and you can't circumnavigate the arena concourse without walking back into the seating area and up some stairs (basically to walk over the area where the Zamboni can drive in to the skating area).
Tickets are available at three different price points. Executive seating will get you a spot in the first few rows ($17.50), Lower Level seating ($15.50) puts you down low, but off of the glass, and the Upper Level seating ($13.50) put you above the interior concourse. Tickets are discounted for kids age 3-12, and for seniors. My recommended seating is section 17 in the upper section. You get a good view of both benches as well as the play on the ice, and for a good price.
Parking is a little expensive, but can be mitigated by arriving 30 minutes before the game and parking on Jefferson Street. Food options were slightly overpriced with less than great selection. The overall experience is probably just slightly overpriced. That isn't to say you shouldn't go as it still a very worthwhile sports experience.
Sammie the Eagle is worth an extra point. He was one of the better mascots that I have seen at this level.
Another point for the playing of both the Canadian and American National Anthems. It was interesting to see because both teams are based in the United States (Saginaw vs. Plymouth, both based in Michigan). I was surprised to hear so many people singing along with both anthems.
A third extra point for the excitement of the OHL level of play in general. You will be sure to see some really high quality hockey when you go to an OHL game.
With the high level of play and the comfortable seating, I would definitely recommend seeing a Saginaw Spirit game if you live or work in the area. You will almost certainly see a future NHL all-star on the ice, and Sammie will ensure you have a good time.
The Dow Event Center is an ideal environment for OHL Hockey. The seats are close, the fans are rowdy (and knowledgeable), and the entrance/atrium is beautiful. I'll admit that the food options and pricing leave much to be desired, however, the beer selection and pricing is above average. The mascots are likeable, but the t-shirt cannon is the most unreliable in all of sports. The merchandise options are good, the restroom lines are never too long, and the ticket prices are fairly decent for this level of hockey.
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