The XL Center, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, is located in downtown Hartford and serves as home to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League, the University of Connecticut’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, and starting in 2014, the UConn hockey team. In preparation for the 2014-2015 season the XL Center underwent $35 million in improvements to the mechanical system, locker rooms, and concourse. A new high definition video board was installed, as well as aesthetic improvements such as a new bar area and luxury seating in the lower bowl. A portion of this funding will go towards a study to determine the facility’s long-term viability and whether it should be replaced with a new building.
The franchise that eventually became the Hartford Wolf Pack began its existence as the Providence Reds, one of the charter members of the Canadian-American Hockey League. The Reds played in Providence until the 1976 season, when they moved to Binghamton, New York, where they played as the Dusters, Whalers, and Rangers. After the Hartford Whalers moved out of Hartford to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the franchise moved into the downtown XL Center, where they have played since 1997. In their various incarnations, the Wolf Pack is the oldest continuously operating minor league hockey team in North America. Only the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins have been in existence longer.
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 concessions at the XL Center have never been the main selling point of the Hartford game day experience, and the recent renovations have attempted to upgrade the culinary experience here. Many concession stands line the outer rim of the concourse, and each offer unique menu items. Depending on your appetite, you can visit Chicken Fry Fry (featuring, you guessed it, chicken tenders and fries), Fresh Classics (sausage and pepper sandwiches and nachos), Grill Masters (burgers), or hot dog nation (yep, hot dogs). A variety of snacks and beverages are available at all stands.
Thirsty fans looking for beverages will be pleased to know that there are stands specifically dedicated to the sale of adult beverages, including beer, wine, and mixed drinks. In addition, beer is sold at every large concession stand as well as a couple of portable carts located on the concourse. Draft beers are priced at $9, and there is a good selection of brands, including Sam Adams, Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Yeungling, and Blue Moon. For fans looking for non-alcoholic choices, Pepsi products are featured at the XL Center.
If you are taking in a Wolf Pack game with the children, a stop at one of the Carvel Ice Cream stands will likely be in your future. Another alternative is the cotton candy stand, which offers a selection of snacks for fans with a sweet tooth.
While longtime visitors to the XL Center will undoubtedly be impressed with the renovations to the concessions, which include new menu boards, floors, and paint, the biggest change to the concourse is undoubtedly the new XL Lounge, located behind section 120-123. The lounge features two full service bars, HD televisions, and plenty of seating, much of which overlooks the action on the ice. It has already become a popular spot for fans to meet and take in the action.
Fans looking for Wolf Pack souvenirs will find two portable souvenir stands located at opposite corners of the concourse. Unfortunately, the souvenir stand that greets fans immediately upon entry to the arena remains, and continues to bottle up traffic in the area.
The Wolf Pack offer the standard minor league hockey experience. More specifically, that means plenty of loud music during play stoppages, a t-shirt crew tossing shirts to eager fans, an emcee who roams the arena conducting giveaways and pumping up the crowd, and a mascot wandering around taking pictures and signing autographs for the kids. Unfortunately, the immense size of the arena coupled with the smallish size of the typical Wolf Pack crowd means that the volume of the crowd never actually gets too loud.
The seating bowl at the XL Center, properly called the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, is very steeply pitched, which ensures excellent sight lines no matter where you sit. The concourse empties out at the top of the 100 level, meaning that if you have seats near the ice, you are going to have some stairs to climb. The upper levels of the arena are blocked off by curtains, and those seats not blocked off are not sold. If you happen to sit in the 200 level seats, you will be asked (very politely) to return to your seats. The XL Center may be the first arena where I have been asked to move down to seats closer to the ice.
Among the 2014 renovations were the installation of a new, large HD video board and several semi-private boxes located at various points atop the 100 level. These boxes feature oversized office chairs and individual televisions.
Hartford is rarely thought of as a destination city, but the XL Center's location right in downtown Hartford is a definite advantage. The area around the arena features numerous restaurants and shops, and is filled with people, even on the weekends. Pratt Street, located directly across the street from the XL Center, has several diverse dining establishments located on it. Fans looking for a place to eat before or after the game can choose from fine dining establishments, Irish pubs, southern BBQ, Thai, or American cuisine, among others. Restaurants line three sides of the XL Center and nearby streets, so visiting fans can find something to satisfy their appetite no matter which direction you head.
