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Official Review by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
New to the AHL (American Hockey League) are the Tucson Roadrunners, affiliate of the NHL (National Hockey League) Arizona Coyotes. The team originated as the Springfield (MA) Falcons AHL team and relocated to Tucson, AZ before the start of the 2016 – 2017 season.
They play in the recently (2014) renovated Tucson Arena (a part of the Tucson Convention Center). The renovations took the 43 year old venue into the modern age with new bathrooms, lighting, cushioned seats, a revamped sound system, a new kitchen and a video scoreboard. The difference is remarkable.
Minor league hockey has been played at the arena before. Several teams played in the mid 70’s and the last one, the Gila Monsters played from 1997 – 1999 at the venue in the now defunct West Coast Hockey League. The University of Arizona Wildcats hockey (ACHA – American Collegiate Hockey Association) have played their games at the venue since 1980.
It’s quite a nice facility in which to watch a hockey game. The only downfall is the music is played way too loud to make it a comfortable evening out.
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".
Tucson Arena offers the standard stadium fare with a couple of local beers and a local ice cream cart. Two main permanent concession stands are on hand; one to the left and one to right when entering the venue. They both provide more or less the same menu though one has pizza, the other quesadillas. Italian subs, macho nachos, mojo chicken wraps, and Cuban panini range from $8.50 - $9.50.
Snacks such as regular beef hot dogs, regular nachos, popcorn, candy, chips and pretzels run $3.50 - $6. Pepsi provides the soda choices at $3 - $5. Beer runs $6 - $8 for the traditional domestic varieties and $7 - $9 for premium. A concession stand at the bottom of the U seating bowl sells three tacos (chicken, beef, pork, fish) for $6. I did not notice any gluten free choices./p>
Do expect lines at the permanent concession stands so plan accordingly.
Two local brews are offered at portable concession carts on either side of the concourse and include selections from Sentinel Peak Brewing and Barrio Brewing.
Some stands only accept cash so remember to bring some of that legal tender.
A merchandise table is present on the outer concourse and sells hats, shirts, jerseys, and other trinkets but no hat pins or pennants.
While there's plenty to eat and drink at Tucson Arena, the recommendation is to visit a nearby downtown establishment pre or postgame.
Except for the head-aching, high-level music volume, the venue is actually quite a favorable one to visit.
Seating is U shaped with rows of seats on three sides; the inner concourse is above the seating area. One cannot walk around the entire inner concourse and must back track when getting to the top of the U. The best seats are on the sidelines and I'd recommend the second level to get a better view of the entire ice surface. Do not sit in rows A or B on the second level as fans pass by in front of those seats and there's a metal bar in the way.
The seating area has an average amount of legroom, the seats are comfortable and have cup holders on the arms.
The arena is suitable temperature wise; however many fans bring blankets, hats, gloves and jackets. Depending on tolerance for cold, remember to bring outer layers, if needed.
Be sure to grab a roster sheet at the customer service table in front of section 214 on the inner concourse.
A surprising delight is the lights are kept on between periods; though they are lowered a tad pregame.
No center hung scoreboard is provided allowing fans to take in the entire fan base. Instead, a video scoreboard is on the top end of the U while a standard stat board is on the wall above the bottom of the U. Neither show the shots on goal stat which is sad for fans who like to keep score.
Activities between periods include the always entertaining pee wee hockey and those blossoming stars. Chuck a puck is offered after end of game and after the three stars are announced.
Visiting Tucson is a treat. It is not as commercialized as the Phoenix area and it maintains much of its natural beauty by not building and destroying its land and natural settings and landscape.
The arena is downtown near the El Presidio Park, the old county courthouse and the Pima County courthouse (currently under renovation). Several museums are within walking distance including the Children's Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The best place for a pregame dinner within walking distance (1/2 mile) of the arena is the El Charro Café (the best Mexican restaurant in Tucson located in a historic setting). Other places include The HUB (ice cream, food, and drinks), Barrio Brewing (brewhouse), and Senae Thai Bistro (a good Thai restaurant a few blocks from the arena).
Not walking distance but worth visiting when in the Tucson area is the Mission San Xavier del Bac (founded in 1692), the Saguaro National Park (home to the nation's largest and most abundant cacti), and take a drive up to the top of A Mountain (Sentinel Peak) for a beautiful view. All of these sites have no admission fee but do require a vehicle.
The biggest event in Tucson is the Gem and Mineral show the end of Jan / beginning of Feb each year.
A few hotels are within walking distance of the Tucson Arena with the closest probably The Arizona River Park Inn, though there are plenty of others in the city.
The Roadrunners are averaging close to 4,000 fans a game which is a little over 60% of capacity. Crowd noise of 'Let's go Tucson' is prevalent throughout the game.
Traditional fan chants about the opposing goalie are heard.
All in all it is a good turnout for hockey in Arizona.
A downtown trolley / streetcar called the SunLink has a stop at the Tucson Arena so this might be a good transportation method if staying downtown or near the University of Arizona.
If driving, it's about 1 ˝ miles off I-10. Plenty of parking is available at the arena (credit cards and cash accepted) and if you're willing to walk a bit, free street parking can be found a couple blocks away.
The closest airport is Tucson International Airport and is about eight or so miles from the arena. Tucson Arena is about an hour and a half drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Depending on from where you're leaving, Phoenix may have more affordable and convenient flights.
Bags are checked prior to entering the facility but it's not painful.
A fan enters into a wide outer concourse (it holds one drink concession stand and the merchandise table); then enters into the inner concourse through additional glass doors.
One enters at the top of the concourse and heads down to the seating area. Hand rails are provided in the middle of the steps. Plenty of wheelchair accessible seating is on the top of the inner concourse with good views of the game.
The concourse is not too crowded (though concession lines appear quite long) and bathrooms are plenty and clean with no queue.
Tickets range from $14 - $56. $25 will get you more or less center ice, second level and provides the best value for the game. Check for sections 203 or 205 (faces the penalty box) / 221 or 223 (faces the player benches) for this value recommendation. Do not get seats in rows A or B.
Group, flex plan, and 10 game tickets packages are also available allowing a reduced fare.
Free parking can be found downtown and concession prices are not so bad compared to other AHL venues.
It's an altogether good investment of a fan's entertainment dollar.
Keeping the lights on - not many indoor venues do that anymore and it's quite refreshing at a Roadrunners game.
Although a couple of years old, the renovations have made a remarkable difference in attending a hockey game at the Tucson Arena.
The focus seems to be on the hockey game with just enough extra activities in just the right doses - not too much to cause sensory overload or failure to remember that a hockey game is actually being played. Nice job.
Local brews and ice cream - it's great to see the organization trying to incorporate the community businesses.
Visiting Tucson, AZ and watching an AHL Roadrunners game is an enjoyable experience and one worth checking out. They just need to turn the music volume down three or four notches.
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