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Official Review by Dennis Morrell, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Twenty miles south of Seattle, the Thunderbirds of the WHL have settled in to a perfect venue for this level of hockey. The 6,500-seat arena allows for a crowd that can be loud enough to affect the game, yet still retains an intimate feeling. Opened in 2009, the ShoWare Center is worth a trip for any hockey fan who lives in Seattle, or for travelers fortunate enough to squeeze in a trip.
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".
If you ran out of time before the game and are willing to pay a little higher price, you will be in for a treat and something different than what you might be used to. Every arena has the standard stuff so in focusing on the new stuff, it is fairly priced. Consider gourmet pasta and hand-carved meat sandwiches for something new.
As you enter the main entrance you are greeted with the magnificent smell of gourmet pasta. For $10, order a dish of pasta, marinated chicken breast with garlic, sweat peas and mushrooms tossed in an Italian blue cheese cream sauce - Yum-O! I had an order even after having had dinner before the game (see below - Duke's clam chowder -- Double Yum-O!).
If you want something a little more traditional, try a roasted turkey sandwich, also $10. Down the east concourse is where you will find the chef shaving the meat for your sandwich. Guess what? I had one later in the game --- Triple Yum-O!
Coffee (of course) and donuts are also served just inside the front gate.
It might have helped that it was opening night for the Thunderbirds, but the excitement was building at a fever pitch outside the arena three hours before the game. The team plays in suburban Kent about seven miles south and a little east of Sea-Tac Airport.
Like most teams, there are the fervent and loyal that wear their favorite player's jersey and even paint their faces. Thunderbirds fans make it very enjoyable for a visiting fan provided you aren't cheering for the team occupying the opposing team's bench.
All fans enter on the ground level of the concourse from the south end of the arena near West James Street in one of three entrances. The ticket offices are to the left of the main center entrance. Merchandise is sold just inside and to the right.
The concourse is a horseshoe layout, the bottom of which is that main entrance. Concessions and restrooms are along this concourse. Fans walk into the seating area at ground level and then with the exception of the first two rows, turn and walk up to their seats. The pitch of the rows in each section provide for excellent sightlines.
Suite level and top rows of club seats can take steps or an elevator to get to their seats, private bars and restrooms, and then enter down to their seats.
The ShoWare Center is located along West James Street in Kent, a largely residential area. It is nestled amidst middle-class homes and some commerce. On this night, I parked in the arena lot and walked two blocks east for dinner looking for a local restaurant.
Now local to me means from the area and it can be a chain, but for me, it must be a local chain. I found Duke's, known for their clam chowder. Don't even look for another place to eat before the game. Order a bowl of their award-winning clam chowder and wash it down with a local brew. I chose Manny's Pale Ale. Wow, good stuff. Do not miss this!
If you like consistency and what you are used to enjoying in your city, there is Panera Bread and McDonald's nearby. Seriously, why would you do this?
This group is pretty darn good. Walking the concourse I overhead many conversations as the opening night was hours away. Debate raged on which of the young kids would step up and be leaders on this team.
With thirty-plus years of history, the fans have a great deal to draw on. They had a few standard cheers that occurred after the home team scores, last minute of play in the period and when a penalty is called. I was amazed at how in unison the crowd was on these chants, the sign of a group that has been doing this for a while.
I also sensed a real connection by these fans to the team, more so than normal which added to the good feelings about witnessing a game here.
Free parking at the arena and surrounding streets, but don't park at the shopping center in hopes of parking once, having dinner and then going to the game. You will be towed. I saw it happen.
Tickets range from $12-$40. If you want to face the benches, as I like to do to see the activity between coaches and players, sit anywhere from 113 to 117. 115 is center ice, but pricey at $40 a seat. I suggest one of two things.
Section 116 is split at the middle of the row from a $40 seat to a $22 seat. If you sit in 116, make sure your seat is on the half of the row closest to 117. The second option is just to sit in section 117. Sit in a high row or your sightlines will be obstructed. This is also the end where the T-Birds shoot twice.
$12 seats get you in the door as cheaply as possible, but you will be sitting at the end where the home team defends twice and at the highest rows far and removed from the action. Because the team draws well throughout the year, this is not an arena where you can buy a cheap seat and then move around.
Game programs are just $2 and are the small-hand-held size and come with an insert of updated rosters and statistics. There is also a newsprint handout for Free that includes basic team information that seems to be updated monthly.
Ushers and team personnel are incredibly friendly. They get it. You feel like a guest in their home who is treated well, but not overdone with comforts. It feels really good to attend a T-Birds game and the staff has everything to do with this sensation. At all levels, from the ticket office, merchandise store, seating area and concession stands, every person you come in contact with is intent on making sure you have a great team at the game.
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