For fans interested in exploring the downtown area, there are some attractions nearby worth mentioning. The Old State House is located a few blocks from the XL Center, and contains exhibits on Hartford history. Tours are discounted for AAA members, and will cost history buffs a mere $3. The downtown area is quite walkable, and worth exploring if you are coming to Hartford for a weekend game. Within a few blocks radius of the arena are an impressive number of museums, galleries, and other points of interest.
Hartford annually ranks in the bottom third of the AHL in attendance, averaging between 4,000 and 4,500 per game. In a building the size of the XL Center, these crowds appear much smaller. In a city the size of Hartford with the proximity to the parent club that the Wolf Pack enjoys with the Rangers, these crowds are disappointing, but it's an ongoing struggle for the team, which has been in Hartford since 1997.
Unfortunately, even after close to 20 years without an NHL team, a significant portion of the community still believes that the XL Center and the city of Hartford should be home to an NHL team. Due to this belief, many people in and around Hartford have never truly embraced the Wolf Pack. In fact, for many years into the team's stay, the Hartford Whalers Booster Club would set up a table on the concourse seeking support for the NHL's return to Hartford. While the hope for the return of the Whalers never occurred, the perception that Hartford is "above" minor league hockey remains in many local circles.
The XL Center is located in downtown Hartford, and is easy to reach via either Interstate 84 or 91. The arena is only a few blocks away after exiting either highway. While the downtown area streets are not laid out in a simple grid, navigating these streets to the arena is fairly simple. Traffic, on the other hand, can be an entirely different issue, particularly on weekday games. Be sure to give yourself extra time to arrive, as both highways back up regularly around rush hour and beyond.
There are close to 50 parking lots and garages in the downtown area, all within walking distance of the XL Center. If you want to plan ahead, the Wolf Pack's website has a link to the downtown map here. In addition to these paid spots, on-street parking is readily available on many streets surrounding the XL Center.
Once inside the XL Center, fans will enter into the spacious lobby, more formally known as the Exposition Center. This area was once the Civic Center Mall, but is mostly empty space now. The Wolf Pack ticket office is located here, as well as escalators to the attached parking garage and the Comcast Coliseum Club located on the second level. There is a nice display in this area featuring a jersey from every high school hockey program in Connecticut, as well as a giant mural featuring photos from Hartford's storied hockey history. Otherwise, this area is unused, although a few local merchants set up tables on select nights.
Fans will notice some results of the recent renovations as soon as they enter the arena, more formally known as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. While the concourse of the arena remains cramped and narrow in places, efforts were made to improve flow and relieve congestion. With the typical Wolf Pack crowd only filling a third of the XL Center, getting around on the concourse is not too difficult during hockey games. Fans will notice new floors, updated concession stands, and an overall improved appearance while navigating the concourse. Getting around the arena when there is a large crowd will still be problematic in Hartford.
The bathrooms at the XL Center were completely remodeled over the summer of 2014, and are very clean and new. Unfortunately, they are still on the small side, and lines can form during intermissions. Plan your trips accordingly, especially if there is a big crowd on hand.
Tickets to a Wolf Pack game range in price from $15-$45, which is a bit on the high side for this level of hockey, but many tickets are offered for $20 or less. In addition, the team offers several special deals and discounts to help lower the cost of attendance. Children 12 and under can purchase any level of tickets except those on the glass for $12, and seniors can take $3 off the price of any ticket with the exception of the most expensive level. Members of the military can receive a $3 discount on seats in either end zone.
Most weekday games are designated as "Throwback Thursdays" or "Family Value Nights," where tickets are discounted, and Friday night games feature $1 hot dogs and $2 beers. Frugal hockey fans can take advantage of the many deals offered by the team to save some money at the XL Center. Members of AAA can take an additional $2 off the purchase price of their tickets at the box office.
Parking in the downtown area can vary in price by the lot and the event, but expect to pay up to $10 to park in the lots closest to the arena. Experienced Wolf Pack fans know where and when to get free on-street parking, as the meters downtown close at 6pm, and are not activated on the weekend.
