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Official Review by Scott Bultman, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located in Cloquet, Minnesota, Northwoods Credit Union Arena is a cozy 2,000-seat arena home to the Minnesota Wilderness and the Cloquet High School hockey program. The complex has two ice arenas, the main 2,000-seat building and a 300-seat arena used for practices and grade school games. The Minnesota Wilderness franchise is in its first season in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in the 2013-2014 season. The franchise actually started in Northwestern Wisconsin in 2000 and moved to Minnesota in 2012. The Wilderness had been playing in a Canadian junior league before purchasing the dormant St. Louis NAHL franchise to gain entry into the American league.
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 Wilderness have an impressive menu selection for how small the arena is. Entrees such as hamburgers, chicken strips, brats, and hot dogs range from $2.25-$3.50. They also sell items such as pizza rolls, egg rolls, cheese curds, and jalapeno poppers for $3. They have a couple of microwaves inside the stand as well as a new deep fryer. The burger patties are cooked in front of your eyes with cheese and seasoning. I wasn't too hungry when I went but changed my mind when I smelled the burgers being cooked. Coffee and soda range in price from $1.25-$2.
Beer is not sold at the main concession stand, but is sold on the upper concourse. Miller, Miller Lite, Leinenkugels, and mixed drinks range from $3-$4. This is a very affordable place to have a meal and watch a game. You would be advised to save your appetite and eat at the arena. Make sure to bring cash with you when you go however, as the concession stands do not take credit/debit cards. There is an ATM in the main entrance.
Northwoods Credit Union Arena is very cozy. The capacity is listed at 2,000, but it seems like the building is smaller. The concourses are very easy to maneuver through. The main entranceway into the ice arena holds the bathrooms as well as the concession stand. This is a wide open area with quite a few concession lines to get everyone through before action resumes. There is glass seating inside the entryway with a great view of the ice and barstool style seating complete with a countertop. Quite a few fans take advantage of this set up and sit there the whole time. By doing this, you are isolated from the rink itself and the crowd noise, but the view is good if you like sitting behind the glass and behind a goal.
Due to the small size of this arena, there isn't a bad seat in this place. The visitors side has only five rows of seating and the home side has almost double that. Most of the home fans take up these seats but the visiting side is usually wide open. I can imagine it being like this for most games as there aren't too many teams near Cloquet or Duluth for visiting fans to make the day trip.
There are some fun activities and games during intermission to keep fans interested including chuck-a-puck, t-shirt toss, a dance off at center ice for kids, and a mascot getting fans pumped up. Timber, the Wilderness mascot makes his rounds throughout the game and sits with kids for a minute or two at a time. This particular game was not a sell out so it was a nice touch to see Timber make his way around and hang out with kids and families.
There are no restaurants within walking distance of Northwoods Credit Union Arena, but plenty just a short mile drive from there. There is a Walmart, Applebees, Cheers Sports Bar and Grill, and plenty of fast food choices nearby. As for hotels, there is an AmericInn and a Super 8 a mile from the arena. If you are making a weekend out of it, Duluth is twelve miles north of Cloquet on interstate 35. Duluth is a port city off of Lake Superior and has lots of big city amenities. You may also consider doing a doubleheader to include Amsoil Arena, home of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, as their arena was rated as the best stadium experience of 2013 by Stadium Journey Magazine. Duluth also has lots of outdoors activities to partake in including hiking, beaches, and skiing.
One downside to the experience here is the enthusiasm from the fans. You can tell by walking into the arena that it is a crazy high school atmosphere, but not so much for their NAHL team. Even in the team's successful inaugural season, the cheering is pretty minimal. On this particular night, the home team scored early and often yet after each goal, the cheering was as loud as a visiting teams section on a road game. The foghorn plays after a goal and is a nice touch rather than a generic sound. Despite the lack of cheering or enthusiasm, the fans here are very knowledgeable. Chatting up with fans around you is pretty easy here and everyone has a good grasp of what is going on.
The location of the stadium makes me wonder if the name Wilderness comes from where the stadium is located. It is located off of county road 33 and a mile north of interstate 35. The arena isn't marked well so remember to bring a GPS or use your phone navigator to find it. County road 33 is a main road that goes through Cloquet. The arena itself is a mile off of the main road past a recycling center in the middle of a forest. After a few loops and turns, the arena appears in the same manner as a hunting lodge in the middle of a forest would. There is plenty of parking here and it is free of charge.
Tickets here are $12 and all seating is general admission. Programs are $1 and have good information about the NAHL as well as the game fans are seeing that night. $12 for a NAHL game seems a bit high to me, but being so close to the action makes up for it. Get there early for the best seats. However, if you're getting there when the game starts, some good seats should still be open. One thing to know, there isn't a bad seat here as all seats are close to the action.
The wooden seats and wooden roof tiles are a nice touch here. To say this place is a barn is a compliment here as I am sure that's what they were going for when this place was built. There are plenty of high school banners from the Cloquet hockey team hanging in the rafters. Also, they celebrate their alumni who made it to the NHL with a banner for each player. There is a 1999 Dallas Stars Jamie Langenbrunner Stanley Cup banner hanging up with the quote "dreams can come true." Talk about motivation for the students who play there! Another extra point is given for the wide variety of food offered here and the cheap prices.
I'm sure the fans will take to the Wilderness more as they become familiar with the league and the teams they play. If making your way to Duluth during hockey season, this is a good "no frills" place to see a game. The concessions are cheap, views are good, and the chance to see possible future professional hockey players make it a worthy trip to Cloquet.
Member Review by tdiddysquared on Dec 29, 2015
This rink has very good food and drinks. It could use some help on the neighborhood because it is very isolated and icy during the winter. Overall a good rink, warm with a great sheet of ice.
7 8th St
Cloquet, MN 55720
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111 Big Lake Rd
Cloquet, MN 55720
121 Big Lake Rd
Cloquet, MN 55720