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Official Review by Tige Hutcheson, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Hockey can be a tough sport to get into if you don't grow up around it. Trust me; growing up in Iowa, watching hockey on TV just didn't do a whole lot for me, and until I actually attended a game in person, I had almost written it off entirely as a sport that just wasn't for me. But you're just going to have to trust me when I say that hockey is a lot more fun in person than it is on TV. The atmospheres are some of the most intense and original in all of sports, the fans are spirited and unwavering, and you don't really appreciate how hard the hits are, how ridiculous the saves are, or how triumphant the goals are until you're in the arena experiencing it in person.
As the only Division I sport representing Minnesota State University, the men's hockey team goes to battle in downtown Mankato's Verizon Wireless Center. And while the Verizon Wireless Center may not be the biggest or the most luxurious arena in college hockey, it's been the proud home of Maverick hockey since its construction in 1995, and has developed its own attitude and charm suited for even the most diehard hockey fans.
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".
The food at Verizon Wireless Arena is about what you would expect at a Division I athletic event, covering the bases with the classics but also adding in one or two more unique items. If you're looking for a more old school concessions experience, it's pretty easy and inexpensive to get your hands on items like hot dogs ($2.75), bratwursts ($3.50), nachos ($3), hamburgers ($3.50), and cheeseburgers ($3.75), but the Verizon Wireless Center also takes advantage of two of its biggest sponsors by making them the center of the arena's food sales: Culver's and Buffalo Wild Wings. Culver's is a great option because, while you have to pay ridiculous prices to get ice cream at other venues, Culver's options are much more reasonably priced and attainable, including items like custard ($2.50), sundaes ($3), and concrete mixers ($4), with a second scoop available for only 50 cents extra. Buffalo Wild Wings is another great option, offering six boneless wings for $5 or a half chicken wrap for $4.
But while the food is pretty much what you would expect, the off-campus Verizon Wireless Center does boast one unique feature that you can't find in every college hockey arena: alcohol sales. Similar to most of the food options, most of the alcohol offered is pretty standard but also pretty reasonably priced, with beverages such as Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch, Busch Light, Coors, and Coors Light selling at $4.50 for 16-ounce cans or 20-ounce taps at the same price. The Verizon Wireless Center's bar also offers a couple of less ordinary options including beers like O'Doul's, Grain Belt, and Oasis, various wines, and various mixed drinks, including "Purple Drink" which is made up of UV Blue, Sprite, and a splash of grenadine.
Hockey in general has an atmosphere unlike any other sport, and the Verizon Wireless Center does its part by not dropping the puck. Men's and women's ice hockey became Minnesota State University's only Division I athletic programs in the 1996-97 season, meaning that the tradition, heritage, and history of the arena is still relatively new. But as a major city in the State of Hockey, fans in and around Mankato understand the game of hockey and take pride in its history, allowing the Verizon Wireless Center to compensate for its lack of historical relevance with well-informed fans. Even though MSU hasn't had a winning season since 2007-08, the overall atmosphere is as confident and proud as ever, and the buzz manages to get a little bit bigger every year.
The Verizon Wireless Center finds itself in a great situation right in the heart of downtown Mankato. In fact, the Verizon Wireless Center shares parking ramps with many of Mankato's most frequented bars, clubs, and restaurants, allowing fans a flawless transition into postgame entertainment.
Civic Center Plaza and South Front Street are the home of Mankato's nightlife and bar scene, presenting fans with a myriad of possibilities. Some of the local favorites include Pub 500 (500 South Front Street), Blue Bricks (424 South Front Street), Buffalo Wild Wings (12 Civic Center Plaza 1715), Rounders (414 South Front Street), the Red Sky Lounge (520 South Front Street), The Underground (12 Civic Center Plaza), Olives (20 Civic Center Plaza), the South Street Saloon (515 South Front Street), Red Rocks Bar & Nightlife (12 Civic Center Plaza), and Mum's the Word (12 Civic Center Plaza) just to name a few.
So whether you're in the mood for the excitement and dancing of Red Rocks, the laid-back atmosphere of Mum's, or anything in between, the neighborhood just outside of the Verizon Wireless Center's walls is overflowing with irresistible possibilities.
Fans of Minnesota State University hockey deserve a lot of credit for remaining loyal and enthusiastic despite the team's recent struggles on the ice. The Mavericks haven't posted a winning season since going 19-16-4, yet MSU fans, known as the Maverick Mob, consistently manage to fill up the student section and bring their A-game. While fans range from casual observers to hockey fanatics, everyone is standing by the end of the game, and it's pretty easy to lose yourself and have fun getting lost in the Mob, if that's what you're looking to do. Minnesota State fans are passionate and very proud of their team, and they manage to have a good time and influence the game even without a lot of Division I hockey tradition to fall back on.
While parking can be one of the biggest dilemmas associated with downtown stadiums, the Verizon Wireless Center is surrounded by parking ramps and lots, offering no shortage of parking spaces for people attending the game. And while most of these lots will charge no more than $5 to park there, fans can go straight from the game to neighboring bars or restaurants without moving their car, meaning that wherever you end up after the game, it's unlikely you'll have to walk more than two or three blocks to get back to your car. Inside of the arena, bathrooms and vendors are strategically placed, easily available, and won't leave fans waiting in lines all night.
The Verizon Wireless Center offers one of the cheapest tickets in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Short of box seats, $18 will get you any seat you want (provided you purchase it early enough), even though there's really not a bad seat in the house. Even when you take parking fees into account, the price of attending a Minnesota State University men's hockey game at the Verizon Wireless Center falls considerably short of the league average, giving fans the same quality hockey and a very similar environment at a much cheaper price. Concessions and souvenirs are reasonably priced, making it easy to bring your friends or family to a game without breaking the bank.
The Minnesota State University men's and women's hockey teams deserve a point just for fighting their way through conference realignment without folding or calling it quits. Over the summer of 2011, two-thirds of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's members announced their intentions to leave the WCHA and play in either the newly formed Big Ten Conference or the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013, leaving the Mavericks in a potentially disastrous situation on the outside looking in. As bad as it could've been, the WCHA invited and eventually was successful in adding the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bowling Green State University, Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University, and Northern Michigan University to the conference, allowing Minnesota State to remain in the WCHA and college hockey to remain in the Verizon Wireless Center.
Yes, I'm a little biased, but Mankato is a great town full of supportive and genuine people. The arena staff is cooperative and cheerful, the fans are accepting and enthusiastic, and the people you share the experience with just make it all the more enjoyable.
Minnesota State University has produced plenty of legitimate hockey talent over the years, including Travis Morin, Grant Stevenson, Jon Kalinski, Tim Jackman, Steve Wagner, Ryan Carter (the first Maverick to win the Stanley Cup), and St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, with banners honoring these players hanging above the ice in the Verizon Wireless Center.
While universities like Minnesota and North Dakota offer gigantic, high-priced arenas that have been rooted in history, Minnesota State's Verizon Wireless Center can offer the same quality of hockey, a good atmosphere, and access to a very underrated city for a much cheaper price. Whether you're new to the game or are a hockey diehard, the Verizon Wireless Center is a respectable palace within the State of Hockey, a worthy home to Minnesota State University men's hockey, and an overall great place to experience a game.
Member Review by bigbean on Nov 06, 2012
Very nice place to see and enjoy a game for the price of the tickets.
424 S Front St
Mankato, MN 56001
414 S Front St
Mankato, MN 56001
520 S Front St
Mankato, MN 56001
20 Civic Center Plaza
Mankato, MN 56001
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20 Civic Center Plaza
Mankato, MN 56001