Banners- If you like banners, you will love the XL Center. Banners honoring the 13 University of Connecticut National basketball champions (nine women's, four men's) hang from rafters on one end of the arena. Not to be outdone, there are also seven banners honoring the Wolf Pack, including their 1999-2000 American Hockey League championship. Throw in banners for every Hockey East team and American Athletic Conference Basketball team, as well as banners honoring Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, and you have a lot to look at in Hartford. And I haven't even gotten to the Whalers yet.
Whalers- The XL Center doesn't ignore their past as the home of the Hartford Whalers. Hanging from the rafters are banners for the six players who had their numbers retired, another honoring the family of Gordie Howe, who played in Hartford alongside his sons, and two banners which commemorate the Whalers' two division championships, one in the WHA, and one in the NHL. In addition, the lobby contains a large mural of some of the highlights of Hartford's almost 40 years of professional hockey.
Critics of the XL Center have labeled it as inadequate, aging, and obsolete. Despite these characterizations, it remains a great building for hockey, with excellent sight lines and seats right on top of the action. The most recent renovations have served to improve the overall game day experience. The building is far too large for the crowds that regularly show up to see the Wolf Pack, but on those rare occasions when the building is packed, the energy level at the XL Center takes a back seat to no other arena. Put aside your personal biases about whether the NHL should return to Hartford and check out the Wolf Pack. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Though Connecticut is not exactly known for its professional sports scene, the state possesses several minor league sports teams that the locals rally around. One of those teams is the Connecticut Whale, who calls the XL Center in Hartford home. For years, Hartford was home to the NHL's Hartford Whalers, but they moved in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes. In a way, the new Whale is a re-creation of the old Whalers.
The XL Center, originally known as the Hartford Civic Center, was built in January 1975, and seats 15,683 fans for hockey games. The arena was renamed in December 2007. In addition to serving as the home of the Whale, the XL Center is a multipurpose venue. The arena consists of a lower bowl, upper level seating, and skyboxes that span the entire stadium's roof. There's a great view from virtually anywhere inside. The arena is run by AEG and thus hosts big-name concerts and shows quite often. Located just 20 minutes from the University of Connecticut, the arena also plays home to a portion of the UCONN men and women's basketball teams' home games.
The Whale became the Whale in November 2010, after coming into existence as the Hartford Wolf Pack in the 1997-98 season. The Whale is the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the New York Rangers. They play in the Northeast division. Many current and former New York Rangers including Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Sean Avery, Darius Kasparaitis, and Marc Savard suited up for the Wolf Pack. The team won its only championship during the 1999-2000 season.
The XL Center has been home to hockey in Hartford for nearly fourty years, and while the common thought is that the building is outdated, the sightlines for the general hockey fan are terrific, and the arena suits the AHL well. It all started back in 1975, when the New England Whalers of the WHA moved to Hartford and started playing in the new Civic Center. Only three years later, the building’s roof collapsed due to heavy snow, and a complete rebuild was needed. As the WHA was absorbed into the NHL, the renamed Hartford Whalers had to start a portion of their first NHL season in Springfield before the Civic Center renovations were complete.
After 18 seasons in Hartford, owner Peter Karmanos moved the team to Carolina after failed attempts at a new arena and a relatively low attendance in their current one (despite the hardcore group of fans that can be seen to this day still wearing apparel with the famed Whaler logo). After the move, the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL took over, and as an affiliate of the New York Rangers, they have done quite well on the ice, with frequent playoff appearances and a Calder Cup in 2000.
In 2010, original Whaler owner Howard Baldwin took over operations of the AHL team and wanted to significantly re-brand with the Whalers in mind. Making the transition at a strange time during the season, the team became the Connecticut Whale and nearly sold out their arena the night of the change. Baldwin’s other questionable business decisions and mounting debt led to his firing, and to distance themselves from him, the team went back to the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2013. While there certainly is a hockey passion in Connecticut, fans haven’t really seemed to connect with the AHL squad, and many games are played in a sparsely-attended arena. Regardless, the XL Center is still a fine facility and a very good place to watch hockey.
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