By Todd Crocker | AHL On The Beat Archive
It was pretty clear that the fans at AHL Homecoming or what is commonly referred to as the All-Star Game in Syracuse were very interested in the happenings out west in the new cities that have given the AHL a big hug. There were many questions being tossed around by the folks who are always trying to complete a list of visited venues. What are the buildings like? What are the cities like? Should you fly in to one and then drive from San Diego to San Jose or the other way? And some of the rare west coasters who made it to Syracuse took great pride in getting their picture taken in front of a classic rink.
The hockey traveler is a different kind of human being. Often found in pairs or in small groups, they forage along interstates and back roads looking to add to their life experiences through the world’s greatest game. Much is to be admired about these modern day nomads as unlike their fair-weather cousins who visit baseball stadiums, these mileage mavens do their driving in the worst season for motoring. Battling blizzards, black ice and the blue lights of snowplows. They try to visit places when their home team is visiting too, but truly it more likely they just want out of the house in winter.
The AHL mid-season mingle is a “can’t miss” on your hockey must do trips. The access to players, coaches, and everyone connected to the league is unlike anything you see at the next level. And each year you can add a different place to your travel history while snagging some beauty selfies with tomorrow’s superstars.
With the league heading west this year, it expanded the fare for those truly keen hockey fans who make it a necessity to visit as many hockey cathedrals as possible and live to tell about it. And for the fans out west a whole new world of travel possibilities erupted onto the scene. So for those who want to start laying down some miles on the hockey tour bucket list, here’s a couple of suggestions for your American Hockey League travel plans while you’re catching a hockey game.
Albany – Take a walk around Nelson Rockefeller Square and make special note of the four buildings that are exactly the same. They are ominously and somewhat futuristically named Agency Building 1,2,3, and 4 Best photo spot: Capital building front steps.
Binghamton – The walk of stairs is worth it just to get a picture with the Rod Serling star and make Twilight Zone references on your Instagram. The Floyd Maines Arena is a “must-add” to your photo collection of you in front of classic rinks.
Bridgeport – Fire Engine Pizza and off to the game. Then Walrus and Carpenter, where putting a rib in your cocktail seems strangely okay.
Charlotte – NASCAR Hall of Fame simply because the view of cars in the atrium needs to be soaked up. Even if you’re not a racing fan, it’s visual candy. The picture of the Bojangles’ is better taken at the end of the empty parking lot to get the whole feel for the look of the place.
Chicago – Up by the rink in Rosemont there is the Hummels Museum. That is an entire museum dedicated to the little figurines that might just weird you out significantly enough to send you to Wolf’s Flea Market on a Sunday, where no doubt you’ll see some for sale. Best selfie spot: Inside the rink just about anywhere.
Grand Rapids – It’s going to sound dull but the Gerald Ford Library is worth it simply to see how the whole pardoning of Nixon was handled and why. And of course to see some photos of Andy Richards from The Young and The Restless. If you’re of a mind for a post game party, The BOB. Best photo op: You and Jay out front of the Van Andel.
Hartford – Oh sure the teeming masses head to the Mark Twain museum, but you should go to the Trash Museum. You will never look at what you throw away the same way again. Get a haircut at the Professional Barber Shop. In the back, they have a picture of Stanley with some old Whalers connections.
Hershey – Okay this is a legitimate vacation destination so it needs no help from this corner on what you can do there, but bored bus drivers from all corners swear by the trolley ride. Best photo op: The old HersheyPark Arena.
Iowa – It’s mid-winter and maybe not the best time to be out eyeing down sculptures, but the Pappajohn sculpture park is really cool. Do not be fooled into thinking there is a large edible pizza sculpture no matter how convincing the cab driver is.
Lake Erie – Cleveland is another legitimate destination for a ton of things but here’s one to make you get in touch with your claustrophobia: The USS Cod submarine tour. And get your picture taken outside the rink in front of the big Lebron mural. In reality, he is only slightly smaller than it.
Lehigh Valley – If you can get the darn song out of your head in Allentown, get over to the America on Wheels Museum before the game at the PPL Center.
