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Official Review by Marcus Traxler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Almost every relocated team has unknown factors when they change cities, regardless of sport. That is certainly the case for the Brookings Blizzard, who moved from Alexandria, Minn. at the end of the Tier 3 North American Hockey League season in 2012.
Not to say the Blizzard don’t have the capability to catch on in Brookings. In fact, their facility, Larson Ice Center, could be one of the biggest factors in its success.
The building itself, which seats about 2,000, was built in 2002 and has been renovated as recently as 2009. For the most part, Larson Ice Center and the Blizzard provide accessible and affordable hockey options, but it hardly feels like home yet.
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".
The food options at Larson Ice Center, fit two important guidelines: plenty of options and affordability. Super Nachos and Walking Tacos are the most expensive items at $4 and the menu includes Chicken Wild Rice Soup ($2.50), Pulled Pork Sandwiches ($3) and Stuffed Pretzels for ($3). Soda ($2) is Pepsi products and Beer goes for $4 for a 16-ounce can of Budweiser products. The night I was there it was 2-for-1s and, in a college town, it's no surprise that the beverages sold well.
The food is decent but I was impressed by the options. There's no reason to go hungry at the game.
The Blizzard are in a tough spot when it comes to making the arena their own. The city of Brookings is the owner and the junior hockey squad shares the facility with the high school teams, the youth hockey association and the South Dakota State club teams. The basic color of the arena is red and the Blizzard's main colors are green and blue. That poses a major issue, as far as making Larson Ice Center feeling like home for the Blizzard. Additional signage is needed to make the Blizzard look like more than just another tenant. There's so much red and if you didn't know, you would think the team's name was the Rangers. To me, that is a major takeaway.
The lights are lowered when the Blizzard take the ice, which is pretty cool and the interaction between periods is not bad. In particular, I found it fun when a pair of kids were in a race with shopping carts on ice. Thankfully, nobody was hurt but it looked like a good time.
If there's one legitimate knock on the Larson Ice Center, it's because there's not a real neighborhood nearby. The arena is near Brookings' main concert venue, the Swiftel Center, and being near Interstate 29, the arena is in the hotel district of town. Aside from a new Whiskey Creek restaurant that is being built, the only other option is Applebee's. Most of the other dining options are on the other side of the Interstate. That's not a major issue but that factor doesn't really help the Blizzard either.
I would consider Brookings to be a hockey town, at least when it comes to South Dakota cities. The community of 22,000 has a good youth hockey base up through the high school levels. That said, I think it's taken a while for the team to adopt the Blizzard as their own team. Most of the fans weren't into the game like you might expect of an ardent fanbase. There's work to be done in educating the fans about the game and the increased level of play compared to what locals might be used to.
Familiarity should only grow with the Blizzard only playing division teams and a rivalry with the Aberdeen Wings is already fostering. Time will tell how the Blizzard work in Brookings, with the contract with the city signed through 2014-15.
It's hard to beat the access when it comes to getting to a Brookings Blizzard game. The arena is a stones' throw from Interstate 29 (Exit 132) and is just off U.S. Highway 14 on the east side of the city. My only complaint is the parking lot is probably a bit too small for a good crowd at the arena. There is, however, ample parking in nearby Swiftel Center lots.
The Blizzard appear to be in a sweet spot when it comes to being family-friendly as far as pricing. Adult tickets are $12, while seniors are $10 and students are $8, which also applies to college students. It has become quality, cheap entertainment in Brookings and also puts the footprint down for hockey to take hold in the area.
One point for the Blizzard having a yeti as its mascot. The kids in attendance probably have no idea what a yeti is, but they were having a great time.
One point for the beer garden located in the northwest corner of the arena. A fan can enjoy a beverage, have a great view of the rink and heckle the goalie at the same time if they desire.
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