Photos by Marc Viquez and Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Wings Event Center 3600 Vanrick Dr Kalamazoo, MI 49001
Year Opened: 1974
You Can’t Get Much Better than K-Wings Hockey
The Kalamazoo Wings have been a mainstay in minor league hockey since its founding in 1974. Even though the current incarnation of the team began in 2000, there has always been K-Wings hockey at the Wings Event Center (formerly Wings Stadium), first in the International Hockey League, then the United Hockey League, and now ECHL.
Toriginalnal club operated in the IHL from 1974-2000 capturing back-to-back Turner Cups in 1979 and 1980. The K-Wings played in front of packed houses routinely fostering nearby rivalries from Toledo, Ft. Wayne, Saginaw, and Muskegon. However, the team would cease operations in 2000, but would be replaced with a new team in the UHL the following season.
The Wings Event Center is a 5,113 hockey arena featuring its original burnt orange, burgundy, and brown seats, a low ceiling, and a narrow main concourse housing four concession stands, and three bars (one at ice level). The arena has the look, smell, and definitely the character of an old hockey barn.
The most impressive feature of the entire arena is the 2,300 square foot video scoreboard that was part of a $2 million improvement to the facility in 2012 to add high-tech capacity to the venue.
The K-Wings are also innovators, being the first to paint the ice green for St.Patrick’s Day in 1982. Since then, the team has painted the ice orange for Halloween, and pink for both Valentines Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
Food & Beverage 4
There is quite a bit of food and drink for an arena that is over 40 years old. It is suggested to look out for special deals since there seems to be quite a few deals at each home game.
There are four main concession areas offering hot dogs, chicken tender baskets, brats, nachos, and burritos. There are also specialty items including grilled mushroom swiss burgers and spicy bacon burgers with ghost pepper. If you are looking for pizza, Hungry Howie’s has you covered.
Kalamazoo is home to local breweries Bells and Arcadia, along with a slew of other breweries; it is not surprising that you would find a cornucopia of craft beer selections at the arena. The Craft Beer Depot features 50 bottled varieties that are only $4.50. The beer prices range from domestic/craft: canned $7/$8.50, 16-ounce $5.75/$6.75, and 24-ounce $6.75/$7.75. If you are not drinking, Pepsi products are available.
Wings Event Center is a classic hockey barn that is a throwback of sorts in the world of minor league hockey. The arena features 18 rows of seats that encompass the ice rink and one main exterior concourse that houses concessions, ticket offices, merchandise booths, and bathrooms. The main merchandise stand is across from the main ticket offices in the front lobby.
There are several championship banners hanging up on the wall at one end of the arena and the giant scoreboard features everything from replays, advertisements, and social media activities.
There is plenty going on at the arena throughout the night. The Wings mascot Slappy skates around the ice and can also be found in the concourse and seating areas. There is also a lot of intermission activities that include fan participation in trike racing and bubble soccer. After the game, kids are allowed on the ice for a few moments with their parents.
Wings Event Center is located off of I-94 and is visible from the interstate. The area is very suburban, but downtown is a quick 10-minute drive where one can find great places to eat and drink.
Arcadia Brewing Company and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe are two required destinations for the beer connoisseur, choose from varieties not normally found in your liquor store and a full-service menu. A very fun and interactive spot for beer is the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange where prices are monitored like a stock exchange, when the market crashes, so do the prices.
Michigan is known for its coney dogs and Coney Island was rated number 6 on a recent local poll. The long-established restaurant has been serving coneys since 1915 and its thick, crumbled chili and chopped Vidalia onions are among the best tasting in the state.
A fantastic nearby brewery is One Well Brewing and is just a mile down the road featuring great beer and food. You can also take the kids to play in the children’s area or at the pinball machines. For the adults, try the Xalapa Jalapeno Blonde Ale, the Sweet Water Street Coffee & Donut Porter, or the Root Beer Float Milk Stout.
The biggest crowd of the year is the Green Ice Game on St. Patrick’s Day. The sold-out crowd features waving flags, blowing horns, and plenty of cheering for goals. There is also the goal chant to the tune of “Mony Mony” where the crowd shouts “Hey, guess what? Your goalie sucks!” There are some great Wing fans and attendance has been slightly up this year, but management needs to see more of them at the arena.
The arena is located off of I-94 and there is plenty of signage to direct travelers to the parking lot surrounding the venue. The arena signage is also visible from the interstate. Once inside, there is one main concourse with entrances that lead into the seating area, but be sure you know what section you are sitting in since the inner concourse doesn’t wrap around to all seats.
For high capacity games, the wait times might exceed the time needed and you may miss some action from the game. The Wings have employed several TV screens allowing fans in line the chance to watch the game. Bathrooms are clearly designated inside the building.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets for games sell in the price point of $10, $13, $16, and $20-one of the best bargains in minor league hockey. Parking is a $5 fee and a fairly new practice but on par with many other ECHL venues. The prices inside are reasonable including $6 glasses of wine, $5.75 16-ounce beers, $3 boxes of popcorn, and $8 chicken tender baskets.
If you are looking to get your dollars worth check out a Wednesday night game featuring $9 tickets, $6 food baskets, and $2 beers. There is also Pop Up Friday games that offer hot deals on concession items or a special experience for fans; details are revealed on Facebook before the game. The St. Patrick’s Day Game is probably the highest attended game of the season featuring $2 green beer drafts and $2 craft beer bottles.
When factoring in ticket prices, parking, and concession prices, an evening at a Wings game is one of the best bargains in minor league hockey.
One star for the selection at the Craft Beer Depot; they have well over 50 bottle varieties to choose from and at $4.50 for most varieties, it’s a bargain.
The second star for the Zamboni Bar, a nice little place to hang out with friends at the game.
The third star for the 28 concourse monitors that allow fans to watch the action from the ice while they wait in line for food and drink. The 48-inch plasma TVs make sure that no one misses the action on the ice.
One final star for the up-close views of the ice, the place has the feel of a classic junior hockey barn somewhere in Ontario or Quebec; fortunately, you don’t need to cross the border to enjoy old-time hockey.
Watching a K-Wings game is sort of stepping back in time when minor league hockey arenas were small, smoky, crowded, and definitely full of character. The fans in attendance were there for the game and maybe a few fights on the ice. Many of these types of venues have been replaced with modern entertainment vessels that feature everything from suites, catering service, multi-levels, and open view bars of the game. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes it’s nice to know a place like the Wings Events Center still exists in the hockey world.