Manitoba – Is it necessary to say it is going to be minus twenty-four but feel like minus thirty? Think inside the box in Winnipeg in the winter. Museum of Human Rights is a one of kind place. Go to Bailey’s Dean the bartender is the Steven Wright of mixologists. Selfie spot? Portage and Main—the world’s coldest street corner.
Milwaukee – Walk over to the Public Market. Really. Just go. The Public Market. Photo op: The Badger Bob plaque on the walk to the rink.
Portland – A classic summer town that you’ll be visiting in the winter to see hockey, so the Art Museum, which is indoors, is your best bet. Take the long down the street photo it make the rink look about ten miles long.
Providence – Bring your skates for outdoor hot chocolate at the ALEX AND ANI CENTER and ready your camera for Benefit Street. You’ll take a photo there. Oh, you’ll take a photo.
Rochester – Home of Kodak the only name in photography at one point in time, the George Eastman House makes for a cool pre-game distraction. You’ll want a photo of the rink on the river from the Dinosaur BBQ side of the Genny. Half rack, beans and mashed.
Rockford – There is ice under a bridge here that causes people to fall and bounce straight back up. Other than that, the BBQ at the rink is inspiring. Best spot to capture the moment: Inside the rink from the BBQ area (sense a recurring theme here).
San Antonio – A true tourist destination, the Riverwalk gets all the love. But before you drive out to the game, get over to the Briscoe Western Art Museum and eat breakfast on the Riverwalk on a patio. It has the feel of being in an amusement park before it opens.
Springfield – Here’s your day, The Basketball Hall of Fame, Student Prince for lunch, sleep off the massive amount of food, get to the rink and feel the whole AHL love mojo going on in the league’s HQ town. Another inside the rink photo op here.
St. John’s – Admittedly tough to get there and get back during winter, it would be easy to say just head to George Street and the fun will follow… Hmm, so let’s say that, head to George Street, fun will follow. Photo-op: The whole place is one but head up to Signal Hill for the great backdrop.
Syracuse – Everson Museum right across from the rink. When you come out, take a photo of yourself in front of an AHL classic rink. Take time to read the engraved stone around the whole building. Perspective.
Texas – Cedar Park might be trying to make it’s own mark, but with Sixth Street in Austin not far it makes it tough. The bats flying out from under the Congress Bridge is not for everyone as the woman who ran away shrieking proved, but it is cool to watch that many of something that eats mosquitoes. Rink photo op? Include the flags of Texas, Canada, and U.S.
Toronto – Well you’re in town for hockey you don’t even need advice to get to the Hockey Hall of Fame but since you’re over that way, go to the St. Lawerence market for a peameal bacon sandwich. Photo? Come in through the trade show building and take some cool shots of an old horse arena turned hockey house.
Utica – How does a town this size have a world-class art gallery? It does. Munson Williams Proctor is a big name but anytime you can go to a building that is suspended in air, you should. And when you walk back to the rink stop in at the little diner in the weirdly shaped building and tell them the Toronto Marlies broadcaster sent you. They’ll let you pay full price for your grilled cheese and fries. Photo? The ceiling.
Wilkes-Barre – Get into a debate with locals about pronouncing the name and then if you are so inclined, it is the home of the local brewing legend Stegmaier at The Lion Brewery. Photo op: Behind the Target on the hill, great overview of the rink, the selfie will be so Pennsylvania you’ll want a miner’s helmet to take home.
It’s pretty clear not a lot of AHL cities are first on the winter destination list. No one is trying to make a choice between Aruba and Albany for five days in February. But, AHL fans are a diverse bunch that are proud of their teams and the cities they live call home. Help your other AHL bucket listers and fans by offering your thoughts on where to eat, what to do, and best places to take pictures. Usually visiting fans come in for a day and night and are looking for something to fill in an afternoon. Help them out. Who knows, you might find yourself wandering the rinks and landing at next year’s AHL kitchen party in…well we’ll have to wait on that location, but you know it’ll be a great time.
Note: A little help with the new cities out west would be great for those adventuresome enough to, as Nat King Cole once sang, ‘make the California trip.’