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Official Review by Eric Taylor, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Huntsville, Alabama is home of the Space and Rocket Center as well as the University of Alabama-Huntsville. UAH is chock full of rocket science majors looking to make their mark in the world of science and discovery. Those who aren’t majoring in rocket science in Huntsville are more than likely already rocket scientists.
The Von Braun Center is a multi-purpose facility in all facets of the term. There’s more than just Probst Arena -- the main 6,000-seat arena where the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers play hockey. Mark C. Smith Concert Hall, a continental style venue that seats 1,955, is a performance hall that is great for Broadway, ballet, symphonies and concerts. South Hall and East Hall are great for conventions and trade shows. North Hall is an elegant facility to host formal food functions and dinners. There’s also a small proscenium hall named the Playhouse. It seats from 303 to 502 depending on the event. As an intimate in-the-round facility, the Playhouse is great for lectures, conferences, and a plethora of performance groups. All of these facilities are arranged in one small section of Huntsville and within walking distance of the other.
Although the Chargers have seen their fair share of struggles over the past five years, there have been better times inside the VBC for the Chargers as evidenced by the banners hanging prominently in the corner of the arena proclaiming the 1996 and 1998 NCAA Division II Championship.
Whether winning or losing, the Chargers are a great program to get to behind and the VBC is a wonderful venue to put on your list of hockey arenas to visit.
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".
For many of you reading this, you'll be glad to know Von Braun Center sells beer and other alcoholic beverages. Yes, even for this college athletic event.
Bud Light Café is a great sit-down bar and grill with an open setting. The Bud Light Café sign hanging on the bar hits you like a sunrise from outside the VBC as you make your way up the stairs to the multi-glass door entrance. There are plenty of good options on the Café menu for a decent pregame dinner, but you can always chew on the concessions staples hot dogs and nachos as well. Honestly, when are nachos really ever a bad idea? Hard to imagine, am I right? Exactly. Nachos go with everything. Mmmmm. Nachos.
Speaking of nachos, you can get those as well. They have regular nachos AND loaded. You heard me right. Loaded nachos. You can pay $6 for regular "Ballpark Nachos" or $7.50 for "Loaded Nachos," but isn't that a small price to pay to experience the soul-healing flavor of a loaded nacho? Of course it is.
If you want something besides nachos -- and I really don't understand why you would -- you can try the vast variety of foods available throughout the beautiful concourse. The basic concession stand, the one with the nachos, also offers cheese fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, a chicken basket and chicken wings. Take a few more steps and you'll see a Domino's Pizza, a McAlisters, and a peanut cart with writing on it that reads, "Watch us make them" along with a red label that warns, "Product could be habit forming." Seems like you're taking a chance with those peanuts, but based on the product labels on every food product in the free world warning us that it could contain peanuts I think you'll be safe. Unless, of course, you're allergic to peanuts. In that event, you would want to stay at least 100 feet from this peanut cart.
In all seriousness, the food selection is top notch and you will be hard-pressed to not find someone in your party that can't find at least one thing they will enjoy.
Von Braun Center underwent a $15 million overhaul in 2011 and it is an absolute gem of a facility. The crowd is relatively good for a weekend game, but the Chargers 1-30-1 record more than likely has a lot to do with that.
Once you walk inside one of the numerous glass doors to the main atrium you are greeted by Von Braun Center employees and student volunteers. Pick up a game program and continue straight away to walk up a set of steps to peruse UA-Huntsville hockey souvenirs. A few additional paces and on your right are hockey jerseys represented by each team in the NHL. Many of the items sold are to raise money for the UAH hockey program and other various causes.
You can see the ice straight ahead as you look around at the items for sale, so its tempting to skip the concourse and head to the arena to look for your seat, but don't. Take a left and talk to a kid named Will who's selling t-shirts sporting various NHL team logos and UAH Chargers.
The game presentation, with the $1 million sound system and video boards at either end zone, shares a slight resemblance to the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor of the Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena. The Predators franchise is a short 2.5-hour drive up Interstate 65 so there's no reason the Chargers should run from partnering with a franchise that is NHL league-wide renowned for its presentation and in-game fan support.
In the first intermission little hockey playing kids come out and skate, shoot, and fall. Shoot, skate, and fall. Rinse. Repeat... And it is FABULOUS. I can't say it enough. The game presentation is top notch.
