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Official Review by Josh Eastern, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Seattle Thunderbirds are a junior hockey league team that plays in the U.S. Division of the Western Hockey League. They play in the ShoWare Center located in Kent, WA which is about 30 minutes south of Seattle. It was opened in January of 2009. The Thunderbirds played at Mercer Arena before moving to Key Arena. In 2009, the T-Birds moved south to the ShoWare Center. It is a multi-purpose arena that is mostly used for hockey. It is a great setting for hockey.
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 are thinking about having dinner at the ShoWare Center, you will be well off. The food selection at the ShoWare Center has a good mix of food. They have their regular concession stand food along with more unique stands. In the regular stand you have your basic hot dog, Coke products, popcorn, etc. What is a major turn-off are the prices. At a minor league hockey game I would expect the prices to be a little more reasonable, but they are very similar to prices at say Safeco Field in Seattle.
Along with the regular concession stands, they have mini vendor stands that have more exquisite offerings. An example of this is at one stand they have a sliced beef sandwich that is a more gourmet offering compared to a hot dog. In addition, a mini coffee shop is offered with small snacks and coffee as well. Lastly, beer stands are offered all around. The downside to these small stands is that they are much more expensive. A sandwich is $10, which is definitely more than the regular stand. One thing that stands out is there are no in-seat vendors. During the intermissions, this makes the concourse very busy and makes for long lines.
The ShoWare Center is an ideal place to watch a WHL game. Because it is fairly new (opened in 2009), the amenities and the seats are all very comfortable which helps you to focus more on the game. When walking to the game, it isn't a very long walk from the public parking lot (which is free), but it is across train tracks and past a long grassy "park" area. There isn't a backdrop when looking at the stadium from the outside. When you get to the entrance, there are many doors that let you in, but there is only one way to get in and it is through the doors you see from the street.
Inside the arena, the concourses are plenty big to navigate around. When I attended the game it was probably three-quarters full which gave zero issues when I was walking around the concourses. The lines for concessions do usually cut into the walking areas. All of the seating areas have their own separate tunnels and to get to the suite level, you ride the elevator or walk the stairs. About 80% of the stadium has regular nice, cushy seats. The other 20% is part of the retractable bleachers and those seats are very uncomfortable to sit in (sections 108-112). Otherwise, you are right up next to the glass on the ice. The bowl of the stadium is built a little steeper so you are closer to the action.
The ShoWare Center does offer club seating across from the team benches. In addition, suites are at the top and range from goal to goal on either side of the ice. The scoreboard is nice and has a fairly good-sized video screen on all four sides. It does show the penalty time, shots on goal, time, and score. They show replays of key plays along with live game action. During breaks in play, there are mascot appearances and games/interviews with fans to keep them interested. After the second period there is the 'Chuck the Puck' game where you can throw 3 rubber pucks that you buy in the concourse and can try to win a car or other prizes. All in all, the atmosphere is a great one for WHL hockey.
The ShoWare Center is located in Kent, Washington, which is about 30 minutes south of Seattle. About 5 minutes walking distance from the arena is an area called Kent Station. Located here are lots of shops and restaurants where a lot of fans head to before the game. It is perfectly located and provides a great pregame location for food. Outside of Kent Station, Kent isn't a hub for much else. Because of its proximity from Seattle, there isn't much else going on during game nights other than the event at ShoWare.
Some restaurants in Kent Station that are good eats are the Ram, Johnny Rockets, and Chipotle. There are plenty of restaurants so on a regular game night you'll definitely get in somewhere and make it to the game on time. They tell you not to park at Kent Station, but I saw plenty of people walking to the game from there. Safety wasn't a concern for me walking from the parking lot located within 2 minutes of the ShoWare Center.
The T-Birds fans are definitely a wild bunch. They can get restless very quickly and at the game I attended, the refs and the fans weren't best friends. The fans are spirited throughout, but there is definitely a lot of explicit language and it even got to a point in the game after a bad call where fans threw things onto the ice. This probably doesn't reflect all of the fans, but there are some knuckleheads for sure. Other than throwing things on the ice, the fans are knowledgeable about hockey. They are, for the most part, just normal hockey fans. During a part in a song they yell "(blank team) sucks" which is totally normal for any fans to do. They have kept the same intro since they played at the Key Arena before they moved in 2009.
The fans really like to have fun and they joke around a lot and it is a friendly atmosphere for the most part. The only reason I rate them a 2 is because they threw food on the ice.
Because the ShoWare Center is located about 30 minutes south of Seattle and its suburbs, it is very out of the way for people coming from Seattle or the Eastside. This can make getting to the game during the week and rush hour very difficult. When the Thunderbirds played at the Key Arena located at Seattle Center, it was perfect for people from Seattle or just outside of the city. Now, located in Kent, it is really only convenient for people that live in the areas of Renton, Kent, Auburn, etc. But, if you are coming from near the airport, it should only take around 15 minutes.
When you get to the area around the arena, there is plenty of parking. If you have a parking pass you can park in the arena lot. Otherwise, you will have to park in the lot to the west just across the train tracks. It is a walk that is 5 minutes at most and totally flat. Parking in this lot is complementary as well. Public transportation is also available on Sound Transit. ST Express route 566 takes you directly to Kent Station, which is a very short walk to the arena.
As you walk in, there is the normal bag check. It wasn't too out of the ordinary of any other stadium's bag check procedures. Once inside the stadium, the concourse is plenty big for traffic. The lines for concessions do sometimes leak out into the walking area, but for the most part it is not bad. When walking to your seats, there are some steps you have to walk up for the main sections. If you need assistance, there are ramps at a few of the sections to help.
All in all, my experience at the ShoWare Center was fairly good. Second hand tickets can be had as low as $15. In my opinion, I wouldn't spend too much more than $20 for these tickets. If you buy tickets off of the Thunderbirds website, you will pay $24 to sit in between the benches or $40 to sit in the club sections. Because parking is free, that is a major bonus that increases the ROI of the ShoWare Center. But, the concessions aren't cheap. In the end, the game is fun and they have good ways to keep the fans in the game. I am a light hockey fan and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Located inside the stadium is a team store where you can buy all of your T-Birds apparel. Also, if you are interested in listening to the game on the radio, you can hear it on 1090am The Fan. There are people around the stadium to assist you with whatever you may need. I recommend playing 'Chuck the Puck' during the second intermission. For only $3, you get 3 rubber hockey pucks to try to throw into a sunroof of a car. This is just one of many ways the T-Birds get the fans into the game.
Member Review by puckhound2469
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.
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