Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wichita Thunder 1 at Allen Americans 2 - February 22, 2013

Today was spent entirely within in the Dallas Metroplex but I still drove 130 miles which shows you just how big this area is. First I changed hotels (Denton to Hurst) and then I headed over to Allen to watch a CHL battle between the Americans and the Wichita Thunder. The 45-mile drive from Hurst took about 1h45m, as there had been an accident on I-635 during rush hour in a work zone to boot. Fortunately I had left quite early and still arrived with plenty of time to tour the Allen Event Center.

Allen Event Center

Allen is a city about 25 miles northeast of Dallas that is a great destination if you like minor league sports, with franchises in the CHL, Indoor Football League, and Professional Indoor Soccer League. All three play in the Allen Event Center, which is part of the Villages at Allen and Fairview, two large shopping complexes that includes several full-service restaurants along with dozens of stores and most importantly, an In-N-Out as the hamburger chain continues their expansion in Texas.

Parking is free in a lot right next to the arena, and very easy to get into and out of. Tickets are not so cheap though, with the cheapest end zone (known as terrace) seats going for $16. However, you can sit where you want without having your ticket checked by an usher, so I moved around until I found a seat near the blue line which offered unobstructed views.

There is a single seating bowl with 20 sections each with 19 rows. There were over 4,000 fans there but still lots of empty seats as capacity is 6,275 for hockey so you can move around. Best seats are those in the top 5 rows in the sections along the sides.

There is a single concourse with lots of concessions, including a few that I hadn't seen before. Randy White's Hall of Fame BBQ offers sandwiches for $6.50 while there was a shrimp po'boy basket for $8.50. Sweet lovers will be happy with the Nestle Toll House stand which sells cookies and brownies, with the 13 mini-cookies for $6 a good bet for a family. There was even a full-service bar with large margaritas going for $13, although I did not see anybody trying one.

You cannot walk around the entire concourse as one end is where the players enter and exit the ice. If you need to get from section 109 to 111, you can try to enter the seating bowl and walk through one of the three rows that make up section 110, as you can see below.

A couple of unique touches: first, the anthem was sung by a group of children in the stands; in a small venue such as this it makes sense. As well, the starting lineups are announced for the home team much like in basketball - the player skates out from the goal line to the blue line as his name is announced.

There is no scoreboard above center ice, instead there are two video boards (below) above the sideline seats and a scoreboard at each end.

The atmosphere during the game was great, helped along by an 80s night promotion which had songs from that decade playing throughout every break in the action. There is also a small section of fans that played drums to generate some enthusiasm. However, fans were a bit quiet for the most part, but hard to blame them as the game was fairly lackluster (more on that shortly).

Overall, I was quite impressed with the Allen Event Center. Tickets are slightly overpriced but with free parking, the overall cost is about the same as any other game at this level. The team puts on a show and keeps the fans entertained from the time they enter the arena. If you are in the Dallas area, have a look at the CHL schedule and see if Allen is at home; the trip will be worth it.

The Game

The CHL lost 6 franchises this past off-season, leaving the league with just 10 clubs in a single conference. Allen was in first while Wichita lay just a point behind, so I had high expectations for the game. The most recognizable name was Aaron Boogaard (below), but that was due to his involvement in the death of his brother Derek in 2011. Allen boasts twin brothers Tyler and Trevor Ludwig, sons of Craig who is a minority owner along with Ed Belfour, Mike Modano, and Steve Duschene.

The first period was horribly boring, with just 11 total shots and no real scoring chances. I thought  there might be a few fights especially as these teams had played two games in Wichita earlier in the week, but only a couple of skirmishes made things remotely interesting.

It was more of the same in the second period until the midway mark when Wichita's RG Flath dropped his stick. As he went to fetch it, the play continued into the Thunder zone, where Chris Doyle intercepted a pass in the corner. He fed it into the slot where Flath's man Jamie Schaafsma was all alone (as Flath was late getting back into the play) and Schaafsma one-timed a shot past Grant Rollheiser for the only goal of the frame.

The teams finally got going in the third, with some good rushes and nice saves by both keepers. Wichita tied it when Neil Trimm (below) converted a goalmouth scramble at 8:52.

Just 38 seconds later though, Allen's Jim McKenzie (#25 falling below, who had just signed a week before) intercepted a clearing pass and fed Anthony Maiani, who quickly returned the favour. McKenzie then slid the puck across to Jarret Lukin who deposited it into the empty net. A beautiful 3-way passing play that had the fans on their feet and gave Allen a 2-1 lead. Wichita had a late power play when Lukin interfered with Rollheiser but they could not convert and the Americans held on for the win.

This is the second CHL game I have seen and neither have been that great. There are a number of ex-AHL players here, including Wichita's Andrew Martens who had a couple of brief stays with the Marlies, but obviously they aren't good enough to stick. The difference in quality between last week's Texas Stars game and this one is very noticeable. Still, the CHL is on my Quest for 400, so I expect to visit the other eight venues in the next couple of years.


They have a mascot race with the four owners and Richard Matvichuk, assistant coach, as the mascot faces. I'm not sure who is who below, but Steve Duschene won.


One of the things I don't write about much is finding hotels on these trips. I always try to book hotels close to the stadium I am seeing that night to minimize the amount of night-time driving. I also try to keep the price under $60, which can be tough in the bigger cities, although with Priceline and Hotwire, I can usually do it. So for this weekend, I had booked a hotel in Plano, just a few miles south of Allen where I was planning to see both the Allen game as well as a PASL game on Saturday night.

Then while cleaning up my membership cards, I noticed a very old Hyatt Gold Passport that had been inactive since 2006. I checked online and found that I had enough points for 2 free nights, so I began looking at other options. In the end, I booked a hotel in Hurst, near Fort Worth, where there was a college baseball game on Saturday afternoon. This is what left me 45 miles from Allen and as mentioned, that took nearly 2 hours to navigate due to road work (an awful lot of it going on here), rush hour, and an accident. I therefore won't be revisiting for the soccer game as it isn't quite worth the 90 miles there and back.

Next Up

Today is my last day in Texas and I've driving over to the Texas Christian campus to watch the Horned Frogs hosting Cal State Fullerton in baseball. I was thinking of going to the Stars game tonight but have decided against it as my useless boycott lives on for few more days.

I have an early flight tomorrow to New York and I hope to get out to Brooklyn for the Nets-Grizzlies game, where I will meet up with Gary Herman of Royalty Tours. Check back to see if I made it.



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