- Eric Moreno
American Bank Center – Corpus Christi IceRays
Photos by Eric Moreno Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
American Bank Center 1901 North Shoreline Blvd Corpus Christi, TX 78401
Corpus Christi IceRays website
Year Opened: 1978
Corpus Christi IceRays
The franchise that would eventually become known as the Corpus Christi IceRays came into existence in 2001, first as the Pittsburgh Forge, before moving to the Texas Gulf Coast and their current home at American Bank Center in 2010. The IceRays are members of the National American Hockey League (NAHL), one of the top junior hockey leagues in the country.
A previous incarnation of the IceRays existed from 1998 to 2010 as members of the Central Hockey League and Western Professional Hockey League before the current team’s owners decided to venture into junior hockey with the current club.
The new version of the IceRays has seen some success, making the playoffs five times. The team has also brought another layer of professional sports to this often-underserved region of Texas, and the fans have responded in kind. The IceRays are one of the highest-attended teams in the NAHL and play in one of the nicest facilities in minor league hockey.
Food & Beverage 4
There are two levels of seating at the American Bank Center, and that means there are two levels of concessions as well. On the first floor, there are two main concession stands near the entrance areas that specialize in your traditional stadium fare – your hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, etc. There is also a similar stand on the second floor that carries the same items. The stand on the second floor also sells cheese and pepperoni pizza by the slice, which is always nice to have at a game.
American Bank Center DogFather Concessions, Photo by Erice Moreno, Stadium Journey
In terms of specialty dining, American Bank Center has a Chick-fil-A kiosk on the first floor that sells its signature sandwiches and chips. There is also a gourmet popcorn stand that sells slices of local Corpus Christi dessert favorite The Ultimate Cheesecake Bakery. Also, on the first floor is The Dogfather, a specialty hot dog and sausage stand; this is a good alternative to your standard variety of hot dogs.
A personal recommendation would be to hit up the Hurb’s Burgers stand on the second floor. This is another local joint that offers a $10 double cheeseburger and chips combo; it’s dang tasty and I recommend getting it with their special sauce. It also happens to be right next to the arena’s full-service bar, which if that’s what you’re into is a great spot to be.
American Bank Center is truly a top-notch facility and is home to numerous events throughout the year for Corpus Christi. In addition to being the home of the IceRays, it is also home to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s basketball teams and plays host to pretty much every big entertainment act that comes through the region as well. As such, it has the look of a big-time entertainment venue.
The hockey setup for IceRays games at American Bank Center is a basic horseshoe with one end of the arena closed off and without seating; it’s draped off with black curtains and is where the Zamboni enters from at the end of each period.
That being said it doesn’t detract from the sightlines or acoustics. The black of the seats and curtains couples with the exposed piping in the ceiling, which has been painted an almost neon-lime green to create an interesting effect. The other point of interest in terms of atmosphere would be the team store, which is located on the first floor near the main entrance.
The glass windows on the second floor look right out onto Corpus Christi harbor and, from some exits, you can go out onto balconies and sit outside. It’s one of the best views in the city, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another one like it in all of minor league hockey.
Corpus Christi has long been a destination retreat for many South Texas residents. Less than a two-hour drive from San Antonio, it is the closest beach for most Texans, and it is the first destination most head to during the summer months. The prime spot to head to is North Beach, which is across the Harbor Bridge from American Bank Center. With 1.5 miles of beachfront, that is open year-round during the day and at night for camping and anchored by fishing jetties, North Beach is the prime spot for visitors to Corpus Christi.
In addition to its beachfront restaurants and hotels (more on those momentarily), North Beach is also home to two of the city’s main tourist attractions, the USS Lexington and the Texas State Aquarium. Commissioned in 1943, the USS Lexington is a retired naval aircraft carrier that saw service during World War II and the Korean War before being retired. It now serves as a fully interactive museum of military history. The Texas State Aquarium is home to numerous species and is one of the top facilities of its kind in the country. Both are great spots to visit when checking out an IceRays game.
