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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
As I continue to travel, I have begun to realize that all live sporting events have their own special unique flavor. Some more than others of course, but that special something is always there somewhere. Reviewing the arenas of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) felt like a bit of a stretch, but I've realized that a trip to a new place is almost always worthwhile.
With that pre-text in mind, I made my trip to Port Huron, Michigan to see the Fighting Falcons of the NAHL. The Falcons play in the old McMorran Arena, opened in 1960. The old wooden seats along each side, combined with the ability to watch the game standing along the boards from different perspectives, makes for a great hockey-going experience. You'll find that there are lots of surprises in store for you when you see the Falcons at McMorran Arena.
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".
This was the first pleasant surprise. When you attend a junior level hockey game, you would expect to find sodas and beer, hot dogs and nachos, and probably not much else. In Port Huron, you will find a much better selection, and at some of the best prices that I have seen at any sporting event.
They do have hot dogs ($2.25), cheeseburgers ($3), and popcorn (starting at $2), but they also have kielbasa ($3), mozzarella sticks ($3.75), and deep fried mushrooms ($2.75). The fries looked very good as well ($2.75) and everything is cooked to order and not laying around for hours. I tried the kielbasa and the mozzarella sticks, and both were good and well worth the money.
Drinks include Pepsi products in three sizes ($1.50, $2.25, & $3). Coffee, cappuccino, and cocoa are available in three sizes as well ($1.50, $1.75, & $2). The bottom line is that the Fighting Falcons are making every effort to add to the game experience by offering well made and affordable concession selections.
The last great addition for the food and beverage section is the bar that they have ice-side near the visitor's bench. In fact, you can literally stand up against the glass that separates you from the opponent. Or you can stand right next to the boards and watch the game. It is a great perspective and doesn't cost anything extra. You do need to be 21 to enter this area, but there are other opportunities for unique views if you need it. Beer selections include Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Labatt's for $3, Guinness for $5, or a selection of 24-ounce cans for $4.
The building was relatively empty when the puck dropped on the evening I attended. But there were clearly some passionate fans on hand. There is a vintage feel in the arena, especially with the wooden seats that you'll find. I would purchase a ticket in an even section 8-14, so you can sit center ice, but be sure to take advantage of some the other unique views. There's great pitch in the seating so if you do experience a crowd, you'll have no trouble seeing what's happening on the ice. Plus, there's good legroom.
On the east side, you can stand, quite literally along the boards behind the goal, and it is a wonderful and exciting place to see the game. I mentioned the bar area, where you could easily spend the evening as long as you don't mind standing the whole night. The seat is always there in case you need it.
The scoreboard is very basic, which actually is a plus and adds to that old school feeling. Behind the west goal there is a small scoreboard that tracks the shots on goal for each side.
Two complaints in this section include the nearly non-existent mascot. At this level of hockey, the mascot should be part of the draw, and I would have liked to see more interaction, especially with the younger fans.
The second minor annoyance was the screeching falcon sound effect after positive plays by the Falcons, or a penalty by the opposing team. Why every team named the falcons feels it necessary to play this nails-on-blackboard screeching as part of their gameday presentation is beyond me.
There aren't a whole lot of options, even though you are close to downtown, but there is one clear cut place to go if you would like to have a good meal in the area. Fuel Woodfire Grill is about a block and a half away on Huron, and serves up wonderful food. The menu is interesting, the beer selection is good, and I had my fourth favorite steak of my life there on this night. Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, Harry Caray's in Chicago, and my chef-friend Molli rank ahead, but this was a damn good piece of meat.
If you are feeling a little tighter in the wallet and want to get something before the game, then try the Coney Island at the corner of Huron and McMorran. The parking attendant mentioned it as her recommendation, and they offer a 99 cent special on game days before the game.
The fans were pretty quiet for the most part, and there weren't that many bodies in the building. Many of the older fans congregated at the bar, and that probably keeps the atmosphere a little more social, rather than focusing on the game.
There was one amazing fan that sat behind me during the first period that I just have to mention. He was 6 years old and literally maintained a play-by-play for the entire period, at least until I mentioned how amazing he was to his parents, and then he became a little shy. I hope this guy attends games regularly because he was an amazing little dude. This is a reason to go to games though, people are amazing.
There was some construction in the area that made the journey from the highway to the arena a little more difficult than usual, but I'll assume this is an aberration. Generally, it is just a short drive from I-69 to the game.
There is a lot immediately across the street from McMorran Arena, and the cost is $3. I always hope for free parking when going to minor league style events, but $3 is certainly within the realm of reasonability.
Restrooms feel like something out of a 1959 movie, but they are large and clean.
Season tickets are very reasonable at only $150, so if you live in the area, and love hockey, this may be something to consider. If you're just passing through, then a single game ticket will cost you $7, with a $1 off to students, seniors, and military.
The food is some of the best I have seen in terms of affordability, and parking is certainly not going to break the budget. Overall, this is a wonderful value.
One extra point is awarded for the Turner Cup Banners that hang in the arena. This is tribute to the hockey history of Port Huron and McMorran Arena. The Port Huron Flags won Turner Cups in 1966 and 1971. Then the team changed its name to the Port Huron Wings (due to a new affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings) and won a Turner Cup in 1972.
A final extra point is awarded for the ability to get so close to the action, for no extra cost. This is a unique feature that almost makes a trip to McMorran Arena worth it for its own sake.
The NAHL has expanded in recent years to include teams in 28 towns across the United States. I always hope that sports teams will be successful, as they provide a great economic and entertainment value to their community. This is one example of a team that deserves the support of their community. Fans who go to a Port Huron Fighting Falcons game can expect to see intense hockey in a great venue with unique attributes and reasonable pricing.
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213 Huron Ave
Port Huron, MI 48060
408 Huron Ave
Port Huron, MI 48060
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