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Official Review by Blake Benzel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
There's a reason that they call Minnesota the State of Hockey. You can drive an hour and a half out of the Twin Cities to a town of about 22,000 and find a hidden gem of a hockey experience. Such is the case in Austin, Minnesota, where you can find the Riverside Arena, the high school arena of the Austin Packers but, for this purpose, home to the NAHL's Austin Bruins.
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The food that you'll find at a Bruins game is much the same that you would find at a high school game. It's not anything earth shattering, but it is enough to keep you satisfied during the action. The most specialized thing you'll find on the menu is the BBQ Pork Sandwich, which is the most expensive piece of food on the menu at a whopping $3.50. You'll also find brats, hot dogs, pizza, nachos and other typical stadium fare ranging from $2-$3.25. Additionally, you'll find typical high school snacks, such as candy bars, chips, and so on, all between $.50 and $1.
As far as the drinks are concerned, you can get yourself a beer at the game for between $3.50 and $4.50, but if the non-alcoholic drinks are more your speed, you can get fresh brewed coffee, soda, bottled water and even a cappuccino, anywhere from $1 (water) to $2.50 (cappuccino) and, if you want a souvenir, they've got a 22 ounce collector's mug filled with soda for $5.50.
In all, it's nothing that's going to cause Riverside Arena to become a must-stop spot for the likes of Adam Richman or Guy Fieri, but at the end of the day, what they have is good and inexpensive - just make sure you've got cash, because credit is out of the picture.
Let me tell you, the folks in Austin know how to have a good time. The game that I attended was on a Saturday night, and the town was like a ghost town making me fear that the game would be similar. Once we walked into the Riverside Arena, though, it was clear that the game was the reason the town was like that. The audience inside was engaged in the game, engaged in the between whistle festivities and the between period festivities and there was quite a bit of fun to be had.
One intermission saw a Journey sing-a-long and ham bowling, another saw a crowd dance-off and "chuck-a-puck," where fans tossed bought pucks onto the ice in an attempt to win prizes. The crowd may not have been 18,000 strong like a Minnesota Wild game at Xcel Energy Center, but there's no doubt that they were every bit as excited to be there.
The first thing you've got to remember is that you're in small-town Minnesota. Your options are going to be limited, for sure. Within a few minutes of Riverside Arena, though, you can find three good options for pre- or post-game dining. If you want pizza, you've got Steve's Pizza or George's Pizza (there is some debate over which is better, so you may even want to sample both). For a sandwich, you've got Tendermaid. Mexican, you can find El Mariachi, or you can find Piggy's BBQ too. With the exception of Tendermaid, all of these can be found on Main Street, just a few blocks west of the arena.
Austin is also the home of the Spam Museum, so if you're a big fan of mystery meat in a can, then you may want to stop in during a trip to Austin.
Like I said, the arena is rocking despite the smaller crowd. The fans are friendly (on multiple occasions, people stopped to say hi to my daughter, who was dancing in the bleachers, or to comment about the cuteness level of my son or even just to talk hockey) and knowledgeable about the game. They knew the players, they knew the game and they were glad to talk or even lend a hand if needed.
The reality of this is that if you don't have a car (or know someone who does), you're not getting to a Bruins game. Once you've procured yourself transportation, the arena is easy enough to find. It's not far off of I-90 and, on game night, has spotlights shining into the sky, so you're not going to have a difficult time finding it once you're there.
Look, you're spending $12 at the absolute most when you go to a game here. You're not going to spend a fortune on concessions and the hockey isn't lacking on either the entertainment factor or the skill. In fact, you very well might spend more money on gas getting to the arena than you will at the arena itself. That makes for a great return on the money you spend.
There's not much in the way of extras but, what there is doesn't disappoint. There's a small merchandise area (which does take credit cards, unlike the concession stand) and a party area called the Bruins Den which can be reserved and comes with a great deal of amenities (a keg of beer, a case of water and Coke, 15 large pizzas and 50 seats). The team's mascot, Bruiser, is energetic and friendly and the in-game entertainment is just that - entertaining.
If you're wondering about whether or not to go to an Austin Bruins game, I'll just say this - go. It was an hour and a half drive each way from the South Metro (Burnsville, Minnesota) for a few hours of hockey and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again in a heartbeat. The game was entertaining, the people were friendly and the food, while limited, was very good and affordable. You're likely not going to be considering going to Austin, Minnesota to see a hockey game if you're not a true blue hockey fanatic, but even if you're not, you'll still have a great time.
Member Review by hockeyfan on Dec 26, 2011
Great Venue, Family Zone, Bear Den, Blimps Outdoor Spotlights, Jumbotron, Lazer light show, Lazy Boys in the Corners a Beer Garden...........Also must remember this is the highest level of hockey in Minnesota if you dont include the Minnesota Wild and College Hockey. With no Minor Pro Hockey teams in Minnesota this makes Austin a must stop to see future professional hockey players.
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