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.
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 are plenty of points of sale and interesting options when it comes to food at Wings Stadium. For me, the obvious choice is to get some wings. There are plenty of sauces available including BBQ, Tangy BBQ, Medium, Hot Buffalo, and Sweet Chili. I like to get the boneless wings just to make life easier, and the portion is plentiful with 10 or 12 pieces ($6).
I'm also a big fan of BBQ and pulled meat of any kind, and I can recommend the Austin Blues BBQ concession. Here you'll find pulled pork sandwich ($6), smoked brisket sandwich ($7), or you can splurge for the mixed grill which includes pulled pork, brisket, a brat, and some slaw ($10).
If you are hungry for Mexican food, then try the Caramba Cantina, which serves burritos, loaded nachos, and taco salad ($6 each).
There is much, much more on hand, and too much to list out here, but all the basic are available. Pepsi products are available to drink with some stands offering 20-ounce bottles ($3), and other stands offering fountain drinks ($2.50-$3.25).
There are several beer vendors, and there were even jello shots available on the night of my visit ($1). There is a good variety of macros like Budweiser and Miller Lite. But Kalamazoo is a great craft beer town, so you can also find Arcadia Ale on draft ($7 for 24 ounces).
The Underground Sports Bar can be found between sections 2 and 3 and can either be accessed at ice level from the seating sections or from the concourse by heading down the stairs. The bar is a hot spot during intermissions and pre-game, and closes with 10 minutes to go in the third period. It's a shame that they can't keep this place open after games as a hockey fan hangout. But if you have a chance to stop in either during the game or before the game, then this is a good little spot to talk some hockey.
So back to that scoreboard for a moment. It is big, but I was surprised to find that it was not a distraction to me, and overall helps the gameday presentation. Moreover, a minor league team that invests $2 Million in improvements is to be commended. This is not done lightly, and my hope is that the residents of Kalamazoo understand that the team is invested in this community.
Additionally, there are a plethora of HD monitors throughout the concourse to keep fans up on the game when they go for a snack at the concession stand.
The seating section is made up of 18 rows of chairback seating with slightly above average legroom and no cupholders. I always wish that arenas would install cupholders, as it allows fans to cheer and clap more readily, and also makes it easier to clean up as there are fewer pops and beers kicked over during the course of a game. There are an equal number of rows decked out with brown seats, followed by red seats, and finally orange seats as the top six rows.
Slappy, the team's Kingfisher mascot, does a good job of being a part of the experience both on the ice and in the stands.
Best of all, the Wings staff do a good job of keeping fans entertained during breaks in the action and intermission, as well as with their theme nights. I've been here on Star Wars night and it is a lot of fun. Also, for more than 30 years the team has played a game on St. Patrick's Day where the ice is dyed green, and it has become quite the community tradition. In recent years the team has also added an orange ice game (on or near Halloween) and a pink ice game (on or near Valentine's Day).
When I think of Kalamazoo, I think of Bell's Brewing Company. It is one of the best known microbreweries in a microbrew-rich state, if not nationally. When I'm in Kalamazoo, I like to make a trip to the Bell's Eccentric Café, where they have many of the brewery's offerings on tap, as well as delicious food.
Closer to the arena, you can stop in at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, or you can just arrive to the arena early for the good selection of food and beverage.
If you plan to be in town for the night, then I would recommend staying at the Holiday Inn Express on Cork Street. If you plan your trip right, you may be able to find a weekend where both the K-Wings and Western Michigan Broncos are home. If so, be sure to go visit Lawson Ice Arena on the campus of Western Michigan.
The goal of the improvements that the K-Wings made was to improve the overall fan experience, and thus the attendance for games. Unfortunately the difference between pre-scoreboard and post-scoreboard has only been about 100 fans per game on average. That's not going to do it unfortunately, as the goal of the renovations was to improve attendance by 500 fans per game in the first year. Attendance figures for 2012-2013 are still about 1,400 below the ECHL league average.
Fans who are at the games are engaged in the action on the ice, and there is a significant difference between weeknight games, which are less attended, and weekend games, which can draw near-capacity crowds. The fans of the K-Wings need to invest in their team, like their team has invested in them.
Wings Stadium is located less than a mile off of I-94, the major east/west thoroughfare of southern Michigan, and can be spotted from the highway. Parking will cost you $5, and although the lot could use a resurfacing, it is paved. In the past I have attended games and the parking has been free. I'm not sure if this is a barrier for fans, but I know free parking is always an incentive for me to go to a game. That said, $5 is not outrageous and is in line with many other venues in the ECHL.
Once inside the arena, you may feel a little cramped by the smaller concourse, especially on full nights during intermission. This can either add to the intimacy of the venue, or make you feel claustrophobic. If you don't want to deal with the crowds, then you may want to sneak out of your seat a couple of minutes before intermission to visit the concessions or restroom.
There are two ticket options for K-Wings games. Red seats make up the seating along both sides of the ice and also along the boards behind each goal. White seats are the end seats. Personally, it is a small enough arena that I would opt for the less expensive seats, and you'll still have a great view. If it is a slow night, then you may be able to make your way into the seat of your choice during the game.
Adult tickets are $2 cheaper if purchased in advance, so it is a good idea to get your tickets ahead of time. Seniors will always pay $12 per ticket, regardless of the section, and children (aged 2-14) are just $7. Kids under 2 get in free.
Premium games (games that coincide with their colored ice games) are $1 more expensive. Purchased in advance, adult tickets will range in price from $13-$17.50. It's a relatively good deal. When you add in the cost of parking ($5), and the cost of some wings and a beer ($13), then you're looking at about $31-$35 for one person for a night out.
The team also offers family four-pack deals, and scenarios throughout the year where there are discounts available, including mini-season plans. Again, consult with the Kalamazoo Wings official website, but make sure to buy in advance.
One extra point for the massive scoreboard. Some people will disagree and argue that the scoreboard is obnoxious. I would disagree, and more importantly I appreciate the efforts of a minor league team in a fairly small city like Kalamazoo to put forth that kind of investment in the fan experience.
Another extra point for the promotions department. Many minor league teams look to have zany theme nights and games during each contest, and the team with the Wings really puts out some great promotions.
Minor league hockey is a lot of fun. These players are really battling for their livelihood when they are in the ECHL, so you are sure to see some intensity on the ice game in and game out. If you're in the Kalamazoo area for business, or if you live in the general vicinity, then a trip to Wings Stadium will be worth your time and money.
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.
355 E Kalamazoo Ave
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
5626 Portage Road
Portage, MI 49002
3630 E Cork St
Kalamazoo, MI 49001