The Kalamazoo Wings have been a mainstay in minor league hockey since its founding in 1974. Even though the current incarnation of the team began in 2000, there has always been K-Wings hockey at the Wings Event Center (formerly Wings Stadium), first in the International Hockey League, then United Hockey League, and now ECHL.
The orginal club operated in the IHL from 1974-2000 capturing back-to-back Turner Cups in 1979 and 1980. The K-Wings played in front of packed houses routinely fostering nearby rivalries from Toledo, Ft. Wayne, Saginaw, and Muskegon. However, the team would cease operations in 2000, but would be replaced with a new team in the UHL the following season.
The Wings Event Center is a 5,113 hockey arena featuring its original burnt orange, burgundy, and brown seats, a low ceiling, and a narrow main concourse housing four concession stands, and three bars (one at ice level). The arena has the look, smell, and definitely the character of an old hockey barn.
The most impressive feature of the entire arena is the 2,300 square foot video scoreboard that was part of a $2 million improvement to the facility in 2012 to add high-tech capacity to the venue.
The K-Wings are also innovators, being the first to paint the ice green for St.Patrick's Day in 1982. Since then, the team has painted the ice orange for Halloween, and pink for both Valentine’s Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
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".
There is quite a bit of food and drink for an arena that is over 40 years old. It is suggested to look out for special deals, since there seems to be quite a few deals at each home game.
There are four main concession areas offering hot dogs, chicken tender baskets, brats, nachos, and burritos. There are also specialty items including grilled mushroom swiss burgers and spicy bacon burgers with ghost pepper. If you are looking for pizza, Hungry Howie's has you covered.
Kalamazoo is home to local breweries Bells and Arcadia, along with a slew of other breweries; it is not surprising that you would find a cornucopia of craft beer selections at the arena. The Craft Beer Depot features 50 bottled varieties that are only $4.50. The beer prices range from domestic/craft: canned $7/$8.50, 16-ounce $5.75/$6.75, and 24-ounce $6.75/$7.75. If you are not drinking, Pepsi products are available.
Wings Event Center is a classic hockey barn that is a throwback of sorts in the world of minor league hockey. The arena features 18 rows of seats that encompass the ice rink and one main exterior concourse that houses concessions, ticket offices, merchandise booths, and bathrooms. The main merchandise stand is across from the main ticket offices in the front lobby.
There are several championship banners hanging up on the wall at one end of the arena and the giant scoreboard features everything from replays, advertisements, and social media activities.
There is plenty going on at the arena throughout the night. The Wings mascot Slappy skates around the ice and can also be found in the concourse and seating areas. There is also a lot of intermission activities that include fan participation in trike racing and bubble soccer. After the game, kids are allowed on the ice for a few moments with their parents.
Wings Event Center is located off of I-94 and is visible from the interstate. The area is very suburban, but downtown is a quick 10 minute drive where one can find great places to eat and drink.
Arcadia Brewing Company and Bell's Eccentric Cafe are two required destinations for the beer connoisseur, choose from varieties not normally found in your liquor store and a full service menu. A very fun and interactive spot for beer is the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange where prices are monitored like a stock exchange, when the market crashes, so do the prices.
Michigan is known for its coney dogs and Coney Island was rated number 6 on a recent local poll. The long established restaurant has been serving coneys since 1915 and its thick, crumbled chili and chopped vidalia onions are among the best tasted in the state.
A fantastic nearby brewery is One Well Brewing and is just a mile down the road featuring great beer and food. You can also take the kids to play in the children's area or at the pinball machines. For the adults, try the Xalapa Jalapeno Blonde Ale, the Sweet Water Street Coffee & Donut Porter, or the Root Beer Float Milk Stout.
The biggest crowd of the year is the Green Ice Game on St. Patrick's Day. The sold-out crowd features waving flags, blowing horns, and plenty of cheering for goals. There is also the goal chant to the tune of "Mony Mony" where the crowd shouts "Hey, guess what? Your goalie sucks!" There are some great Wing fans and attendance has been slightly up this year, but management needs to see more of them at the arena.
The arena is located off of I-94 and there is plenty of signage to direct travelers to the parking lot surrounding the venue. The arena signage is also visible from the interstate. Once inside, there is one main concourse with entrances that lead into the seating area, but be sure you know what section you are sitting in since the inner concourse doesn't wrap around to all seats.
For high capacity games the wait times might exceed the time needed and you may miss some action from the game. The Wings have employed several TV screens allowing fans in line the chance to watch the game. Bathrooms are clearly designated inside the building.
Tickets for games sell in the price point of $10, $13, $16, and $20-one of the best bargains in minor league hockey. Parking is a $5 fee and a fairly new practice, but on par with many other ECHL venues. The prices inside are reasonable including $6 glasses of wine, $5.75 16-ounce beers, $3 boxes of popcorn, and $8 chicken tender baskets.
If you are looking to get your dollars worth check out a Wednesday night game featuring $9 tickets, $6 food baskets, and $2 beers. There is also Pop Up Friday games that offer hot deals on concession items or a special experience for fans; details are revealed on Facebook before the game. The St. Patrick's Day Game is probably the highest attended game of the season featuring $2 green beer drafts and $2 craft beer bottles.
When factoring in ticket prices, parking, and concession prices, an evening at a Wings game is one of the best bargains in minor league hockey.
One star for the selection at the Craft Beer Depot; they have well over 50 bottle varieties to choose from and at $4.50 for most varieties, it's a bargain.
