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Wings Event Center

February 21, 2018

  • 3600 Vanrick Drive
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49001
  • (269) 345-1125
  • Website

I grew up in Central Northeastern Illinois (south of Chicago but not quite far enough south to be considered the central part of the state) during the 1990’s.  Hockey was not popular.  I used to get made fun of for wearing my Chris Chelios Blackhawks jersey to school.  Things aren’t like that now.  The Hawks are good so everyone likes them, but back then, the Wirtz family prevented Blackhawks home games from being shown on TV which really hurt the fan base outside of the city.

Despite not growing up around the sport, heck we didn’t even have an ice rink within 90 miles, I’ve always really liked hockey.  I didn’t start going to games until I moved out on my own.  My first job was in Peoria, Illinois…home to the Peoria Rivermen…and I went to as many games as I could afford to the first few years I was on my own.

Fast forward fifteen years now and I still really enjoy watching hockey games.  We’re lucky enough to have a couple of options in Kalamazoo.  There’s Western Michigan University games as the top tier of NCAA hockey.  Some of the best teams in the country come through Lawson on a regular basis.  As for the pro game, there’s the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL.

We haven’t been to a lot of K-Wings games since moving to Kalamazoo nine years ago.  I could probably count on one hand, but that has more to do with life situations than anything.

Our first K-Wings game was not long after we moved to Kalamazoo in 2009.  J got some tickets through work so we headed to our first game at what was then called Wings Stadium.

We’ve been to a few different events at Wings over the years.  J has taken L to see Sesame Street Live and we even went to the USA Curling Nationals the year they were held in Kalamazoo.

Last week, my work offered up tickets for the whole family and even though it was a weeknight, we decided it would be fun.  J’s always enjoyed hockey games and we haven’t taken B to one yet so it would be fun to see how he reacted.

Wings Stadium is Wings Event Center.  It’s located on Vanrick Drive just off Sprinkle Road and I-94.  It’s easy to see as you’re heading east on the freeway and pretty easy to get to from Sprinkle Road.  They have huge surface lots with multiple entrances off Vanrick Drive and an entrance on the south side at Covington Road.  Parking for the game was $5 which was paid by cash at the entrance to the lot.

The box office is right inside the main doors of the arena.  New since the last time I was at a game, they now have MAGS at all of the entrance doors so you have to go through security.  This is done before the box office so even if you don’t have tickets, you’ll have to go through the metal detectors.  The tickets are scanned at the doors as you enter the arena.

There’s also a large apparel shop in this lobby area before you go in to the arena.  There are several small stands inside the arena, but this one outside has the most merchandise and it’s easier to look at things.  Inside the arena, it’s essentially a concession stand type set up where you can see items, but can’t touch them without asking for help.

Wings Stadium was built in the mid-70’s so it has the look and feel of an older arena.  The concourse is under the main seating bowl.  It’s a narrow hallway with concession stands cut in to the walls.  There are tunnel entrances to the seating bowl on either end of each section.

We hit up one of the four concession stands right away.  I don’t get off work until 6:30 so I went home, picked up the family, and headed right to the game without grabbing anything to eat.  J skipped eating at home with the assumption we’d end up eating at the arena.  The kids had eaten but still needed junk food because, duh, that’s what you do at a sporting event.

Each of the concession stands has something a little different.  We picked the TNT Burgers stand just because it was the first one we found when we walked in.  We ordred a Cheeseburger basket, a chicken tender basket, two blue slushees and a frozen margarita.  The food set us back almost $40 and I still hadn’t gotten drink or popcorn for the kids.

The food took a little bit longer to come up than usual because we were waiting on fresh fries.  It took about ten minutes which cut into our game time but food was priority at the moment.  Once we got everything, we headed to our seats which ended up being on the other side of the arena.

