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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
College hockey is not a new thing to the Tucson area, but this form of it is. The current form of the team, which is played under the University of Arizona Campus Recreation department, started in 2011. Prior to that, the Arizona IceCats were the college hockey team in town, playing from 1979-2011, including being one of the founding members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) in 1991. The Cats still play in the ACHA as a member of Division I, just with new logos and new management.
The only hockey rink in town is found at the Tucson Convention Center, which is where the IceCats started playing in 1980. The arena at the TCC seats 6,800, but the hockey team draws closer to around 2,000-3,000 for most home games, with ASU weekends drawing much better. Since the start of the ACHA, the Cats have made the postseason 13 times, but the last time was the 2005-06 season.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Wildcat hockey games are an event that you should eat before going to the game. The food is all extremely overpriced, and not very good. The one unique feature they used to have before the Arizona baseball team moved into Hi Corbett Field in 2012 was that they were the only college team in town that could sell beer because they were the only ones that didn't play on campus.
A lot of traditions that were associated with the IceCats went to the wayside when they changed over to a Campus Rec team. Wildcat games are still a great time though, even with some of the awesome things that were IceCats-related disappearing. The PA announcer has been the same guy for many years, and the diehard fans love him, and he shows them love back. If you're there celebrating a birthday, anniversary, with a group, or just taking in your first Wildcat hockey game, you can slip him a note through the glass between the penalty boxes, and he'll give you a shout out during the next stoppage in play.
Seating at the TCC allows fans to be right next to the glass around the entire rink except the south end, which is great for Arizona faithful to heckle the other team, and more importantly, the refs. With the ACHA being a low-budget league, some of the refs faces become more and more familiar if you go to many home series throughout the year, and they start playing it up for some of the fans they recognize as well.
The team benches are on the west side of the arena, with the penalty boxes on the east side. Arizona's offensive end is the north end in the first and third periods, and the south end in the second period. Everyone enters through the north entrance, right where the TCC box office is. You enter the upper concourse, which runs along the top of the entire arena. There is also a lower concourse below the seating area, but all of the food is in the upper northwest and northeast corners of the arena.
During the 1st intermission, a couple of lucky fans are chosen to attempt to score 3 goals to win some prizes. The 2nd intermission is usually "Chuck a Puck", where you can win gift cards by throwing a puck you bought at the game onto the ice at the logos that are put down. Also during the intermissions, if you run down and put your hand on the glass, the Zamboni guy will make sure he gives you a high five through the glass.
The Tucson Convention Center is located in the heart of downtown Tucson. The downtown area offers a lot as far as dining and entertainment are concerned. Everything is within walking distance of TCC, making it very easy to park for free on metered streets after 5pm, enjoy some pregame meals and shopping, then walk to the Convention Center for the 7:30 puck drop. Some of the best places downtown to grab a bite to eat include Empire Pub and Pizza, Club Congress, The HUB, and Barrio Brewing. There's much more, but those are some favorites that I would recommend.
Just east of the main part of downtown is Fourth Avenue, which has even more to offer. If you're looking for a sports bar, Maloney's and O'Malley's are right next to each other and are both very good. They are on Fourth Ave. in between 8th and 9th Streets. Another great place is Lindy's on 4th, which was once featured on Man vs. Food. It is just a little farther north in between 6th and 7th Streets.
Wildcat hockey games are played on Fridays and Saturdays, which gives some options for after the game too. Rialto Theatre is the premier concert venue in Tucson, and is just walking distance from the Convention Center as well. Downtown also has an event called "Second Saturdays", where every second Saturday of the month there is a huge street fair. Some of this has been hurt by the ongoing construction to the streets and new railcar system that is being put in, but it is still a good time. Some really good late night spots include Club Congress, The Playground, The District, and Junxion.
When you think of Arizona, hockey is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. But some of the Tucson fans will make you rethink that. Knowledge of basic hockey rules is not necessarily a forte of the Wildcat faithful, but supporting the team comes easy, especially when playing intrastate rivals Arizona State and Northern Arizona. The recent lack of success and changes in the game experience has lowered attendance a little bit, but "The Madhouse" is still just as loud as in the past. The chant that has survived is after a Wildcat goal is announced, the whole crowd points at the opposing goalie and yells "He shoots, he scores, hey goalie, you suck, it's all your fault, it's all your fault, it's all your fault!"
Construction on Congress St., I-10, and 4th Ave have made it slightly harder to get to TCC, but it's not too bad. Stone is still open, which is usually the easiest street to park on if you're looking to park for free. Parking at the convention center costs around $10, so it's definitely worth it to not park at the convention center (Stone is one block east of the ticket office).
Church Ave., the street that TCC is actually on, is open south of Broadway, allowing for people to still drive in front of the TCC if you are dropping people off, or deciding to pay for parking. Hopefully when they are finally done with all of the street car construction, it will be extremely easy to get to the game. But for right now, parking on Stone at the meters is the easiest way to go to the game or downtown in general. There are signs pointing you to the convention center and parking options at every intersection, so as long as you are following the signs, you will be good to go.
The concourses are never too crowded at hockey games. There is plenty of room for the amount of fans that are at the games. Concession stand lines are never an issue and the bathrooms are so large and there are so many of them that this is never an issue either.
Wildcat hockey tickets run anywhere from $5-$15, depending on if you're a student, and if they happen to be playing Arizona State that weekend. The quality of hockey in 2012-2013 is way better than years past, making the games more enjoyable to watch. And the fan interaction is far superior to any of the other University of Arizona sporting events. This is probably because it is a club sport and not an official sport in the athletics department, but still great to go to.
Cheap tickets, free parking downtown, tons of entertainment before, during and after the game. Wildcat hockey makes for a great night with not much money spent.
This would have been higher in the old IceCats era, but as I've mentioned, the games are still great. Downtown Tucson is such an entertaining and diverse place, making hockey nights in Tucson a great time for anyone.
One last extra is for the lemonade vendors. A lot of them are also seen at Tucson Padres games and University of Arizona baseball games. You really just have to see them to believe them.
Although they are not NCAA caliber, if you are in Tucson during the winter or spring, you should make an Arizona Wildcats hockey game part of your trip. It's a truly unique experience, and one that you will probably never forget, for better or worse.
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