The zamboni is as mesmerizing in Huntsville, Alabama as it is in Detroit, Toronto or Montreal. The driver looks about 15 years old, but I won't tell the State of Alabama's Department of Labor if you don't.
Alabama's unofficial (or official) state anthem, Sweet Home Alabama, plays as the Chargers make their way on ice to go through warm-up skates for pregame and following each intermission. The obligatory "Wooooooo" from those in attendance can ALWAYS be heard before the lick of the sixth note of one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in music history. It really is required that you do this EVERY time the song plays in the state of Alabama no matter your location or situation. At your dear beloved great aunt's funeral and someone who forgot to turn off the ringer of their phone gets a call and the ringtone is the opening of Sweet Home Alabama? You "Wooooo" or you are booed. No excuses. Don't like it? Move to Tennessee, Georgia, or -- gasp -- stay in state and move to Auburn. Otherwise, you woo. And you like it.
Some of the more creative seating is set up behind the glass around nearly the entire rink other than team bench and penalty boxes. There are tiny tables big enough to hold drinks as well as chairs that pull up to the table. Regular bar-style tables and chairs are also set up in this area behind these seats on the glass. This section appears to be an extension of the Bud Light Café. Servers dressed in referee outfits from the restaurant come down and deliver concessions.
During a timeout, you can expect Chargers cheerleaders to lead the fans in the one and only chicken dance. The best chicken dancer wins free chicken biscuits from Bojangles. No, it's not free nachos, but winning chicken biscuits at a college hockey game seems too good to be true. Mmmmmm. Chicken biscuits.
Chuck The Puck is a fun game where fans can "chuck a puck" -- foam, of course -- toward a bull's eye that sits at center ice. The fans have their names written on the puck and the puck that gets inside or the closest to the bull's eye wins. I'd like to see more games like this, but I can see it going horribly wrong when a few dorks decide to start tossing their foam puck at unsuspecting fans just trying to sit in their seats and enjoy the game over a glorious order of nachos.
Huntsville is one of those sneaky-fun cities and the fact that the VBC's neighborhood sits inside the downtown area with a very convenient and comfortable Embassy Suites within walking distance.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can fly to the moon. The entire city is made up of engineers and rocket scientists. A literal, bona fide, actual rocket scientist. So, yes, it is rocket science when trying to get around Huntsville. HEY OH!
Seriously, though. Have I mentioned that everyone is a rocket scientist? I have? Well... they are.
Alabama-Huntsville hockey has some of the most entertaining fans as well as a great pep band set inside a beautiful venue like the Von Braun Center. The crowds tend to be relatively small though. Some say quantity over quantity. In this category, however, you must have both.
This venue has HUGE concourses, easy access to all seating and restrooms and concessions can be found with no problems. This place is a very posh and convenient facility. The recent $15 million renovation is not hidden in correcting codes or just replacing seats. The folks of Huntsville put together a facility with ample bells and whistles. It's also small enough not to compromise your view to the ice. You can sit in the highest seat in the house and see everything perfectly. If you are a fan of the game, the ability to see the game develop in front of you increases as the location of your row rises. VBC has the sophistication of a huge venue without overwhelming you or leaving you with fear of seeing players no bigger than ants when you buy tickets.
The expansive concourse provides great space for you to walk comfortably without bumping into slow or misguided fans who always seem to be walking the wrong way and/or paying absolutely zero attention.
The difficulty level of getting to the VBC is less than zero . The venue is very easy to find with any navigation system on your car or phone or the ability to search directions online. A little research prior to your departure will leave you plenty prepared for arrival, parking, and access.
You can sit anywhere in lower bowl for $15.30 -- $17.50. That will even get you an awesome seat on the glass with the small tables and bar table chairs.
You can sit in General Admission (300 level) for $9.45 -- $11.50. There's not a bad seat inside the VBC so don't feel bad if the only tickets you can spring for are the general admission seats. You'll have a great time no matter what section number is printed on your ticket.
Tickets can be purchased at the VBC box office or at Ticketmaster.com.
College hockey and Huntsville combine to create a great setting for a day trip or weekend getaway so get out your calendar and start planning away.
Member Review by Grinman on Apr 04, 2017
Our chorus had an event there and had a bad experience. Not only was our trailer stolen, but my vehicle was also vandalized. When I contacted Ron Grimes, the facility manager, he thought it a good idea to question my integrity. We paid $10 to park, and they provided no security or even cameras. Attend events here at your own risk!
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800 Monroe St SW
Huntsville, AL 35801