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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Kootenay Ice arrived in Cranbrook, B.C. in 1998 after two years in Edmonton. They have subsequently become one of the most consistent and successful franchises in the Western Hockey League, having never missed the playoffs and making it to the Memorial Cup three times, including a win in the national junior finals in 2002.
In their relatively brief history, the Ice have produced a number of players who have made the jump to the NHL, including Nigel Dawes, Mike Comrie, Jarret Stoll and Mike Green, making this one of the teams to watch year after year.
The Ice have been playing in Western Financial Place since 2000. Formerly known as the Cranbrook Recreational Complex, or Rec Plex, Western Financial Place is a multi-purpose facility housing the hockey rink where the Ice play. The Western Financial Place also contains a public swimming pool, a racquetball court and an in-house restaurant called Coyote Jack’s.
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 regular concessions within the arena are pretty standard fare. Popcorn ($3.75 for a small), potato chips ($1.75), pop ($3.00 for a small) and coffee ($2.75 for a small) are all featured on the menus of the four stands in the corners of the concourse. You'll also find Molson Canadian on tap ($6.00) and a small selection of canned beer and coolers ($6.50-$6.75, depending on what you order).
Outside of the arena proper in the building's lobby, you'll also find two more concession stands. The first is Coyote Jack's Express, with a paired-down menu from the Coyote Jack's restaurant menu. Here you'll find a selection of burgers ($3.99 for CJ's Classic Burger), chicken ($5.75 for CJ's Chicken Strips), as well as fries ($2.75) and poutine ($4.75).
The other concession is Shivers, which features a variety of ice cream and smoothie choices. A regular cone is $2.75 and a smoothie is $4.50.
Your final option is upstairs in Coyote Jack's Bar & Grill. With a fully appointed menu and a comfortable sports lounge atmosphere, it's a great place to stop by before or after the game. You can also buy a spot at the windows in the lounge overlooking the rink and watch the game from there, providing you with an excellent view of the action.
The Ice drew 2,500 fans per game during the 2013/14 season, a relatively small crowd for a WHL team, and all the more so when you consider the historical success Kootenay has enjoyed. Add in the fact that Western Financial Place seats more than 4,200 and it seems pretty empty in there.
Still, drawing 2,500 fans to a game in a town of only 19,000 people has to be considered a fairly impressive feat.
As with most of the WHL rinks I've been to, the stands remain relatively quiet for much of the game, with pockets of loud-and-proud fans here and there and all the appropriate reactions to both good and bad results on the ice. That means the people there are definitely engaged and knowledgeable, which makes it nice to be in amongst them.
Western Financial Place, being the community's rec plex, has a real community feel to it, a feeling that is emphasized by walls lined with Cranbrook sports-related photos showing the rich history of the town. The place is also clean and tidy, making it quite comfortable overall.
Western Financial Place is situated in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, so there isn't much around it, aside from housing. The good news is that, in a city of 19,000, everything is pretty close by. The downtown is only a couple blocks to the west on 2 St. N and a couple blocks further along from there brings you to the Crowsnest Highway (also known as Cranbrook St. or Van Horne St., depending on where you are) which is the primary run of commercial stores and services in town. Heading north from Western Financial Place will likewise bring you to the Crowsnest Highway on the north end of town.
Downtown is a pretty quiet place in the evening, but there is the odd bar or restaurant open for business. Along the Crowsnest Highway you'll find just about every restaurant chain in Canada as well as a handful of local establishments.
We tried the Cancun Mexican International Restaurant (303 Cranbrook St. N.) for supper and it was quite good. The Cancun is situated a block off the highway on the outskirts of the downtown core, and is about a five-minute drive from the arena.
One other helpful tip for those who don't know: Western Financial Place shares a parking lot with the Cranbrook Curling Club. Curling clubs always have a lounge and are generally very welcoming of anyone just walking in off the street, unless there's a tournament going on or the lounge has been rented for some other special event. If it's just a typical evening at the club, head upstairs and you'll find yourself a nice little setup with lots of room to hang out and get your drink on.
The crowds seem a little small relative to the size of the venue, but they're clearly dedicated and know what's going on.
Personally, I prefer my crowds to be a little more demonstrative when it comes to showing their enthusiasm, but this crowd seems fairly subdued for the most part. Again, this seems to be fairly typical of junior hockey crowds around western Canada.
When all is said and done, though, the fans here seem friendly, pleasant and dialed into the event.
The parking lot at Western Financial Place appears to be more than adequate for the number of vehicles coming to the game and the $2.00 parking price is relatively nominal, so this is probably your best bet. With the arena situated fairly centrally in Cranbrook, you're never more than a few minutes drive away.
There is also a bus stop right alongside the facility, so that is also an easy option.
Once inside, the main lobby of the complex is quite roomy and the main concourse also has plenty of space for the crowds. The west concourse is a little on the tight side, with the row of luxury boxes reducing the width of the hallway.
Getting out of the parking lot after the game took less than 10 minutes, so the lot and surrounding roadways are well set up to move traffic out and on its way.
Seats for Kootenay Ice games are $22 each at the door, a bargain compared to most every professional sport out there. That cost can get you virtually any seat in the house that isn't owned by a season-ticket holder and they're all nice and cozy to the ice surface, so there isn't a bad seat in the place. Or you can grab a spot along the concourse rail where many people choose to watch from the standing room locations.
As an added bonus, the mountain scenery around Cranbrook is nothing short of gorgeous so the trip alone provides extra value.
Great views plus great team plus great atmosphere equals great value. Pretty simple equation there.
The walls of Western Financial Place are lined with pictures from Cranbrook's rich sports history. There are also pictures, biographies, and jerseys of the several Cranbrook natives who made it to professional hockey, including Frank and Danny Spring as well as Rob and Scott Niedermayer.
Over the north goal line is the long string of championship banners that the Ice have earned in their short team history giving the arena an extra sense of history and serving as a constant reminder of the level of excellence that this team has consistently delivered to its fans.
Team mascot Shivers, an abominable snowman, roams the stands and concourse during the game, entertaining the kids in the crowd and helps with the various giveaways and contests that happen during the game.
One thing I was surprised and disappointed by was the lack of a team store on the premises. Apparently there used to be one, but team merchandising has now moved a few blocks away towards downtown to 1st Impressions, a store located at 11a - 14th Avenue S. So if you're like me and like to get yourself a souvenir of any new venue you've visited, you'll find yourself out of luck. That's a surprising mistake in marketing, in my opinion.
British Columbia has a reputation for being a very green-conscious province, but there didn't seem to be any recycling bins in Western Financial Place. There is the possibility that all their refuse is sorted and handled off site, but there aren't any signs indicating that that might be happening either. I found that a little disappointing as well.
The Kootenay Ice are a very successful hockey team playing in a town with a rich hockey history. That makes for a game-watching experience that brings a lot of high expectations and value to it and Western Financial Place makes the whole experience well worth it.
Member Review by profan9 on Mar 18, 2016
This franchise has seen some tough times lately. They are looking for local ownership and it shows. Cranbrook is an extremely small market, but a WHL can be a magnet for the whole community. Some investment in the team is needed. They do not yet have advance ticket sales online and need some arena upgrades specifically some sort of videoboard. A bigger crowd would make the experience better. Nice little city at the foot of the mountains though.
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