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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Uppsala is planning a new arena. It could potentially open as soon as 2017. When it does, no one will be surprised if Almtuna IS becomes a force in Swedish ice hockey. For now though, hockey-mad Sweden’s 4th-largest city boasts only a 2nd-tier team playing in a third-rate arena. There’s nothing really wrong with any of this, but it is a bit shocking. You’d expect hockey to be a bigger deal here in Uppsala.
Almtuna IS (AIS) formed as a multi-sport club in 1932 and added ice hockey a few years later, hence their confusing tagline, “Established 1932. Since 1948.”
Almtuna has spent the past half-century bouncing around the middle-levels of Swedish ice hockey. These days, AIS plays in the HockeyAllsvenskan, the 2nd-level league one step below the SHL. 2012 was once rumored as a potential opening date for the new arena. That didn’t happen, but a new building does seem pretty much assured, even if the 2017 opening date is also looking questionable.
Until then, Almtuna’s home is the A-hall of Metallåtervinning Arena (“Metal Recycling Arena”). Metallåtervinning is a complex of three rinks, all under separate roofs, which serves the community’s needs for hockey, skating, and bandy. It’s humble, but it’s doing an admirable job of punching above its weight class.
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".
I once rented a VHS movie from "Dave's video and tanning salon." A few years later, I bought some loose tea from "Real-tea," a mall kiosk that sold tea leaves and real estate. I was reminded of these unusual combos during the intermission at the Almtuna game.
Metallåtervinning Arena is compact. Space is at a premium. So, concession stands do double-duty as merchandise counters. You can order a Coke and a cap. Selection of snacks and souvenirs is on the slim side, but that shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Just a glance at this unpretentious arena should let you know that this is a no-frills, utilitarian place. It doesn't get your hopes up, so it doesn't let you down. A traditional Swedish coffee and pastry is on offer, as are packaged snacks and bottled Coke products. A small bar gets packed to capacity during intermissions. If you only attended matches here, you wouldn't get hungry, and it would probably never even occur to you that other arenas might offer more.
Can an arena be too small even if it's not selling out?
For the 2014-15 season, Uppsala is the third-largest city in the 14-team HockeyAllsvenskan, yet it has the second-smallest rink. Many of the teams Almtuna faces in the HockeyAllsvenskan have spent significant time in Sweden's top league and boast big, modern arenas. That's not the case here, where the most distant seats are nine rows from the ice. Everyone is right on top of the action. The proximity to the players is certainly a plus for the fans who make it to the games, but could it also be a minus?
Despite the small capacity, games here rarely sell out. We have to wonder if the small-time venue makes people take the team less seriously, which discourages new fans from coming and which, as part of a vicious cycle, allows the team to drag out its tenure in its undersized home.
Metallåtervinning Arena wouldn't be out-of-place if it were home to a Junior B or Senior team in Canada, or even as home to a top-level team in a lesser hockey playing country like Denmark or France. For the second-highest level of professional hockey in a major hockey-playing nation, though, you'd expect fans and players alike to have just a little bit more. Metallåtervinning Arena doesn't do anything wrong, but it just doesn't feel right.
Thanks to its home in Uppsala's northern Gränby neighborhood, Metal Recycling Arena was once known as "Gränbyhallen." Gränby has a suburban and car-centric feeling, but the area is well-served by city buses. Bicyclists are also fairly common.
Central Uppsala has much more to entertain visitors, but Gränby does have a pleasant park and "Gränby Centre," a large shopping mall. Other than that, it's mostly apartment buildings. Should you want to hoof it, these can all be reached on foot within 20 minutes or so. Most fans, though, will want to roll in shortly before the puck drops and head out shortly after the final whistle.
Almtuna fans deserve a pat on the back. Numerous Swedish cities smaller than Uppsala host better hockey and better facilities. A few of these aren't even that far away. Yet Almtuna has a small devoted following. Its main fan club, the Red Lions, stands on concrete steps behind the goal, waves flags, and cheers for the team non-stop.
