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Official Review by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The West Texas town of Odessa is known for a few things, namely high school football (it has been immortalized in the book and film Friday Night Lights) and the oil industry, as the town resides atop the crude-rich Permian Basin. However, the city of 118,000 has also earned a reputation for being home to the NAHL's Odessa Jackalopes franchise for the past 20 years.
The Jackalopes have called venerable Ector County Coliseum home since the original franchise moved to the city in 1997. The venue, affectionately known as the Jack Shack, was built in 1954, but don't let that fool you -- it is still a great venue for hockey.
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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".
Despite what you might think, Ector County Coliseum acquits itself nicely in the concessions department. There are multiple food and beverage areas throughout the arena, where you'll find the standard game fare of hot dogs, soda, popcorn, and beer, as well as burgers, chicken fingers, pretzels, and candy.
In addition, there is also a Firehouse Subs stand that has a pared-down version of its popular sandwich menu, as well as some other specialty items -- check out the fried pickle chips! Besides Firehouse, another superstar to be on the lookout for at Ector County Coliseum are the loaded nachos. Sold at two separate stands, these are nachos loaded with steak, chicken, barbecue, or Philly cheesesteak; they are very popular with the home crowd for good reason. Also, near the box office entrance to the arena is the Blue Line Grill & Bar. This is a classic, straight-up sports bar (a little on the small side, but it still does the trick), and offers a bigger alcohol selection than just beer.
One caveat before heading to the concessions stands at the Jack Shack, however, and this is the only reason that the rating isn't higher; for now, they are cash only. Ector County Coliseum looks to have that upgraded by the time the 2017-18 season rolls around, though. In the meantime, there are ATMs located in the arena.
The atmosphere at the Jack Shack is deceptively loud. The Jackalopes average just over 2,000 fans a night, and even though the arena holds double that, the exuberance of the fans and the excellent work of the P.A. announcer and sound team more than make up for the expanse of open seats.
The south wall of the stadium proudly displays the numerous championship and playoff banners that the Jackalopes have accumulated over the past two decades. There is a lot to be proud of with this team, and the community responds to that in spades.
The ceremonial puck drop at the beginning of the game always adds a great local personal interest story into the festivities, and those are special. Also, in-between periods there are fan contests (little kids shooting pucks into the net is always priceless no matter what level of hockey you're talking about), and there is just something fun about seeing the Zamboni clean the ice. There aren't many frills here, but you won't be able to help but feel something "good" about Ector County Coliseum.
The neighborhood surrounding Ector County Coliseum is a mix of commercial and residential buildings. Immediately adjacent to the arena, across from Highway 285, there are a good half dozen fast food restaurants. In addition, just up the road on said highway, you can find several family dining restaurants, as well as some hotel options.
If you're looking for something else to do, the Music City Mall (complete with indoor ice skating rink) might be what you're looking for. Shopping and dining options abound in the area near the mall, and there are also a few cultural sites to visit if you're looking for more, either before or after the game.
UT-Permian Basin's Presidential Museum, a unique collection of artifacts, documents, and memorabilia chronicling the history of the office of the President of the United States, is a pretty interesting stopover. Or on the outskirts of town, you can also find the Odessa Meteor Crater, which tells the history of one of the largest meteor strikes in the area's history.
For football fans, make a pilgrimage to Ratliff Stadium and see where all the magic (or MOJO) from Friday Night Lights began.
Though relatively small in number on most nights, it cannot be emphasized enough how passionate the fans are about their team. Something special has been created in this community in the last 20 years; minor league hockey and the Jackalopes have converted a legion of diehard high school and college football fans to their cause.
The fans that come out to Ector County Coliseum cheer for hard checks into the glass, they chant taunts at the opposing team's goalie, they throw fake carrots onto the ice after Jackalopes goals, they ring cowbells, and generally make themselves heard for virtually the entire game -- in short, they are everything you could want from a hockey fan base.
Again, the only negative you could cast against the crowd is that the venue does not regularly sell out. Still, this is West Texas, and what you get is pretty impressive.
Ector County Coliseum is very easily accessible off of either highway 191 or 385; these are the main highways that bisect Odessa. There is not much navigation needed to find the coliseum, and parking is ample and free on most nights. Leaving the arena after the game is also the proverbial piece of cake. Wish that all sporting venues were so painless!
The Odessa Jackalopes offer a truly great game experience for a very reasonable price. Single game, general admission tickets start at $8, and $25 gets you up against the glass. The highest priced concessions items in the arena are the alcoholic beverages (beer starts at $6), and you can eat and drink pretty well for around $20 per person. Factor in the ticket prices, parking, and low cost for concessions, and you're talking about a real bargain, plus you get the chance to see some future NHL greats at the beginning of their career.
The Jackalopes offer theme nights and promotions for virtually every game of their season. More than likely, you'll get some kind of bonus on top of your hockey action.
Another plus is the Jackalopes dutiful mascot, Slap Jack. A life-sized version of the team's namesake, he can be found at nearly every game, patrolling the stands and entertaining the kids in attendance.
Regardless, this is an old-school arena, and the real attraction here is the team on the ice.
Ector County Coliseum is currently undergoing some renovations (they recently installed new LED boards, and are also completely redoing the roof and ceiling), but these do not detract from the game experience.
Don't let the Jack Shack's age fool you. As the saying goes, the older the violin, the sweeter the music, and that can definitely be said for Ector County Coliseum. This venue is reminiscent of those from yesteryear -- this is old-school hockey in the unlikeliest place. Should you find yourself on the dusty plains of West Texas, make sure to catch a Jackalopes game.
Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journeys on Twitter @EricMoreno6477.
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4101 E 42nd St
Odessa, TX 79762
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