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Official Review by Scott Montesano, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Sometimes expectations for a new arena are unfairly high, and as a result improperly scale one’s impressions of a facility. At its core, the Mystique Community Ice Center in Dubuque, Iowa is a nice enough arena, but in comparison to all the other newer facilities in the United States Hockey League it comes up flat.
Dubuque has had a love-hate relationship with junior hockey over the years and no matter what one’s impressions of the current arena are, hockey in this border town is at its peak. The city had a previous USHL team, also known as the Fighting Saints, that played from 1980-2000 and used the downtown Five Seasons Center, which is a 2,000-seat multi-purpose facility that had seating on one side. The first incarnation of the Saints were extremely successful and popular through the 1980s, but interest tailed off in the 1990s and coupled with rising costs and questionable ownership the team eventually moved out of town.
The USHL was quickly replaced by the Junior B (eventually rechristened Tier III Jr. A) Dubuque Thunderbirds who would save hockey in the town by averaging around 1,000 fans per game which is an outstanding figure at that level. The Thunderbirds remained in town until the opening of the new Mystique Community Ice Center just outside downtown and near the Mississippi River in 2010 which brought back a new edition of the Fighting Saints in Dubuque.
Since reentering the USHL, the Fighting Saints have won two Clark Cups and averaged about 2,100 fans at the 3,000 seat arena.
The arena itself is a single bowl with seats that go all the way around except for a small area behind the east goal. A concourse rims the top of the seating area and fans walk down to their seats and it’s on this concourse that fans will find kiosks for souvenirs as well as the concessions stands. The south side of the building has a few suites along the concourse while the north side has a small press box, but for the most part fans can stand along the railing and watch the entire game.
Oddly, all the seats are set-up on metal bleachers and not permanent concrete giving the entire facility a cheap feeling. All the seats are plastic bucket seats but that doesn’t cover for the cheapness of the metal. Plus, the building is very cold and is reminiscent of watching a youth game at a recreational rink in this regard.. Regulars have come to expect this and come equipped with blankets and/or a few layers underneath their Fighting Saints jersey.
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".
Prices are very affordable at a Fighting Saints game as Dubuque itself is a blue-collar community and the Fighting Saints recognize that. Hot dogs, pizza, and sodas stay around $3 while beer is around $5. Two main concession stands are on the north side near the press box while kiosks surround the concourse selling beer as well as Dippin Dots and Mini Donuts.
The head of the Dubuque Fighting Saints comes from the world of minor league baseball, more specifically the Goldklang Group and the St. Paul Saints, and his influence is soaked into everything. This includes many good things such as extremely friendly ushers and personnel who have permanent smiles on their faces and pleasant personalities.
However, if you are one who isn't a fan of "promotion explosion," then stay away.
The Fighting Saints are more likely to try to promote a "Host Family Feud Contest" or "Moustache Mania" than the game itself. The game takes a backseat to what the promotions team has designed which is not unlike Goldklang baseball teams in St. Paul, Charleston, Fort Myers, etc.
Attending a game will elicit a few laughs if you are open to the promotions.
The arena is located outside of downtown near a small harbor that feeds the Mississippi River and while beautiful in the summer, it is more of an inconvenience during the hockey season. A Wendy's as well as local favorite Catfish Charlies are located nearby providing eating options, but most of the city's restaurants are located on the other side of town near the shopping districts.
Having had junior hockey in one form or another, the area has very knowledgeable fans. Like their rivals in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids they too believe cowbells are a necessity and many regulars have taken to bringing multiple ones affixed to hockey sticks to make even more noise.
The city supports the team extremely well and the fans in attendance prove it with many people wearing jerseys.
The city itself isn't located off any Interstate and though its located right along the Mississippi River, that doesn't provide any help unless one plans to take a raft or sneak onto a cargo ship into town. Highway 20 and 80 intersect in the community with 20 going back into Iowa towards Cedar Rapids/Waterloo or into Illinois and 80 going into Wisconsin and towards Madison.
The arena is located just off an elevated portion of Highway 80 as it rises over the river and into Wisconsin.
Getting to the arena isn't as much of an issue as getting out. A series of two-lane roads lead out of the rink and trying to funnel 600-800 cars out after a Fighting Saints game has been an issue since the building opened.
Thus, it's become common for regulars to stick around 10-15 minutes after games just milling around waiting for the cars to clear.
For a new arena, the Mystique Community Ice Center is a disappointment for those who enjoy studying buildings. However, it's a nice enough place to watch a game from. The staff is extremely friendly, arguably the friendliest of any staff one will come across, and with people like this serving your visit it's hard to dislike the place.
It goes to prove that a genuine smile and effort to make a customer happy can overcome any other shortcomings.
Dubuque features a pair of casinos with the Mystique and Diamond Joes. Dyersville, and the Field of Dreams complex, is located about a half hour to the west on Highway 20.
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