In terms of dining options, there are quite a few to choose from in the downtown area of Corpus Christi near the arena. One popular option is Brewster Street Icehouse – serving up a line of signature burgers, like their Hello Sunshine and Brewster Bucket List, as well as sandwiches like their Seafood Po’Boy and their South Texas Philly, Brewster Street is a popular sport in the Concrete Street entertainment area.
For something a little more “of the place,” since you’re on the Gulf Coast, why not seafood? The Railroad Seafood & Brewing Co. is a relatively new sport and combines locally sourced seafood with craft beer brewed onsite; it is a real taste of what the Gulf is all about.
In terms of lodging, numerous spots up and down the shore are sure to fit within anyone’s budget. Some of the closest options include the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel and the Holiday Inn Corpus Christi Downtown Marina. Just be forewarned, depending on the day and time of year that you head down, hotels in this part of the city tend to be very popular, and thus tend to fill up fast.
In my experience, minor league sports fans tend to fall into two categories: very casual or very loyal. The IceRays have traditionally been at or near the top of the NAHL in average attendance every year since they joined the league; for the current season, they are averaging just under 2,100 fans per game and sit at third in the league.
The crowd, from what I experienced, is a good mix of the casual and the diehard fans. There is also an apocryphal story, which I can’t find confirmation of but you need to see, about how passionate this fanbase can be (scroll down to item #6 when you click this link).
You will see plenty of IceRays fans kitted out in their sweaters, and they will be loud and cheering throughout the night, but you will also see a ton of college-age fans out for an inexpensive night of fun (the team frequently runs college nights where students with a college ID get a free ticket). All in all, it’s a great crowd and a fun atmosphere with good energy, especially at weekend games.
American Bank Center is located right along the shore (on Shoreline Drive, in fact) before you cross over Harbor Bridge in downtown Corpus Christi. The city itself is located about a two-hour drive from San Antonio, which also puts it at close to three hours from Austin and three-and-a-half hours from Houston. Corpus Christi International Airport does feature daily flights to and from Houston and Dallas if that’s the route you want to go.
Once on site, parking is ample in the lots and will run you $10 per car. There is free parking in certain spots on the street at certain times; just be mindful of those areas and those times or you will find yourself with an unwanted souvenir parking ticket, courtesy of the Corpus Christi Police Department.
The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority (CCRTA), the city’s public transportation option, does offer a line that makes a stop at American Bank Center. If you choose not to drive, you can plan your route from their website.
Return on Investment 4
The great benefit of minor league sports is that they offer the chance to see the pro game at an affordable rate; this holds for the Corpus Christi IceRays, where general admission tickets start at $10 per person. When you factor this in with the relatively inexpensive concessions ($10 for a double cheeseburger combo at Hurb’s y’all!) and the parking costs, you’re getting a good bargain. For young fans, this is a great way to introduce them to the sport.
The IceRays, like a lot of minor league teams, do a lot of hustling to get fans into the building. They have a Pucks and Paws night, Thirsty Thursdays, family skate nights after games, and much more. There are also games and contests during intermission periods, including a chuck-a-puck contest for a year’s worth of Whataburger.
The IceRays also have their mascot, Stinger Ray, who patrols the stands, skates the ice, and tosses t-shirts from the back of a pickup truck during one of the aforementioned intermissions. Like most mascots, Stinger Ray is around quite a bit for photo ops throughout the game.
Stinger Ray, Photo by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
I have always enjoyed my visits both to Corpus Christi and to American Bank Center. As a lifelong resident of this region of Texas, I am pretty nostalgic about trips to the coast and what they signify. I imagine that’s the way folks on the East Coast feel about going to the Jersey Shore each summer. Regardless, Corpus Christi is a special place, with a lot of things to do and see.
The IceRays and American Bank Center both do a great job of making the games feel big. The fans also have a passion for their club; the venue is great, the view is great, and the city is great. I wouldn’t mark it down on your bucket list, necessarily, but make a stop in and catch an IceRays game if you’re down on the Texas Gulf Coast during the season. I think you’ll have a great time.
Follow Eric Moreno’s Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477. Visit Eric Moreno’s writer’s portfolio site at ericmoreno.contently.com.