The second star for the Zamboni Bar, a nice little place to hang out with friends at the game.
The third star for the 28 concourse monitors that allow fans to watch the action from the ice while they wait in line for food and drink. The 48-inch plasma TVs make sure that no one misses the action on the ice.
One final star for the up close views of the ice, the place has the feel of a classic junior hockey barn somewhere in Ontario or Quebec; fortunately, you don't need to cross the border to enjoy old-time hockey.
Watching a K-Wings game is sort of stepping back in time when minor league hockey arenas were small, smoky, crowded, and definitely full of character. The fans in attendance were there for the game and maybe a few fights on the ice. Many of these type of venues have been replaced with modern entertainment vessels that feature everything from suites, catering service, multi-levels, and open view bars of the game. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes it's nice to know a place like the Wings Events Center still exists in the hockey world.
The word Kalamazoo derives from an Algonquian phrase meaning "boiling water." While that may be true (and there seems to be some debate over the correct meaning), it's also a place to find some action on frozen water. Yes, professional hockey is played in Kalamazoo, by the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings (known familiarly as the K-Wings).
Originally affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings, then the New York Islanders, their affiliation moved to the Vancouver Canucks, the New Jersey Devils, and the Albany Devils (AHL) beginning the 2011-2012 season. With two Turner Cups (IHL) and one Colonial Cup (UHL), the team has three championships in its history.
In the parking lot, the first thing I heard over the loud speaker after exiting my car was, "Come for the party, stay for the game." That seems to be the marketing plan here. They offer plenty to do for families, or for the group that just wants to belly up to the bar before, during, or after.
The food is OK, but it is a bit pricey for what is. I think $4 for a hotdog now, which I wouldn't feed to a dog. The lines tend to be a bit long since only on rare occasions is every stand open. Their is a sports bar in the Upper Annex, through the doors outside section 16, that is much better for about the same price. The atmosphere is OK usually, but not great. With under 3000 a game it is pretty quiet usually. The DJ sucks, plays all the wrong music at the wrong time. The fans themselves are good, but not very loud. Pretty embarrassing when at the start of a game the road fans, all 200 or less, can be louder than the home fans. I have never been to an arena that is easier to get to, get off the highway and you can't miss it. The prices continue to go up, their now is a $5 parking charge which isn't bad except that it has killed our attendance. That along with $2 ticket increase, that's $7 before you walk in never mind food and other junk. Watch how low you sit and where if you want a decent view of the whole ice, go center ice about 13rows up for the best view. The extras aren't much, I get sick of the mascot in the stands when they yell at people to stay in their seats while the puck is in play. We can react better than some over sized toxic, for those who don't know Kzoo river is toxic hint the nickname, bird.
I have so many memories of the K-Wings games from when I was very young, and I'm not sure how things are now at Wings Stadium. Back in the late 70's in the old IHL, the atmosphere was great as well as the local rivalries. I remember many fights in the stands and cleared benches on the ice, especially when playing Fort Wayne. I was also in attendance when they beat the mighty Russian team and won one of there Turner Cup championships. I need to go back to this stadium soon, and bring my kids so they can see where I grew my love for hockey.
They put a new video board in that spans the whole neutral zone, way too big for the stadium. The food has gone up and Burdicks no longer serves food in the stadium. The history that was on the walls and in the lobby is no longer there. The history will not go back up. This drops my previous rating a lot.
A new video scoreboard has been added that stretches blueline to blueline and is the biggest in southwest Michigan. It is too big for the arena, it is a distraction from the ice at times. The carpet is gone which was long overdue, but so too is the history of past teams on the walls and the ECHL team banners in the lobby which sucks (its part of part2 I hear). They have some new food options, but don't plan on spending less than $10 a person for a meal. The sports bar is now solely a bar, the kitchen is gone so overpriced stadium concessions are your only choices now. I recommend fast food on the way if you have too, it is better and cheaper than the nasty stadium junk.
The announcer is one who was here before a few years back, he is awful. He does not help the energy of the crowd, which is so so at best. If you want to see good hockey with a great crowd for a little more money go across town and watch the Broncos.
At the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL (commonly known as the K-Wings) installed a gigantic scoreboard with a video screen that stretches from blue line to blue line. This has become the centerpiece, if you will, of the minor league hockey world, and Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy called the new scoreboard “ostentatious.”
Here’s the thing: While I did find myself peering toward the center edifice during breaks in the action, during the game itself the enormous video screen did not distract me from the purpose of my visit, which was to watch a hockey game.
There’s no doubt that you will notice this Houston Rockets-sized scoreboard, but there is so much more to notice when you attend a game at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Outstanding food, friendly staff, creative promotions, and solid minor league hockey await you when you go to a K-Wings game.
The team has yet to win an ECHL championship, but has had successful seasons including Division and Conference Championships. Their lone league title came as members of the UHL when they took home the hardware known as the Colonial Cup in 2006.
The K-Wings are currently affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL and Chicago Wolves of the AHL. While the Canucks are obviously not the perfect geographic fit, the proximity to Chicago (about 150 miles) allows for easy call ups to the AHL level.
The state of Michigan has many tremendous hockey venues ranging from junior NAHL to collegiate to NHL caliber teams, and one would be remiss if they missed out on what Kalamazoo and Wings Stadium have to offer fans of the sport of hockey.
Love going to the games. Pretty fun
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