Fans of the opposing team have their own standing section on metal risers behind the far goal. They are protected by a team of more security guards than are really necessary.
If you're in Stockholm and the home teams are out of town, a quick trip up to Uppsala is an easy way to scratch the hockey itch. Stockholm's Arlanda airport is actually slightly closer to Uppsala than to the capital, and trains run frequently along this busy route.
Walking to the arena from central Uppsala would take close to an hour, so most people come by car. The arena complex is easy to find along a main road. Given the arena's small capacity, parking is adequate and traffic isn't a major concern for most games.
From Uppsala's city center, you should be able to find a taxi to get you to the arena, but the ride won't be cheap, and you probably won't be able to find one on the street for the return trip. The bus might be a better option. City bus #3 towards Uppsala Östra Nybystop picks up at many stops, including just outside Uppsala's main railway station, and drops off on the main road just outside of the arena. The bus runs about every 10 minutes, but you may want to re-confirm bus routes, timing, and frequencies locally. Most bus drivers speak English and accept (or even require) credit cards. At night, it can be easy to overlook the venue, so you might want to ask the driver to alert you at your stop.
Uppsala is a university town, and students here like bicycles. You can park yours next to the rink, and most don't even bother to lock up their bikes.
After arriving, fans enter the arena from street level and buy their tickets indoors. While definitely a small building, nothing feels cramped. Lighting is adequate. From the hallways (we hesitate to use the term "concourses") restrooms initially appear undersized but prove larger than you might expect.
Aside from the seats, everything here is on ground level. Though you will have to make your way up some stairs to get to your seat, the small capacity means that you won't have to climb too far. Wheelchair access is at ice level in the corners. As such, fans with special needs will have an exceptionally easy time here, and a good view of the action.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, and nowhere is this more apparent than Metallåtervinning Arena. On one hand, paying professional-level prices in such a small and bare bones arena just doesn't feel right. Then again, relatively few venues in Sweden or elsewhere allow for such intimate access to high-level hockey. Maybe it's a bargain. Maybe it's a rip-off. Maybe our view is skewed since we lucked into a 50% off all merchandise sale, but we say the pros and cons balance, and the value is about average.
Metallåtervinning Arena exudes low expectations. With such a basic building, it would be easy for Almtuna IS to slack off. After all, who would question why a team in a community rink wouldn't have this or that? Almtuna, though, isn't resting on its laurels until the new arena is built. Team photos line the walls. A small video board behind the net gives you the basics. And there are seat cushions.
As you walk up the stairs to take your seat, there are piles of foam seat cushions for you to borrow. Frankly, the seats aren't particularly uncomfortable without the cushions, nor do the cushions make them particularly comfortable. But they are there if you need them, and an usher comes around to collect them all after the game. The cushions seem like a lot of work for a miniscule payoff, but Almtuna gets points for expending the extra effort for its fans' comfort.
Also unique is the roof. White tiles with hardwood support beams do just enough to add some Nordic flavor while differentiating the place from other small buildings.
Finally, there's the fact that Metallåtervinning Arena is just different. Worldwide, there are very few remaining venues where you can watch high-level sports in such intimate settings. Almtuna is in line to join the 21st century trend of big, fancy arenas. Until then, we'll give Almtuna IS and Metallåtervinning Arena bonus points for being different and not letting themselves become victims of circumstance.
Some arenas are greater than the sum of their parts. This review may not indicate it, but we actually really enjoyed our time here, and we'd have no hesitation about making a return trip. But it's true that fans who like the feeling of big-time hockey will be disappointed. Fans who enjoy the more intimate hockey experience typically found at lower levels will love the intimacy that Metallåtervinning Arena provides. But even those who love the place will likely admit that this place just feels a little too small, and a little too insignificant for the Hockeyallsvenskan.
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