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Official Review by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Thunder are one of the two remaining teams of the original six in the Central Hockey League. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2012 and their 3rd in the beautiful, comfortable, state-of-the art INTRUST Bank Arena, a sports and entertainment venue in downtown Wichita, KS. It was great visiting the city, the venue, and watching a fantastic Thunder hockey game.
The arena has an interesting architecture. Near one of the entryways there is a structure shaped like an airplane fin. I’m assuming this is honoring the aviation in the area as Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World.
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".
There is a wide variety of food at INTRUST Bank Arena at traditional stadium prices. There is the Railway BBQ to get your pulled pork or brisket sandwich; Carlos O'Kelly's for Mexican; Papa Johns', Chisholms East and West for traditional burgers, nachos, fries, and other stadium snacks; the Dog Pound for your hot dogs; and Midway Grill which had two items I had not seen before: deep fried pretzels and deep fried vegetables. Depending on what you get prices can range from $4 - $10.
No local beer is offered - just the traditional Bud, Bud Light, Miller Light, Shock Top, etc. Pepsi (and Dr. Pepper) is the soda of choice. Nice to see they have Dr. Pepper but I didn't notice a stand with a Diet Dr. Pepper option.
There is a Budweiser Brew Pub near section 110.
INTRUST Bank Arena is a newer CHL venue. It is easy to purchase a ticket (tickets are an additional $1 when purchased game day), it is smooth sailing through security, one must travel an escalator up to Section 100 - which is different but not bad, and the concourse is plenty wide.
To sit center ice, facing the bench, above the glass choose section 102, above row M (103 would be better but it looks like that's sold out for Thunder games). The second level of the arena is curtained off to enhance the feel of a full crowd. All seats are cushioned, comfortable, and have cup holders.
The arena ushers are so accommodating and friendly. I wish they would know just a little bit more about the CHL and the name of the 'CHL cup' and, in particular, the Thunder history. Very fortunately, one usher knew enough to introduce me to a Thunder fan where I learned all about the Thunder, the old arena, and the history of the team. Nicely done.
There is a barrage of muffled sponsorship announcements after warm ups, before the face off, and during the game. So much so, I didn't pay attention to any. For once, I would have preferred music. During the game, music was often played when announcing a goal or penalty and one couldn't always quite hear the names of the players involved or the infractions.
The temperature in the arena is mostly fine. I'd recommend bringing a jacket or coat as it cooled off a bit in the 2nd period. You won't need scarves or gloves.
There are plenty of giveaways and promotions: t-shirts, frisbees, chuck-a-puck and they even have one promotion where two fans get to sit in the Officials' box between the two penalty boxes. Sweet.
The hockey game I saw was exciting! It was 1-1 after regulation with high caliber hockey played by both teams in the 3rd period. The Thunder ended up getting one point with a shootout loss to the Sundogs.
Downtown Wichita is a great city to visit. It has several museums and many art galleries. There are walking tours including a 6 block sculpture walking tour, an art walking tour, and several others. When visiting a Thunder game, be sure to take a crisp autumn walk to Old Town, a historic brick-lined neighborhood with many of the old brick warehouses renovated into shops, restaurants, and bars.
I would recommend visiting River City Brewery (in Old Town) to pass time before the game. It's in one of the historic converted brick warehouses mentioned above and it has a fantastic atmosphere, great food (one of the better burger/fries I've tasted in quite some time), superior tasting beer (try the IPA and any of the seasonal beers they might be brewing at the time of your visit), and excellent service. It also has lots of clever quotes and sayings hanging on the walls.
Another place to visit is Fat Tony's. It's more of a sports bar environment and has two of the hugest TV's displaying football games on the day I visited.
There are several hotels in the area. I'd recommend the Holiday Inn as it has a shuttle service to/from the airport and is only a few blocks (walking distance) from the arena and downtown Wichita.
It is a safe neighborhood to walk in and I had no concerns walking back to the hotel after the game in the dark.
Fans are into the game and they banter and are vocal. Turns out, at the game I attended, the goalie from the opposing team used to be a Thunder player. The fans applauded when he was announced and then proceeded to give him a hard time during the game, all in good fun.
The one fan the usher introduced me to, talked about the 'old barn', his thoughts on the new arena, and last year's team - 2011/2012 (the Thunder made it to the President's Cup but lost to Fort Wayne).
The fans stood. They hollered the traditional chants after an opponent's penalty kill or goal. They applauded the military veteran who was honored during one of the time outs. There are lots of kids and families in attendance and it is very much a family-oriented event.
Wichita Mid-Continent Airport is about 15 miles from the venue.
Parking ranges from $6 - $7 but I did notice some free street parking south of the arena
You may want to consider parking a distance away and riding the Q-Line. There is a Q-Line Trolley that gets you to the arena if staying at a hotel not within walking distance to the arena.
Since it is such a new arena, concourses are plenty wide, bright, clean, shiny, and the people flow is smooth. Bathrooms are plenty, clean, and there is no wait even between periods.
Ticket prices seem to be on par with other CHL arenas. The price for parking is a bit high though it does appear there are alternate methods for parking and access to attend a game in Wichita. Game day programs are $1. Food and drink prices are also equal to other CHL arenas.
A unique feature on the Thunder's website is a list of 100 ways to use your season tickets.
The GM of the Thunder answered an email I had sent about information on the Thunder and why I should attend a game. At the game, they also offer a survey to take at the fan table about game day experience. Recommendation - take the survey after watching the game.
River City Brewery - THE BEST tasting beer.
With the 20 year history in the CHL, there are plenty of banners and retired numbers hung from the rafters at INTRUST Bank Arena.
One minor disappointment... Hat pins of the Thunder logo were not offered at the merchandise stand.
Do stop and see a Thunder game if travels take you to Wichita in the fall or winter or if you live in the area and haven't yet been. It being downtown and walking distance to hotels, museums, restaurants, and a variety of other tourist attractions, it is worth spending the time in the area and seeing a great hockey game and venue.
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150 North Mosley
Wichita, KS 67202
417 East Douglas Avenue
Wichita, KS 67202
WIchita, KS 67202
Wichita, KS 67202