CHL: Allen Americans vs Odessa Jackalopes

19 12 2009

The NHL Network has been touting Hockey Weekend Across America for months, and we’re still officially a month away. But I say, why wait? CHL game last night (live, in person), Dallas Stars game (TV) today followed by Hockey Night in Canada (TV), and if plans hold up, Richardson Women’s Hockey League (live, in person) tomorrow. That’s a lotta hockey. Not to mention the two Chicago Blackhawks games I have on the DVR for future review – whenever I have time to watch stuff on the DVR what with all of these other hockey games to attend to.

While I have a moment to breathe, here’s what you need to know about the CHL and our local team, the Allen Americans, so you can plan your own Hockey Weekend sometime.

Who: The Allen Americans are the local team for the North Texas crowd, whereas the Texas Brahmas serve the DFW Airport and points west (Fort Worth).

What: The Central Hockey League offers professional hockey in 10 states, largely in the south, but as far north as South Dakota. According to the official site:

The Central Hockey League celebrates its 18th season of play in 2009-2010 continuing to build on a tradition of outstanding competition and entertainment first established in the early 90’s. In the CHL’s first four seasons of play, the CHL had the unique distinction of centralized ownership. Now, all of the CHL’s current 15 member clubs are operated independently.

Insert comparisons to the WNBA here. Except it appears that the CHL enjoys more autonomy, if for no other reason than not being tied to a parent league, such as, in this example, the National Hockey League. CHL teams do not appear to be “farms” for the major pro teams.

When: As is usually the case with hockey, it is active from October-March. The games are largely scheduled during “family friendly” days and times, such as Friday and Saturday night.

Where: The Allen Americans play at the brand-new Allen Event Center. A hockey game in full regalia looks like this:

Allen Americans game at Allen Event Center

Think of it as the Sopwith Camel Arena and you'll enjoy the experience more.

At first, I felt a great deal of amusement that a 6800-seat arena has “suites” around the top of the bowl, but after three games I have become more accepting of the idea and think that the AEC could stand as a fantastic model for other towns looking for “family friendly” entertainment venues without having to build multi billion-dollar domes/stadia for massive pro sports leagues.

Keep reading.

Why: I don’t know what compelled someone to make the necessary arrangements to open a CHL franchise in Allen, Texas, but whoever it was is a genius.

My friends Jon and Brenda got into the act first, looking for a team to follow while Major League Soccer and FC Dallas are dormant. They bought season tickets with some of the FCD hooligans and started to spread the gospel, such as it was. A schedule dispenser was placed in my store, and I got lured to a game by way of a free ticket.

Despite my amusement with the facility and overall experience, I also quickly recognized the untapped potential. I wondered what other sports might call the AEC home. I imagined that there might be women’s sports that could build a following but needed a “serious” venue. I expect that my visit to the Richardson Women’s League tomorrow night might flesh that thought out some more. The AEC is also used for concerts, which aren’t my bag, baby.

The fan experience at the AEC has steadily improved over the last few weeks. The shopping center that surrounds the AEC is still trying to sort out the particulars, but inside the arena things are kept clean (I got a nose full of Windex™ on my way out of the arena last night) and the Allen Americans do their level best to make the action compelling on the ice with audience participation gimmicks to fill the down time.

Last night’s game against league-leading Odessa was the most physical and gripping performance I have seen to date. The game started with hard checking and dirty play, which led to on-ice banter (you could actually hear it 15 rows back… I mean, “in the nosebleed seats”), which led to an actual, drop-the-gloves, helmets off fight.

I’m not a big fan of hockey fights, but last night gave a good example of why they persist: The home bench got riled up, the visitor bench got filed up, the fans on the glass foamed at the mouth, and the atmosphere became electric. Considering both teams can’t have had much of a storied rivalry going into the match, it became very clear that neither team had much love for the other and they wanted the win.

The game was full of near misses, amazing saves at both ends, and spotty refereeing. Despite the frustration, that further ginned up the crowd and win or lose, fans got their money’s worth and more.

And that’s what I have been proselytizing to anyone who will listen: An Allen Americans game delivers excellent value. I saw entire families in the stands having a great time. Tickets start as low as $7. The food is kinda pricey in the arena but the venue is surrounded by restaurants, including Dodie’s Sports Bar which has positioned itself to be Allen Americans Central on game nights.

Odessa tied the game up 2-2 at the end of regulation time, and beat Allen 3-2 in overtime. I was hoping for a shootout for more goalie theatrics, but no go.

Despite the loss, I knew Allen was on the move when I saw fans flock to the gift shop after the game.

If you haven’t discovered the CHL, and they’re in your neighborhood, how about making a Hockey Weekend of your own?

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