As far as hockey legends go, there are not too many more legendary than “Mr. Hockey” himself, Gordie Howe. Of hockey in Hershey, Howe once confidently stated that “everybody who is anybody in hockey has played in Hershey.” Considering that Hershey offers second-tier hockey in the American Hockey League, and always has, this is quite a significant statement, but it gets at the crux of the importance of the Hershey Bears to the AHL. Clearly, Hershey is the most significant, steady and arguably important franchise in the league, and has been for decades. The hockey experience that the Hershey Bears put together recognizes their importance to the league and matches expectations that one might have.
The Hershey Bears are the longest continuously operating AHL franchise in the same location, having been founded in 1932. They were established, along with a number of other non-chocolate businesses by Milton Hershey as part of the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company, to whom they are still owned. When they were founded, the Bears had a much closer link to the chocolate side, even being called the Hershey Chocolate Bars, which would eventually morph into Bears. The city of Hershey is not exactly huge, with a population of just over 14,000, however, the Bears also draw from nearby Harrisburg and other surrounding areas and are a part of a significant tourist area.
The Bears currently play at the Giant Center. Built in 2002, the Giant Center is located at the Hersheypark, which is a major tourist area, and replaced the venerable Hersheypark Arena. With naming rights held by the Giant-Carlisle grocery store chain, Giant Center provides a premiere AHL experience, one that is arguably the best in the league.
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".
Concessions at Giant Center are excellent and provide a huge variety of selections. Selections can be found all around the concourse of the Giant Center.
Major concession stands include Arooga's Wing Shack, Boulevard Cafe, Center Ice, Coco's Italian Kitchen, Hat Trick, Hot Shots, the Marketplace, Turkey Hill and Smokehouse. The expected arena items can be found including hot dogs ($5.50), popcorn ($3.50), burgers, pizza and ice cream. Some interesting items that are a little more than the regular selections include Wisconsin Cheese Curds, Philly Cheesesteaks, salads, pulled pork and brisket.
As to be expected, finding a Hershey's chocolate item is very easy as they are sold throughout the arena. Pepsi products are the soft drink of choice at Giant Center and a variety of beer options can be found to go along with the expected Bud Light and regular beer options. For fans who like to plan ahead, the Giant Center website does a great job of documenting concession options and locations.
The Giant Center is a spectacular place to watch AHL hockey and may be the best location in the league. The exterior of the Giant Center is nice enough with brown brick and matching siding. It is clear that the design, with its curved roof, is much more fieldhouse-like, rather than traditional hockey arena. The main entrance is on the north side of the building and fans will pass under the huge, red, Giant Center sign.
Upon entering the concourse, fans are welcomed with a clean, fresh look with significant attention to detail. Large banners encouraging fans to "Defend the Den" along with a host of historic team photos are there for fans to explore. Framed jerseys from a wide variety of eras help decorate the inner walls of the concourse. The Hershey Bears Hockey Club Hall of Fame is also a highlight of the concourse and highlights great members of Hershey hockey history with the foremost being founder Milton Hershey.
Inside the seating bowl fans are welcomed to a two level seating area with a full 360 degree lower bowl, and horseshoe upper bowl. The ice is configured from north to south, and the perfect center-ice logo picture comes from the east side of the arena. The Bears success is confirmed on the west side of the arena where banners hang for the eleven Calder Cups that the Bears have won over eight decades. The east side of the arena features banners that hang for honoured members of the bears including Frank Mathers, Ralph Keller, Mike Nykoluk, Arnie Kullman, Tim Tookey, Willie Marshall and Mitch Lamoureux. Above center ice is a state of the art videoboard, which the Bears use very well throughout the game.
The game day experience in Hershey is as good as anywhere. The Bears do what they can to rile up the crowd and a Hershey goal is a fun experience with the crowd spelling out Bears, being led by the video board; one of the more unique goal rituals that can be found throughout hockey. The Bears' mascot Coco can be found on the ice during the pregame and wanders throughout the arena during the game, interacting with fans and kids.
The neighborhood surrounding the Giant Center is unique for sure. The Giant Center is located on the grounds of Hersheypark, which is absolutely massive. There are a number of attractions on the grounds that will peak the interest of fans, but there are not a ton of pre and post game culinary experiences nearby. If you are good to get in the car and look for a spot to eat, then The Mill in Hershey or Fenicci's of Hershey are good options.
