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  • Eric Hasman

Fox Valley Ice Arena - Chicago Steel

Photos by Eric Hasman, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71

Fox Valley Ice Arena 1996 S Kirk Rd Geneva, IL 60134

Year Opened: 1996 Capacity: 2,000

A Taste of the Juniors in Chicago

The Chicago Steel, a member of the United States Hockey League (USHL) since 2000, moved to the Chicagoland area in 2000 from Fargo-Morehead where they were the Ice Sharks. The Steel is a junior league club that currently plays at the Fox Valley Ice Arena. They moved from the Edge in Bensenville (27 miles away in 2015) to the current Fox Valley Ice Arena. The owner upgraded to the facility including a new scoreboard in the main NHL rink, a new will-call area and made renovations to the back of the rink with office facilities.

Even though the Steel is located approximately two blocks from the Kane County Cougars (American Association Baseball) neither team acknowledges each other which is strange.

Owner Larry Robbins purchased the team in 2015 and since then the Steel have erased their dismal playoff record and have become a powerhouse in the USHL winning championships in the 2016-2017 and 2020-2021 seasons.

The average attendance is about 1,100 per game so usually, there is no need to buy tickets in advance since capacity is 3,500 (unless you want to sit in a certain area).

Food & Beverage 3

One concession stand is inside the rink and one is in the main lobby. There is an array of concession items for fans to snack on during the game that includes BBQ pulled pork ($9), Doritos walking taco ($9), hot dogs/brats ($6), pizza ($5), popcorn ($6), hot pretzel ($6), cotton candy ($5), nachos ($5), double fudge brownie / chocolate chip cookie ($4), various candy ($4) and kettle chips ($2) other snacks. Coca-Cola products are served by the bottle ($4). In addition, there is cold brew coffee ($5), coffee ($4), hot chocolate ($4), chocolate milk ($3) and bottled water is $3.

Adult beverages including both domestic (Budweiser products) and local (Goose Island) beers are available in the building for $6 and $7 respectively. The local authorities include Goose Island 312 / IPA. In addition, there are some mixed drink cans (Vodka soda lime, Whiskey Mule, Rum & Mint Mojito) that sell for $10.

Connected to the rink and with a good view of the arena (limited seats) is Rookies Bar & Grill that currently has a limited menu that includes main dishes such as a hamburger ($14), chicken sandwich ($14), gyro plate ($14), brisket melt ($16), Italian beef ($12), chicken wrap ($13), mac & cheese ($13). They do have a BBQ chicken salad ($14) and a Mediterranean salad ($13). Appetizers include chicken wings / fingers, machos, mini tacos, mozzarella sticks, mini corn dogs, and cheese curds ranging from $10 to $16. The limited menu is disappointing since the food at other “Rookies” locations is outstanding. There are plans to get to their full menu soon. Of course, being a bar / grill there is a wider selection of alcoholic beverages.

The workers are friendly and provide a good service but can be very slow at times. I would suggest that you wait

until the game starts before you get in line.

Atmosphere 3

The Fox Valley Ice Arena consists of two hockey rinks (the Steel play in the main arena) separated by the main lobby that seems to be always full of lots of kids running around or playing some of the video / hockey games. The lobby has the USHL team logo banners hanging in the lobby, which is nice. However, I think the banners should be hanging in the rink.

The “box office” has three windows but the lines are never long. There are bathrooms inside the arena and also in the lobby.

The arena where the Steel play features a low-level ceiling, seats on both sides of the ice. There are no fixed seats behind the nets. However, on one side there is a group / party area in the corner that has a table and some chairs. There are 12 suites up above the regular seating bowl on one side that requires a separate entrance from the main lobby. The twelve suites provide a very nice view of the arena and also include food service and balcony seating. One side of the rink (opposite side of the benches) has approximately 10 rows of fixed seats and then about 15 rows of bench seating and the other side has about 10 rows of bench seating.

A video board hangs over center ice and provides a lot of entertainment during stops in play and at intermission that includes fan interactions, out-of-town scores, player stats and pregame videos featuring members of the team in comical features. The video board is surprisingly big and clear for a USHL team. There are also two banners honoring the 2017-18 and 2020-21 Clark Cup Championship teams.

