The Bloomington Blaze are named after the fire that destroyed downtown Bloomington in 1900. Now in their second full season, the Blaze replaced the Bloomington Prairie Thunder who also played in the U.S. Cellular Coliseum from 2006 to 2011. The Bloomington-Normal twin cities are in central Illinois with a population of about 167,000 people.
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The Coliseum is mostly limited to the typical stadium fare. The Smokehouse has a variety of beef and pork barbeque sandwiches ranging from $6.50 to $7. The Italian Grill features hot dogs and burgers starting at $3.75. A local Italian restaurant, Avanti's, has quite flavorful pizzas starting at $7.
The beer selection is very good. While the domestics are limited to Bud and Bud Light, they are reasonably priced at $6 for 20 oz and $8.75 for 32 oz. Premiums, such as Guinness, Harp, Stella and Spaten are a bit more at $7.25 and $9.75 for the same respective sizes. All the premium brews are located in the Mason St. Pub, just to the left of the main entrance.
At the far end of the arena under the video board is The Club, a nice full-service bar that overlooks the ice. While the bar is open to the public, the club seats below the bar which are on top of the glass, require club seats.
While the U.S. Cellular Coliseum is relatively new being built in 2006, it seems dated on the inside. The main concourse is white painted cinderblocks with a plain concrete floor, lacking much character. Extraneous tables of all sorts severely narrow the hallway, which get quite crowed between periods.
The seating in the arena is a U-shaped configuration around the ice with the single bowl of seats topped with a ring of luxury suites. The far end wall contains a large video board and aforementioned club. Like most newer arenas, the seats are made of hard plastic with little leg room. Possibly due to the few people in attendance during my visit, the arena was quite cold. Make sure you dress appropriately.
The Coliseum sits in downtown Bloomington. It is easily walkable to the neighborhood bars and restaurants. I would not call the downtown area thriving, but there are certainly a few bars and coffee shops mixed in with the vacant buildings. There are no hotels within a walkable distance to the arena. The closest restaurant, the Illinois Brewing Company, is just across the street.
I have visited every other CHL city during the 2013 season and nowhere else have I found the fans to be as unintelligent, obnoxious and drunkenly hostile. While most home fans can be expected to deliver a fair amount of razzing towards the visiting team, the level of profane vitriol delivered to the team, trainers, visiting fans and even the team bus driver should be seen as an embarrassment to the city of Bloomington, the Blaze and the CHL.
One person was initially ejected after throwing a beer bottle at the visiting bench, but then he was allowed back in after a few minutes. At other venues such an action would not only result in ejection, but probably a permanent ban if not criminal charges. In Bloomington, apparently, the only consequence is the opportunity to purchase another beer.
Once the Blaze fell behind, the so-called Bloomington "fans" quickly turned on their own team with equal misguided passion. Again, unlike other CHL venues, Blaze games are not family friendly. Indeed, some of the worst behavior was exhibited by groups of pre-teens. The fans really removed any enjoyment from the game. I really cannot recommend seeing a game here.
It may not matter as Bloomington has consistently had ownership and financial issues. One source informed me that the latest owner has left town and the team is now being operated directed by the CHL. If true, they may not be around in 2014, which in my opinion may not necessarily be a bad thing.
The U.S. Cellular Coliseum is located in downtown Bloomington, IL. It is easily accessible via interstates 74, 55, and 465. There is a garage directly adjacent to the arena with parking available for $5. There are two sets of bathrooms on either side of the bowl, plus at least one family restroom on each side.
Tickets range from $14 to $20 for on the glass seats. The arena was 2/3 empty during my visit, so finding seats at any level is easy. On a typical night, the Blaze average about 2,500 fans in attendance.
There is nothing else to recommend except possibly not going at all.
The quality of the hockey, fans, and surrounding environment is higher at virtually every other CHL city. If you want to see passionate fans in a great atmosphere, go to Rapid City, Wichita, or Missouri. If you want a big city with lots of other non-hockey things to do, go to Denver or one of the two teams outside of Dallas. If you are driving between Chicago and St. Louis my advice is to keep driving to see the Blackhawks or the Blues.
The Bloomington Blaze entered the Central Hockey League rumbling across the Illinois flat landscape as the Prairie Thunder their first five years. Then under new ownership, it was determined to blow up the organization and therein lies what you have now in this rural Illinois city, a BLAZE.
The team still calls the US Cellular Coliseum home and it sits in the heart of downtown Bloomington. On most nights, the team averages about 2,100 a game, but that is good for near last in the League and at least 2,000 below the league average. There is much opportunity to grow here and it will take more than just a name, uniform and ownership change to improve. The current group is missing the opportunity and it would be a shame if they let it all go up in flames (sorry, could not resist) by not acting quickly.
102 N Center St
Bloomington, IL 61701
3907 General Electric Rd
Bloomington, IL 61704
110 W Washington St
Bloomington, IL 61701
102 W Washington St
Bloomington, IL 61701
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