As far as nearby attractions go, the Giant Center offers more than most arenas. Hersheypark features a major amusement park right by the arena. There won't be too many opportunities to catch both hockey and some rides, but careful planning could make it happen. Hershey's Chocolate World is also right there and offers a few different tours and an insight into the history of the Hershey Chocolate Company as well as the town of Hershey. There is also a ZooAmerica park right there as well. Hersheypark Stadium and the old Hersheypark Arena also have a number of events that may be interesting for fans. For fans who are interested in shopping, the Tanger Outlets are just up the street from Hersheypark. The Hershey Story Museum may also be of interest.
For fans looking to stay near Hersheypark, Hotel Hershey and the Hampton Inn are options that are close by.
Hershey Bear fans may be the best in the league. The luxury of a consistently competitive team helps, but Hershey Bear fans head to the Giant Center in droves. The Bears have a stranglehold on the best attendance in the AHL. They have the top average attendance per game at over 9,700 per game and have brought this in for the last three years. Fans are friendly and knowledgeable. They know their team well, which can be a tall order in the world of minor league sports. Although throughout the game fans are fairly quiet, when the Bears score a goal, they are ready to blow the roof off of the Giant Center.
Hershey is located east of Harrisburg, basically between I-81 and I-76. Both are a pretty fair distance from the Giant Center. Getting in and out of Hersheypark can be a challenge as with most stadiums where they are surrounded by parking. The Hersheypark staff do a great job of directing the flow of traffic off of the grounds of the park, but once on the city streets, travel can be slow, especially after a game.
Public transit is available and there is a bus station immediately east of Hersheypark Stadium. Buses also run along Chocolate Ave to the south of Hersheypark. Head to the Lebanon Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.
Most fans travel to Hersheypark by car. There are more than 10,000 parking spaces on the park grounds, more than enough for fans if there are no other major events happening. Parking will go for $12, which isn't awful.
The main gate entry of the Giant Center is at the north and as is now commonplace, security is fairly significant. Metal detectors will greet fans and sufficient time is required to manoeuvre through security.
Getting around the arena is not awful, but it is not quick either. During intermissions, expect lines and tight quarters. Washroom facilities are adequate for this arena.
Compared to NHL experiences, the AHL is a real bargain. Bears tickets run $28, $26 or $20 for adults. There is incentive to plan your trip to the Giant Center as tickets will cost a couple of bucks more on game day. Parking may be on the expensive side and concessions are to be expected, however, the Bears offer a history and experience that is unique to the AHL and it would be a tough argument to say that the Bears do not offer the best experience in the league.
An extra mark for Bears promotions. The game that was reviewed featured Autism Awareness Night which had the Bears wearing special jerseys and auctioning them off at the end of the game.
An extra mark for Hershey's Chocolate World. Right there at Hersheypark, a trip to Chocolate World is a requirement as people come from all over the country to learn the secrets to making chocolate and the history of the Hershey Company.
An extra mark for the success the Bears have earned on the ice. They won Calder Cups in 1947, 1958, 1959, 1969, 1974, 1980, 1988, 1997, 2006, 2009, 2010. Shockingly, the Bears have won a Calder Cup every decade since the forties and are still going strong.
An extra mark for the historic Hersheypark Arena. What makes this spot special is that when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game in 1962 for the Philadelphia Warriors, it happened in the Hersheypark Arena.
It is probably fair to say that AHL experiences do not tend to make it on the bucket list for prospective fans. The Hershey Bears need to be the exception to that rule. Combined with a significant tourist city and offering a near major league experience, for minor league prices, the Hershey Bears will capture the attention and imagination of fans. The opportunity to peruse their vast history and to see the success the Bears have attained over a long period of time will surely put a trip to the Giant Center on a sports fan's bucket list.
The Giant Center is a newer arena, with ground being broken on November 8th, 2000 and seating around 10,500 for hockey. It is home to the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. The Bears are a tradition rich team with 11 Calder Cup Championships to their credit. The team, along with the Giant Center is owned by the Hershey Chocolate Company and is located at the edge of Hershey Park, essentially across the parking lot from all of the other Hershey attractions. The Giant Center is a real nice facility, but read the review for a full look at the game day experience.
Don't know what game you were at, but I had the opportunity to go to a playoff game and the crowd was into the game (be it was a first-round game). I loved going to the Old Hershey Park Arena and Hershey has some of, if not the best, hockey fans in minor league hockey.
