To appreciate how much the Scope doesn't smell like the inside of a well-used hockey skate these days, you'd have to be one of the thousands who flocked to the place back when it housed the ECHL's Hampton Roads Admirals.
Built smack-dab in the middle of downtown Norfolk in 1971, and used for everything from concerts to boxing matches, the Scope's main attraction for the past several years has been minor league hockey. While two indoor football teams - the Norfolk Knights and Nighthawks - have come and gone, the Admirals have ridden out three different NHL affiliations by consistently filling most of the 8,725 seats available for their games.
Though a clear notch below "Hockeytown" status, the city of Norfolk - recently reorganized under the "Seven Venues" brand for local events - does enough right with its arena to make an evening spent at the game worth your while. The smell is just the beginning.
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 concession stands aren't anything special, though. Seems like nearly everything sold at double the real-world price and served at a sporting event nowadays has "Ovations" company branding on it, from the barbeque at EverBank Field down in Jacksonville to the funnel cakes at the Scope - and none of it's worth writing home about.
The eight-dollar draft beers, in particular, probably won't be a happy highlight on your bank statement or in the "at the game" story you tell your friends.
It's all been done before, but the Admirals' game experience feels canned enough that it's enjoyable - which won't make sense until you see a fan in a Rangers shirt and Admirals hat singing along to "Sweet Caroline," one of the arena's cameramen sporting his Devils jersey proudly, and home team sweaters with all variations of "Norfolk" and "Hampton Roads" colors and pro affiliate patches from two decades' worth of history.
There's even a fan group dedicated to blowing vuvuzelas, which is cute, too, if (much) less enjoyable.
Hockey is intrinsically fun to watch, mixing the gracefulness of ice skating with the visceral appeal of a contact sport, and the fan culture that has developed around it is just as fun. The Scope taps into that broad appeal just enough to be light-hearted without feeling tacky or cheesy.
(And, again, the aromatic atmosphere is markedly fresher since "Seven Venues" took charge.)
Situated in a much nicer part of town than Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center, the Scope is hardly the only game in town - or even on its own block - for entertainment and sightseeing.
On the very same patch of concrete, Norfolk's Chrysler Hall draws performing arts exhibitions ranging from ballet and orchestra performances to the Broadway adaptation of "The Lion King." Around the corner on Monticello Avenue, and continuing the Norfolk theme of building new things in the ruins of the old, the Norva has grown from a rundown 1920s-era eyesore to a nationally-acclaimed music venue since its reopening in 2000.
As with most venues nestled between city streets, the best bets for food are found outside the gate. In this case, the food court at MacArthur Mall a block away has everything from a Nathan's Hot Dog for your inner Kobayashi to offerings from California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory, or one of a few sit-down establishments.
For an entirely different dining experience, a few blocks walking in the opposite direction will bring you to Freemason Abbey, an upscale restaurant housed in a renovated 19th-century church. It's up to you as to which way you'll go, but either's better than paying too much for too little at intermission.
Throw in the aforementioned mall - which is five stories tall, by the way - and the minor-league hockey fades into the background of a neat place to visit in its own right.
A pregame charity showdown between the city's police and fire departments boosted attendance on the night of this writer's visit to 7,750, fifth-best in the Admirals' history but hardly a surprise turnout.
Norfolk's support for hockey dates back to an exhibition game at the Scope in the '80s: looking to test the waters for a potential expansion franchise, the ECHL was blown away by a Wednesday night crowd of over 6,000 fans. Soon thereafter (in 1989) the Hampton Roads Admirals came and stayed.
This particular record-worthy multitude was a bit sleepy after the home team's introduction, tranquilized by 35 scoreless minutes to start the game. But between a bit of well-timed music and three goals in the second period's last two minutes, they got around to dancing, singing, and making noise for the remainder of a closely-fought 4-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons.
Whether or not their voices registered on the Richter scale, Norfolk's fans deserve high marks for the twenty years' worth of support they've shown with their wallets.
At this point, the traffic situation in Norfolk always bears mentioning. Any and all of the tunnels and highways you might take to get to the Scope are gridlock land mines, capable of exploding into hours of wasted gas and stop-and-go driving at the slightest provocation from construction or a disabled vehicle.
On a happier note, parking abounds in all directions around the venue. The free lot across St. Paul's Boulevard fills up well before game time, but any of a number of open lots and garages are open to you for five bucks.
Pro tip: No cash? No problem. Park in that five-story mall's garage, take the stairs or an elevator to street level, and walk a block to the Scope, then put the two-dollar nighttime fee on your debit card as you leave. This works equally well for tightwads, those who don't carry cash, or both.
Hockey, perhaps more than any other sport, has to be experienced in person. High-definition TVs come close - you can actually see the puck, for instance - but the feel of the ice in an indoor setting and the thick slashing of skates across it doesn't come through even in high-end surround sound.
The Admirals' ticket prices aren't bad, as minor league tickets go. Should you, your kid(s), or your significant other end up clamoring for in-game refreshments, though, you're going to leave with a lighter wallet than seems fair. Let's say the "investment" potential is too high.
One bonus point for the broken board late in the third period, extending this particular evening by 30 minutes for cleanup and repair. Specifically, for the crowd's ho-hum reaction to it: cell-phone cameras were out, but they took it in stride like true "hockey people."
Another for whoever picked the music: heavy on Coheed and Cambria, Beastie Boys, and the like during pauses in the action, with classics mixed in for effect. Man, did "Sweet Caroline" ever hit at just the right time.
"Reachin' out - touchin' me, touchin' you..."
The Scope has been the home to the AHL's Norfolk Admirals since there inception in 2000. It has gone through many changes in the past 12 seasons. For one the scoreboard used to be a small pixelized screen, which was replaced 3 years ago by a larger LED screen scoreboard along with 2 screens behind each goal. The seats which are a dark maroon color used to be a bright navy blue back in the day as well.
The Scope does have a distinct smell, but its nothing too ba that will distract from enjoying a great game of hockey.
300 Monticello Ave
Norfolk, VA 23510
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