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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Full disclosure: Skate Zone Voorhees is where, from 2000 until 2003, your reviewer worked his first job as teenager. Perhaps then, it’s appropriate that we returned to review the rink’s performance as a home for high-ish level teenage hockey players in the USPHL. We were happy to see that it was almost exactly as we remembered it.
But first, some history. From their inception until the late 1990s, the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers trained at the Coliseum, an ice rink and small entertainment complex in Philly’s New Jersey suburbs. By the turn of the millennium, the Coliseum was woefully outdated. The Flyers’ ownership seized on this void to open its own chain of rinks, dubbed “Flyers Skate Zone.” As of late 2014, there are four “Skate Zone” branded rinks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
While the Pennsauken, NJ, location provides the best experience for the average spectator, the Voorhees, NJ, location currently serves as the Flyers practice rink and thus as the chain’s flagship location. Dubbed “Virtua Flyers Skate Zone” due to sponsorship from a local health system, the Voorhees location is located just two miles (3.2 km) from the Coliseum. Its association with the NHL’s Flyers has allowed it to draw some semi-noteworthy events, including a few sporadic AHL and ECHL pre-season games and the semi-annual NHL rookie camp scrimmage between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals.
For most people, Skate Zone is simply a community rink. With two ice surfaces and a roller rink, the place is rarely quiet. At one point, there was a video arcade here, but that’s gone. It’s a fine place to have a child’s birthday party or go skating. High school and rec-league hockey players say the ice is about average for the area, but nothing special. Hockey fans can watch the NHL Flyers practice, and they should have good luck getting autographs.
The arrival of the USPHL in 2013 has made the Voorhees Skate Zone a slightly more attractive venue for fans who enjoy hockey primarily as a spectator sport. For the highest level of junior-aged amateur hockey available without a long drive, the venue certainly gets the job done, but Skate Zone’s unusual seating arrangement creates unpleasant sight lines. For spectators, the result is a mixed bag that is still worth sampling.
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 get hungry at Skate Zone, you might be pleasantly surprised. Yes, this is just a local rink, but the snack bar is well-equipped. You can get the standard hot dog and soda, or you can opt for a wrap ($6) and cappuccino. If you're travelling and want to try the local flavor, take a look inside the vending machines. Turkey Hill iced teas and Tastykake pastries are both examples of local packaged goods that Philadelphians are rightly proud of ($.75-$1.25).
Alcohol, including beer, is not available here. Signs prohibit outside food and drink. Most fans respect this, but there is little enforcement.
It's cold for spectators. Experienced fans bring blankets to Skate Zone, and it's not hard to see why. Seating in Voorhees is limited to five rows of metal bleachers starting about six feet (2 meters) back from the ice. The proximity to the ice and the metal stands bring the indoor temperatures way down.
Fans aren't afraid to push off the blankets to cheer when the time comes, but they are mostly focused on the game. Focusing on the game takes a little extra effort here, since the seating arrangement is less-than-ideal. All seats are very close to the ice. While the intimacy is a plus, the angles created ensure that no seat has a true overview of the entire ice surface. If you want to see everything, prepare to give your neck the kind of back-and-forth workout it might see at a tennis match, or stake out a standing spot behind the net. The best seats are in the two small balconies overhead, but sadly, these are reserved for league and team officials.
Welcome to suburbia. Voorhees, New Jersey, is a typical middle-class suburb with a few working-class pockets. The town is safe and could be easily mistaken for nearly any American suburb. The immediate area is quiet; Skate Zone's only immediate neighbor is a nursing home. A few restaurants can be reached on foot in about 15 minutes. In the car, you'll have your choice of several strip malls or Voorhees Town Center, an indoor shopping mall.
Fans are a mix of players' friends, family, and a fair number of curious, supportive hockey fans. Philadelphia-area fans are knowledgeable and passionate, but it's fair to say that none are particularly passionate about the Flyers Junior team. Midway through the team's second year of existence, the team receives little-to-no mention in the press. Team gear is not sold in Skate Zone's pro shop. In many ways, the Flyers Junior hockey team presents itself similar to a good high school team.
Skate Zone events don't bring much traffic to the roadways. The large, free parking lot in front of the venue frequently gets crowded, but almost never entirely fills up. The rare exception might be for a weekend NHL Flyers event, but USPHL fans shouldn't have to worry about parking. That's good, considering that essentially everyone arrives here by car. That said, if you're depending on public transportation, you're not entirely out of luck. Skate Zone sits just under two miles from the Lindenwold station on the PATCO High Speedline train and the NJ Transit Atlantic City commuter rail line. Via public transportation, Lindenwold is about 30 minutes from Philadelphia or 50 minutes from Atlantic City. From Lindenwold station, a taxi should cost about $8-$10. Sidewalks line most of the road, making a long walk possible.
Once parked, the venue is easy to move around. All public areas are located at ground level. For the fan with special needs, this makes this venue a dream.
Historically, Skate Zone has taken good care of itself. However, we were very disappointed by the condition of the men's room on our most recent visit. Players were sharing the facilities with the general public, and they could have used serious attention.
Every fan has a "cut-off" level. Some NFL fans like NCAA football; some can't be bothered. Likewise, some NHL fans follow lower levels of the sport. Many Canadians are used to regarding junior hockey (hockey played by players approximately 16-20 year old) as something worth watching. While this mindset has crept over the border into the US over the years, it's still relatively new this far south. The USPHL is, more-or-less, the 4th level of junior hockey in the United States. It's also the highest level of junior hockey Philadelphia-area fans have without driving for several hours. Some might stick their nose up at this level of hockey. Some might ignore it. And some show up and become fans.
While Skate Zone and the USPHL can't hold a candle to the marquee brands of junior hockey in the Canadian Hockey League, they do a good job with the game presentation. Tickets come on professional ticket stock, a Zamboni cuts the ice after each period, and a PA announcer makes all of the announcements you'd expect at a professional game. Fans received rally towels on entry, music played during stoppages, and kids had the opportunity to participate in on-ice contests during intermissions.
Skate Zone staff stopped checking tickets after the 2nd period. If you're curious about the level of USPHL hockey but can't spare the five bucks for a general admission ticket, you might be able to catch the end of the game for free. But we enjoyed what we saw, and found the 5 dollar price tag adequate and worth paying.
Philadelphia's South Jersey suburbs have long associated themselves with the Flyers and their NHL tradition. But South Jersey has its own identity, and occasionally it has its opportunity to broadcast its own hockey traditions on the national stage. 2014 Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau and 2010 Olympian Bobby Ryan both come from this part of New Jersey. In the 1970s, a World Hockey Association team called nearby Cherry Hill home. The 2014 season marks the USPHL's second in South Jersey, and while the crowds are small, they are supportive. For the 2014 season, the Flyers Junior Hockey team boasts two players who have committed to NCAA Division I programs. The ability to see this level of hockey in a pleasant setting is well worth a visit for the hockey fan in the area.
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121 Laurel Oak Rd
Voorhees Township, NJ 08043
1000 Laurel Oak Rd
Voorhees Township, NJ 08043