The arena holds a little over 5,000 for the hockey set up.  All of the seats are accessible from the same tunnels that open out in about the middle of the seating section.  It’s just a matter of going up or down depending on where your seats are.  About those seats, now, granted, I’m not a little guy, but they’re a little on the small side.  I could stand to lose a few pounds so it’s hard for me to speak for the regular size person, but my butt fit in there pretty snugly.  It isn’t the most uncomfortable stadium seating I’ve ever sat in, but I could use another inch or two.

We got everyone settled then J and I started in on our meals.  The kids both got blue slushees to tide them over until I could go back out and get popcorn.

My meal was the Cheeseburger basket.  It came with a cheeseburger and fries.  The burger was a single patty with a slice of cheese on a white bun.  The sandwich is simple but actually quite filling.  The fries are frozen skin-on fries.  They need a little help from some salt, but again, they were quite filling for concession stand food.

J ordered the chicken tender basket.  Like the burger basket, it comes with fries.  The chicken tenders are large, flat food service supply store chicken tenders.  They’re safe, filling, and with a little ketchup or ranch, tasty.  They’re not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, but you’re at an arena…the goal is quick and filling and these hit that goal.

J also got a frozen margarita that looked a lot like the kids slushees.  I almost handed it to one of the kids because I thought one got red and one got blue but that wasn’t the case.  Red was J’s drink.

Once we got settled, I got back up to go get popcorn.  The large bucket set me back another five bucks but it lasted the four of us the whole game.

While I was up, I decided to get a drink myself.  Our section was right next to the Craft Beer Depot.  This area is set up just like the concession stands but they added some tables and cleaned it up a little bit to make it more of a lounge where you can sit and sip a beer while still watching the game on TV’s hung on the walls.  They have a pretty solid craft beer selection on both draft and in cans.

I picked my favorite “go-to” beer, a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.  They have two sizes.  I went with the larger 24oz which cost $7.75.  That seems to be in line with most stadiums and possibly even a little cheaper when we’re talking about craft beer at an arena.

The game.  We went for the annual Pink Ice Game which is a fundraiser for the Komen Foundation.    It’s a little odd to see the ice not white, but it was fun.  It doesn’t change the game from the fan’s perspective and I got used to it after a few minutes.

We surprisingly made it through the about the midpoint of the third period.  The kids were really in to the game and couldn’t wait to see Slappy.  We noticed him a few sections down as we were talking about leaving so we just waited out in the hallway for him and it made the kids’ night.

Wings Event Center is still a great thing for Kalamazoo to have.  It’s not a new arena.  It clearly shows it’s age in some ways, but for hockey, it’s a classic old barn.  The ECHL is a league, mostly, where guys end their careers or hang on to the dream of playing in the NHL someday.  Sure, there are guys who will make up some day, but the majority of these guys will never go any higher.   WEC invokes feelings of raw emotion and’s what you think of when you think of the rough and tumble days of hockey in the 70’s and 80’s.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Primis permalink
    February 21, 2018 7:41 pm

    It’s still really tough to bring fans around that were used to the old “AAA” IHL days when you’d see future NHL stars come through, but the ECHL is leaps better than the UHL “low-AA” days. And you get to still sometimes see a Yanni Gourde (who is scoring a ton of goals for Tampa in the NHL this year) come through Kzoo on their way.

    As for the building… it’s old and small. But that’s why I like it and why I think others should too. The focus is still on the hockey, or concert, or whatever reason you’re actually there. It sucks that parking costs now, when it was free forever. We go to games still 3 or 4 times a year and enjoy it every time, and nobody ever thinks Wings is a terrible venue.

    • SW Michigan Dining permalink*
      February 21, 2018 8:42 pm

      I agree and I hope that’s the way it came across. There’s something about the old arenas that put you in the action…maybe it’s the sound bouncing off the roof or the lack of LED ribbon boards distracting you, but there’s something raw about places like Wings.

      The ECHL definitely isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still a fun league of guys literally playing because they love playing. With NCAA DI being used almost as AA anymore, league like the ECHL don’t see as many future stars….but they still see some. There are definitely worse leagues they could be in.

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