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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Gävle, pronounced “Yeh-vluh,” is Sweden’s 13th largest city…more or less. Internationally, the town is probably best known for the giant straw goat that it builds every year at Christmastime and for the arsonists who subsequently make a sport of burning it down. But Gävle has a few other claims to fame: Läkerol lozenges and Ahlgrens Bilar (candy) are Swedish staples that originate here. And there’s the hockey team, Brynäs IF (BIF).
Despite being a small market team, BIF is something of a powerhouse, with more than a dozen Swedish titles under its belt.
Brynäs IF calls Gavlerinken Arena home. Confusingly located a short drive from the harborside neighborhood from which Brynäs IF takes its name, Gavlerinken Arena is an interesting and stylish mix of old and new. We were unlucky enough to catch an unusually boring game here, but we were still able to recognize an unusual, interesting, and above average facility.
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".
With multiple sit-down restaurants, a food court-style bistro, a bar, traditional concession stands, and vending machines, Gavlerinken Arena covers all the bases. Though striking us as a bit unusual in a '60s-era arena, the table service restaurants provide decent views of the ice surface and are popular with local fans. Food prices around the arena aren't too bad, either, with prices at the Bistro ranging from 79-149 SEK (USD $9.50-$17.90; EUR 8.50-16.00 as of 2015) for sandwiches, tacos, and the like. The Bistro is available to all fans, while other restaurants require a separate ticket.
Vending machine fare is fairly standard, with chips and candies going for around 20 SEK (USD $2.40; EUR 2.14). Hometown Ahlgrens Bilar candies are available.
The traditional concession stands are the only option that fans may find lacking. Concession stand fare is largely limited to hot dogs, popcorn, and packaged snacks. Candy is sold on convenience store-style display racks. Bottled soft drinks are available, and coffee is another popular option. If you need a place to sit while you eat, some concession stands offer tables.
Gavlerinken Arena probably deserves a better score than we're giving it, but our sole visit to Gävle brought us a painfully boring game that sucked the energy out of an already small weekday crowd. Even still, our rating for atmosphere is hardly terrible. We'll walk you through the experience.
After arriving at the arena, you'll make your way across the parking lot. Careful - you're farther north than parts of Alaska and Greenland, so watch out for ice. Considering the ice and the fact that there are only a couple of ticket windows, all of which are outdoors, and your first impression might not be the best. That's understandable. But from here on, there's little to complain about. Before entering, take a step back and look at the arena's façade. While not imposing, Gavlerinken Arena looks modern and important. Security on the way in is minimal, and not in a bad way. Your ticket is checked, and you step into a three-story glass atrium.
The main lobby actually feels more like a shopping mall than an arena, but also not in a bad way. The concourses might be a bit bland, but Brynas makes up for this in other ways. You take the escalator up, and yep, it still feels like a mall. The lighting is dim, but it's atmospheric, and it works. As you enter the seating bowl, you notice the sharp graphics on the retired number banners. You notice just how many championship banners there are. You even notice the wooden embellishments on the seats and remember that, yes, this is where IKEA comes from.
It's bigger than you expected. It's bigger than anyone would expect from a city of this size. You'd love to see the place full and rocking. Sure, you can tell that this arena has been around for a while, but it still feels current. The seats are comfortable, except when you have to stand up, which is more often than usual. Why are the rows here so abnormally long and the aisles so abnormally few? Still, it's a small complaint.
Game presentation is mostly in Swedish, with a smattering of English thrown in every once in a while. The audio sounds good, even that weird, poppy "put your ass up in the air" song. The video board is helpful, but not overused. Your view is good, and it looks like everyone else's should be, too.
It's nothing particularly remarkable, but you think you like it here.
Gävle is a small city to begin with, and Gävlerinken Arena sits just past the suburban developments at its northern edge. A harness racing horse track and an indoor tennis complex are Gävlerinken Arena's only immediate neighbors. Then, beginning just steps behind the arena, is forest that continues more-or-less untouched until you run out of Scandinavia.
This may be the quietest arena neighborhood you'll ever find. There's something legitimately peaceful about that, but unless you're also into horse racing or are up for some tennis, there's nothing to bring you here early or keep you here long past the final whistle.
Gävle isn't much of a tourist destination. When our hotel owner learned that we had come solely to see a match, she beamed. "You'll love it! The whole town comes out!"
In North American terms, Brynäs IF could be compared to the Green Bay Packers or the Hershey Bears; a small market powerhouse with a proud history and a loyal fan base. The only game in town, and a source of pride. Busses to the arena are standing room only as jersey-clad fans make their way to the arena. During the game, the team's most ardent supporters take their traditional place behind the net where they stand and cheer for their team. Elsewhere, fans watch intently and occasionally chat with friends. Games here feel social and communal. Fans are friends, and everyone is devoted. The devotion, though, is calm and understated.
There was no rowdiness during our visit, and we felt very calm and comfortable visiting. We felt welcome, but the fans' enthusiasm wasn't contagious. Walking in, we wondered if one game here might make us Brynäs fans. It didn't.
You're either going to drive here or take the bus. You could bicycle, but with dark roads and frequent snow and ice, that might not be a safe option.
Since a single road is the only way into and out of the arena, prepare for traffic both pre and postmatch. If you're driving, parking is adequate, which is good considering the relative remoteness of the rink. Public shuttle busses run between the rink and Central Gävle. Round-trip tickets will save you a tiny bit, and will also give you a souvenir: they are printed with a player photo.
English isn't as visible in Gävle as in other places in Sweden, simply because there's relatively little to bring non-Swedes here. Don't let that deter you if you need help. English is just as much understood in Gävle as in Stockholm, and most passers-by in this safe and friendly city will speak more than enough English to help you find your way around town.
Once inside the arena, things continue pretty easily. There is little need for a strong security presence here, but officials are around in case you need anything. Lighting is good and walkways are flat and roomy. No problems with the restrooms, either. We saw a few fans with special needs moving around with relative ease.
Sweden's reputation as an expensive country is deserved. There are plenty of places where foreigners may get sticker-shock all over Scandinavia, but Gavlerinken Arena is not one of them. While not inexpensive, ticket prices are comparable to other high level leagues in Western Europe and North America.
A large and well-stocked souvenir shop has a large selection of team merchandise, including sale items. Snack prices are reasonable. Overall, Brynäs offers an average value.
Gävlerinken Arena gets the details right. It's clean. It's stylish (perhaps surprising for a team whose logo is a difficult-to-read gold-on-white.) Not only are its seats and banners stylish, but so are the tickets, which have a black-and-white player photo.
Even the kids get in on the style. Gävlerinken Arena boasts a swanky children's lounge. "Lilla Gävlerinken" has life-size player photos, table hockey games, and hardwood floors. Looking like it came fresh out of a design catalog, "Lilla Gavlrinken" is one of the nicest looking children's area you will come across at any stadium. It's for the kids, but plenty of adults would love to have something like this for a man cave.
Free Wi-Fi is also a nice bonus. You have to sign up for an account on the SHL's webpage, but you can do this from the log in page inside the arena. Sign up is in Swedish only, but the form is easy enough to figure out.
Gävlerinken Arena isn't unique enough to earn "can't miss" status, but it is an example of an area that does just about everything right. We thoroughly enjoyed our sole visit here. While it's unlikely that anything will bring us back to this small town anytime soon, we'd jump at the chance to make a return visit should the opportunity present itself. We have a hunch that a good game and a full house might be enough for us to fall in love with Brynäs IF and Gävlerinken Arena.
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