Was surprised to see such a modern place. I was expecting to see the old Hersheypark Arena just with a new name but this place is a great new arena. Parking is easy and I enjoyed our afternoon rooting on the Bears.
Hershey fans are great. The only thing that is lacking is the neighborhood. Unless you're going to an amusement park, their is nothing.
If you ever want to truly attend a special place for minor league hockey, then Hershey, Pa., is a must for any traveler. In the AHL where many arenas are built for NBA teams, the Giant Center is the perfect setting for the game of hockey. The crowd is a dedicated brass who have been supporting the team since 1937 and the focus here is hockey. If the fans do not agree with a call, they will let the refs know about it. The Bears are among the tops of hockey attendance in all of minor league hockey year after year. Also, if you have a little extra time, visit their former home the Hersheypark Arena that is the Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and Wrigley Field of hockey.
While the Giant Center lacks the history of its predecessor, this arena takes a back seat to no other in the AHL. With its curved roof designed to evoke memories of Hersheypark Arena, this rink houses the most rabid fanbase in the league. Do yourself a favor and sit in the lower level. Anyone over 150 pounds will find fitting into the upper level seats problematic, to say the least.
The Hershey Bears have quite a bit of history to fall back on . Founded in 1932, the team is the oldest continuously-operating professional ice hockey team in North America, outside of the "Original Six" of the National Hockey League. Originally known as the Hershey B'ars and once even as the Hershey Chocolate B'ars, the team is also the oldest member club of the American Hockey League.
The Hershey Bears Hockey Club is a wholly owned sub-division of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, an entity administered by the Hershey Trust Company. The Milton Hershey School is funded by that trust.
The team has also won quite a lot during their history, having won 11 Calder Cups and 22 conference championships.
The town of Hershey was started by Milton Hershey as a place for his employees to have comfortable homes, inexpensive public transportation, a quality public school system and extensive recreational and cultural opportunities. The town is still a quaint and pleasant place.
On the outskirts of the town sits the area surrounding Hersheypark. For the sports fan, the Hersheypark Arena is a notable venue on this area, as well as Hersheypark Stadium (and, of course, the Giant Center). Originally known as the Hershey Sports Arena until 1972, the historic 7,286 arena opened in 1936 and was home of the Bears until 2002. Lebanon Valley College ice hockey and Shippensburg University ice hockey still use the arena for home games, as well as being used as a public ice rink. A 2012 fire damaged parts of the arena’s roof, although luckily, no substantial damage occurred.
The Giant Center opened in 2002. Built by Populous, the same developers of the new Yankee Stadium in New York and Wembley Stadium in London, it is owned by the Derry Township Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. The arena also was the home of the Harrisburg Stampede indoor football team for one season in 2014 and is a major concert venue for the region.
The worst thing here is the parking setup. $9 to enter, then drive around the building to park on the other side. Exiting can be difficult too unless you stay for a bit to watch the postgame show. Did not see any street parking nearby. Other than that, it is a nearly perfect place to watch hockey. I sat in both the upper deck and lower deck and enjoyed the sight lines from both. The crowd was observant and passionate, though several left early in a tie game. Concourse is crowded before the game. Check out the pictures of past teams on the walls, and of course the banners and retired numbers.Try Tweet for a Treat, where you tweet out a hashtag and receive a free chocolate bar.
What more can be said? 11 Cups, almost always in the playoff hunt, sell out crowds, state of the art building, in an easy to find location, one turn off of 322 with 83 and 81 close. Neighborhood gets a four because most attractions (most notably the park) aren't open during a good part of the hockey season. All that's open is Chocolate World (which usually closes before that game starts and usually Hersheypark Arena (Bears former home) which often holds public ice skating
There is so much to enjoy at Giant Center. The food, atmosphere, history, and neighborhood. Minor league hockey bleeds chocolate brown and it would be hard to find a more passionate group of people who average well over 9,000 a game for minor league hockey here in North America.
114 W Chocolate Ave
Hershey, PA 17033
200 East Hershey Park Dr
Hershey, PA 17033
102 W. Chocolate Ave.
Hershey, PA 17033
3 E Derry Rd
Hershey, PA 17033
101 Chocolate World Way
Hershey, PA 17033
100 Hersheypark Dr.
Harshey, PA 17033
63 W. Chocolate Ave.
Hershey, PA 17033
201 Park Ave
Hershey, PA 17033
100 Hotel Rd.
Hershey, PA 17033
749 E. Chocolate Ave.
Hershey, PA 17033