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Hockey In The Desert

Last night I took my 92 year old mother to the second home game ever for the newest AHL franchise, the Coachella Valley Firebirds. It was not punishment for her as I know many of you are thinking, she asked if I would take her because, who knew, she is a fan of hockey. I've known her since birth, so most of my life, and I never knew this.

Unfortunately the Firebirds lost to Tucson 3-2 but that isn't really what this is all about. I wanted to write about the experience of getting to see a professional sport played here in the desert. Yes we get a near major tennis tournament sponsored by BNP, and the PGA Tour comes here every January with the American Express tournament. Recently we had the LPGA major ripped away from us so no more leaps into Poppy's Pond. Tennis and golf are fun, but they are not top line sports.

Hockey, even at the AHL level, is a top four sport and it is exciting to have it here. I recounted a while back about getting involved for a street hockey tournament they put on and I was curious to see how they did with their primary product. I'm going to give it a grade of C+.

Let's start with the Acrisure Arena and the outside experience first.

The parking nightmares experienced on the soft openings earlier were not an issue for us, however we did get there ninety minutes before the doors opened. I had called in the afternoon to find out when that would be and was told 5:00 was when the doors opened. Not quite true. The gates opened then but the actual doors to the arena did not open until 6:00.

The arena has boasted of food truck like eating and drinking opportunities but really all it is are corporate cafeteria like machines where you select your pre packaged item and then go to a check out to pay, a complete cashless operation by the way. They did have a nice holiday display out front of the main gate and the bag checkers, ticket scanners, and security could not have been more pleasant and helpful. Grade for this portion is a C.

Having only two main doors for non VIP guests means that if you are seated on the opposite end of the arena you have a bit of a walk to your seats. Easy for me but my 92 year old mother ran out of gas about 2/3 of the way there. The viewing was superb from our seats, shown above, and as I walked around the arena it looked like anywhere you sit you will have a great view of the game action.

The PA was crazy loud and in our seats the video screen was behind us so it was not easy to see what they were showing. We ended up never watching because it was too hard to see. Another, even if smaller, screen on the opposite end of the arena would be helpful. Also, the scoreboard has too much information too close together so it was hard to tell the difference between shots on goal and the score plus the penalty time clock was pretty small and from across the stadium hard to read. Grade for this portion is a B+.

Unfortunately for us we had a rather large group in our section and they must not have ever been to a sporting event because they were chasing kids all first period, standing up for extended times, and generally making it difficult to see the game. Luckily they left after the first period so we could enjoy the rest of the game. Also, the air was blowing so cold on us that we literally were freezing. I've been to plenty of hockey games and I have never been this cold.

For as fan friendly as the team is, their prices are not in line with the rest of the corporate actions. Beer is $14, food is between $16 and $24. Polo shirts for $124 and kids jerseys for $130 all are very pricy and out of the reach for a large portion of the fan base. I had a big pretzel and a water for $17 with a small tip included. I pressed the 10% button for a tip and was charged 20% so this needs to be watched in the future. I know that there is money living down here but not everyone is rich and I've seen on line already some complaining about prices from the average parent with kids. Grade for this is a D.

As for the game itself, fantastic. The team looks solidly coached, although they had a tough night on the power play. Lots of passing and no shooting. I thought I was back in Chicago at a Blackhawks game for few minutes. Overall this team will be fun to watch. For this portion I give it a grade of A.

My overall grade of C+ is mainly based on the prices, including the ridiculous up charges by Ticketmaster on tickets, and the other side portion of the game like the video board viewing, the score board, and the temperature inside the arena.

I will be back to see other games and I'm guessing that they will get some of these things figured out to make it a better experience. They straightened out parking after just two events so I have faith in them to fix the other stuff too. It was a good night, just not a great night.

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