Photos by Andrew Kulyk and Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Huntington Center 500 Jefferson Ave Toledo, OH 43604
Year Opened: 2009
Holy Toledo – Hockey Is Really A Thing Here
As far as hockey hotbeds are concerned, Toledo, Ohio might be one destination that is easy to overlook. But this city has a long and rich minor league hockey history that spans almost from the end of World War II.
It all started with the opening of the Toledo Sports Arena along the shores of the Maumee River directly across from downtown Toledo. The Toledo Mercurys made an immediate splash in the International Hockey League, winning the Turner Cup in just their second year of existence. They would enjoy success on the ice throughout the 50s before sliding and folding after the 1961-62 season.
The team would return to the IHL after one season, under a variety of nicknames with different ownership groups… the Blade, the Golddiggers, then becoming the Toledo Storm when the team joined the East Coast Hockey League in 1991-92. They would last until 2007, when the old arena was demolished and the team suspended operations.
They returned in 2009 as the Toledo Walleye. And a new arena, the gleaming $105-million Huntington Center smack dab in the middle of downtown Toledo. The curtain was raised on a new era for hockey in Toledo.
The Huntington Center has all the amenities of a larger peer NHL facility – private suites and a well appointed club level, spacious concourses, state of the art electronics, and merchandise stores with ample spaces.
Food & Beverage 5
Using a nautical “Walleye” theme, the food stations here are exemplary, and offer a huge variety of concession fare at decent prices. “Bait Shacks” offer the standard hot dogs, bratwursts, popcorn, nachos and pretzels. The “Swamp Dog Grill” has tacos, mac and cheese, tater tots served poutine style, the local specialty Coney Fried Bologna Sandwich. The “Riverside Grill” offers Stanley’s Kielbasa, a local delicacy, along with chili dogs and angus burgers. The “Frogtown Burger Company” offers signature burgers and chicken sandwiches served gourmet style. Add a good selection of local craft brews and frozen drinks and nobody goes home hungry or thirsty.
These people take their hockey seriously, even at the ECHL level. Their parent club are the Detroit Red Wings, right up I-75, and there is a pretty good representation of Red Wings gear spotted in the stands and concourses. The building can be pretty loud and boisterous, aided with the antics of their two beloved mascots, Cat Trick and Spike.
The Walleye front office is partnered with the AAA baseball Toledo Mud Hens, and that brings the baseball version of entertainment diversions to the hockey venue, and they present it all very well here.
Like many mid-sized northeast cities, Toledo has gone through the depths of despair and disinvestment, and now is roaring back, thanks in small part to this arena and the neighboring Fifth Third Field baseball venue just two blocks away. Old buildings are being rehabbed into office space and trendy apartments, shopping and restaurants are coming back, albeit slowly, and there is a can do spirit among the locals. Check back in a couple years, the 3 star score will most likely be moved upward.
There are a couple of favorite eateries close by worth mentioning – The Blarney Irish Pub is recognized as one of downtown’s best destination spots for beer and food with an Irish flair; Ye Olde Cock ‘N Bull Tavern features sports on the screens and live music. On the other side of downtown is the Maumee Bay Brew Pub in the reconstituted Oliver House, offering a number of restaurant venues on several levels and an amazing selection of local beer. The Toledo Museum of Art, Imagination Station science museum and the local Farmers Market are other entertainment venues worth checking out.
When the new arena opened in 2009, the local fan base turned out in droves, generating over 100 straight sellouts at one point. They continue to support the team in huge numbers, earning the team a top spot in the annual ECHL attendance rankings. It would not be farfetched to imagine this program and this venue taking a berth in the American Hockey League some day. The entire scene here is that good.
Coming into downtown Toledo one can find directional signage everywhere taking you right to the Huntington Center. There are ample surface lots and ramps in just about every direction from the arena, with costs generally running $5-$10. Street meters aren’t monitored on Sundays or evenings, so snag a spot on the street if one is available. The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) offers bus service with routes and stops right at Huntington Center.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices run $26 for club level or “in the swamp” seats rink side and $17 for all other seats in the main level. Add to this very reasonable concession and beer prices, parking costs which won’t break the bank, and also merchandise at attractive price points. It all makes for an economical game night experience.
The team is so focused on promotions and fun nights to bring fans into the arena, including all sorts of things for the kids, and to keep them entertained. Just a perusal of the promotional schedule on the team website reveals everything from Star Wars Night to a pregame pizza party to Harry Potter Night to an ethnic festival. Clearly the promotions front office team at the Mud Hens has their hands in this. For all this we award 3 bonus points, and offer a template to other minor league teams looking for ways to put fannies into the seats.
One point is given for the outstanding presentation of Toledo hockey history. The championship banners and retired numbers, spanning seven decades and across a coupe leagues are nicely organized and hang from the rafters with pride and distinction.
When you come down to it, the ECHL is the third tier of North American hockey, following the NHL and AHL, yet it is amazing how the bar has been raised in terms of the quality and opulence of the arenas at this level, and how the franchises have done so much to up their game in terms of their contribution and footprint within their respective communities.
Hockey is doing just fine in Toledo. For a community that once was named as having the game’s ugliest jerseys (Toledo Storm), their graduation from a dusty yet classic old school hockey rink to a gleaming downtown destination is a true success story. Toledo and their Walleye are a must see visit for the hockey road trip enthusiast.