Rusty, a dog, is the official mascot of the team who can be seen throughout the building and rink at certain times offering hugs to fans of all ages. There are a couple of concession tables (in the rink and the lobby) offering team gear that includes hats, t-shirts, and both home / away jerseys and, of course, the obligatory chuck-a-puck. Team merchandise shirts range from $20 for a t-shirt, $50 for a long-sleeved shirt to about $100 for replica jerseys. Hats are available for $23 and they have other swag such as mini hockey / goalie sticks ($8 or $9), hockey pucks / pennants ($7) and a Christmas ornament ($5).

Neighborhood 2

The Fox Valley Ice Arena is just a few blocks south of Northwestern Medicine Field where the Kane County Cougars play. If you are in town for a game in early April, there is the possibility of making a doubleheader. Downtown Geneva, which is about three miles from the arena, offers many shops, restaurants and bars (to name a few really good ones: Livia Italian Eatery, Craft Urban, Fox’s Steaks, Firewater BBQ, Atwater’s, Graham’s Chocolates), and scenic views along the Fox River.

A little closer to the arena is The Country House, about a block on Kirk Road. This restaurant received the “Best Burger in Chicago” award, according to the Chicago Tribune. It also serves giant muffuletta sandwiches, wraps, ribs, and steaks. It is a bit more expensive, but the food is outstanding.

The Penrose Brewing, Stockholms Brewery, and Two Brothers Brewery are all about 15 minutes from the ballpark and are good places for drinks and a full food menu if you enjoy microbrews.

Fans 3

The average crowds are around 1,100, except for Blackhawks Night that packs the place to full capacity. Many in the stands are curious onlookers, but many are invested in the game and a few others who travel quite a long distance to take in the game. The Steel definitely appeals to a family crowd as many of its promotions are designed to bring the kids out and with prices as low as they are, an ideal way to enjoy pretty good hockey not too far from home for many folks.

Access 2

Access to the arena is easy however, it will take a bit of driving to get there, as Interstate I-88 is about 15 minutes south of the arena. Interstate 355 and Interstate 90 are about 30 minutes east and north, respectively. Note: The interstates are tolls rolls. There are no trains within walking distance of the arena. Once at the arena there is plenty of free parking.

Return on Investment 3

There are three price points for tickets for Steel games. $10, $15, and $20. This is a bit surprising to me since you can go to an American Hockey League game for less than $20. Anyway, there is not a bad seat in the house. Parking is free, which is nice.

Extras 3

A point goes to Rookies Bar & Grill that offers a great variety of food (once they go to the full menu) and a nice view of the rink inside its facility.

A second point is for the Steel staff who create a professional experience at the facility. There are plenty of staff members who can be found to answer any questions that may be on your mind. The Steel really do a good job of offering varied promotional nights and provides a sense of welcoming to all the fans who attend games.

The last point is for the suites that feature balcony seating overlooking the ice, a nice surprise and a good way to bring in extra revenue for the club.

Final Thoughts

The management of the Chicago Steel has done a great job of creating a professional experience at the small venue and with affordable pricing a great way to an alternative for a relatively cheap night out of the house in the Chicagoland area. I don’t understand that with the great job the Steel does with the game day experience that more people don’t show up.

The Steel represented the USHL and the United States in the 2015 Junior Club World Cup in Yekaterinburg, Russia, capturing the bronze medal while defeating host Russia twice during the five-game, eight-day tournament. During this tournament, the Steel wore two really nice jerseys. Sadly, they don’t wear or sell replicas of those jerseys anymore but you will usually see some fans wearing them.

Come out to see the stars of tomorrow. Many former Steel coaches and players have graduated to the AHL and NHL. Greg Moore, former head coach for the Steel is now the head coach for the AHL Toronto Marlies. In addition, the Steel has had about 20 players who have made it to the NHL. In recent years, they have had a few players drafted in the 1 st round of the NHL draft. In 2021, the Steel had 3 players drafted in the 1 st round of the NHL Draft.

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