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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

XL Center – Hartford Wolf Pack


Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

XL Center 1 Civic Center Plaza Hartford, CT 06103


Year Opened: 1975

Capacity: 15,635

 

Running With the Pack


The XL Center, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, was built in 1974 as part of a downtown project that included an adjacent mall, convention center, office space, hotel and parking garage. Some people still refer to the XL Center as “The Mall,” even though the mall portion of the complex was demolished in 2004 and replaced with a 36-story residential tower.


The original hockey tenants of the facility were the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association, who were re-christened as the Hartford Whalers when the franchise joined the National Hockey League in 1979. When the Whalers left town in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Rangers placed their top farm team in Hartford. The Wolf Pack have won one Calder Cup, in 2000.


In addition to serving as home to the Wolf Pack, the XL Center serves as the occasional home of the UConn Huskies men’s and women’s basketball and men’s hockey teams.


The Hartford Wolf Pack franchise is the oldest continuously operating minor league hockey team in North America. The Wolf Pack began its existence as the Providence Reds in 1926 as 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. Among all professional teams in North America, only the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins have been in existence longer.


Food & Beverage 5


The XL Center boasts an impressive variety of concession stands. In addition to traditional arena fare, fans can find several local favorites among the choices.


Stadium Journey recommends Ted’s Cheeseburgers, which features gourmet burgers cooked in a style unique to Central Connecticut: they are steamed. Steaming the burgers creates a very juicy burger with a unique flavor.


Other notable stands include Randy’s Wooster St. Pizza (featured on Man vs. Food), the Portly Pig, Los Mariachis, and The Sausage Guy (the same one from Fenway Park). Chick-fil-A serves up their legendary chicken sandwiches. Portable carts serve up a variety of snacks, including Carvel ice cream.


The XL Center features a great variety of beers, both from national brands and local breweries. Among the brews available are TwoConn Easy Ale from Two Roads Brewing and Husky Hops IPA from Kinsman Brewery. The new Sports Bar and Sportsbook features 80 TVs and a 100-foot video wall to keep track of all your bets. The attached Bar features over 40 different beers on tap.


On Friday and Saturday nights the Wolf Pack offer “Hockey Happy Hour”, where fans can hang out in the Heritage Club for two hours before face off. For a ten-dollar fee, fans can enjoy an appetizer buffet and two-dollar beers.


A complete guide to the XL Center’s concessions can be found here. Concession stands are cashless, so remember to bring your debit card.



Atmosphere 3


The Wolf Pack offer the standard minor league hockey experience. This includes a sound system turned way up during play stoppages, a large video board put to good use throughout the game with fan shots, game highlights and sponsor opportunities, an MC roaming the crowd conducting giveaways and pumping up the crowd, and a mascot posing for pictures and signing autographs. Minor league staples, including Chuck-a-Puck, t-shirt tosses and a 50/50 raffle, are present in Hartford.


Neighborhood 5


Hartford is rarely thought of as a destination city, but there is a lot to do in Connecticut’s capital city. 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, is lined with many excellent pubs and restaurants. City Steam Tap Room is located a block away from the XL Center on Main Street, and features a legendary craft beer lineup. Black-Eyed Sally’s on Asylum Street features live music and excellent barbeque. Hartford suffers from a bad reputation, but the area around the XL Center is safe and walkable.


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 State Capitol and Bushnell Park are popular attractions located nearby. The Mark Twain House and Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center are both located just a short drive from the downtown area. Check out Hartford.com for more information. Dunkin’ Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, is located just a few blocks away.



Fans 3


The Wolf Pack have experienced an increase in attendance in recent years. The team still ranks below the AHL average, attracting an average of about 4,500 fans per game. The XL Center curtains off the upper levels of the arena to make the crowd look larger, but there are still large empty sections in the building.


A Wolf Pack crowd will look very familiar to veteran minor league fans. It’s full of groups, families and youth hockey teams mixed in with the casual and hard core hockey fan. The state of Connecticut is a growing hockey market that has produced some noteworthy NHL stars. Fans here know their hockey, and Hartford’s proximity to New York ensures that the fans here follow the prospects closely.


Access 3


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 from either highway. Traffic in the city is often difficult to navigate, particularly for 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 around the XL Center. Meters shut off at 6PM.


Once inside the XL Center, fans will enter into a spacious lobby. This area was once part of Civic Center Mall, but is mostly empty space now. The Wolf Pack ticket office is located here, as well as access to the attached parking garage and the Coliseum Club on the second level. The Wolf Pack operate their main souvenir stand here.


All seats in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum consist of folding stadium chairs. The seating bowl at the XL Center is very steeply pitched, ensuring great sight lines no matter where you sit. Tickets in the upper levels are not sold, meaning that even when a big crowd is in attendance much of the arena is still empty.


Despite numerous renovations over the years, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum maintains its cramped and narrow concourses. Luckily, since the typical Wolf Pack crowd only fills a fraction of the XL Center, getting around is usually not too difficult. Restrooms are smallish, but are clean and adequate for the typical Wolf Pack crowd. Lines do form during intermission. Plan your trips wisely, particularly if there’s a big crowd in attendance.


Return on Investment 4


Tickets to Wolf Pack games are split into three levels. End Zone seats cost $25, attacking zone tickets cost $30 and center ice tickets $35. Youth tickets are discounted by ten dollars across the board. Premium seats right on the glass cost $55. The Wolf Pack offer several ticket packages to help defray costs.


Parking in the garages around the XL Center ranges in price from $10-$20. Frugal fans can search the neighborhood for free on-street parking. Concessions, while on the high side, are in line with other venues in the area.


Extras 3

If you like banners, you will love the XL Center. Banners honoring the University of Connecticut basketball champion teams, including the men’s 2023 National title, hang from rafters on one end of the arena. Not to be outdone, the Wolf Pack hang their 2000 Calder Cup and division title banners. Banners honoring basketball Hall of Famers Jim Calhoun and Gino Auriemma hang in XL Center corners.


The XL Center also celebrates its past as the home of the Hartford Whalers. Hanging from the rafters are Whaler retired number and division championship banners. The Howe family, who all played together in Hartford, are honored in banner form.


The XL Center lobby contains a display of some of the highlights of Hartford’s professional hockey history and the Whalers Hall of Fame.



Final Thoughts


The XL Center has more than its share of critics, and opinions on the viability and future of the facility continue to spark much debate in Connecticut’s capital city. New plans for what to do with the facility seemingly pop up every few months.


As a minor league hockey facility, the XL Center is a good place to catch a game, with excellent sight lines and plenty going on to satisfy both the casual and diehard fan. Unfortunately, the XL Center is just too big, too empty and too old for the Wolf Pack. Face it, Hartford, the Whalers aren’t coming back. Start running with the Pack!


Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.



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