As part of the NHL’s 100-year celebration, the league has put together a traveling fan event called the Centennial Fan Arena that is making its way across all the NHL cities, including a stop in Dallas this weekend. The event will be at Victory Plaza South (i.e., the video-screen entrance of the American Airlines Center) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, including before the Dallas Stars games against the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild.
The full schedule for the Dallas stop can be found here at the NHL’s website.
So how was this event? I got a chance to check it out at it’s first stop in Tempe, Ariz. last weekend. The upside is the NHL has put together a cool little traveling event. The “traveling museum” is small but has a handful of neat artifacts, the VR Zamboni race thing looked neat, and of course the Stanley Cup makes an appearance (Saturday only in Dallas). That, combined with an opportunity for kids to play ball hockey and burn off some energy and whatever events are added by the home team’s marketing crew, make it fun.
The downside is it looks like it’s going to be popular. Out in Arizona, there were what looked to be a few thousand people who congregated for what amounted to around 10 activities on both days. Assuming people broke out into lines evenly (which they didn’t), that meant lines of at least 100 for every stop. In reality, it was more like several hundred to 1,000 people in line for the Cup photo opportunity, a couple hundred for the museum, a hundred or so for the Zamboni and scattered lines for the other things (a prize wheel, a bounce house for the kids, a couple skills stations and the ball hockey stops).
In total, I waited 1 hour, 20 minutes for a minute or so with the Cup (though to be fair, the crew running that show made sure kids didn’t feel hurried through and were gentle about encouraging people to move along), 40 minutes to get into museum truck and about 15 minutes to spin a prize wheel. I was at the event a little less than three hours and spent about 75 percent of that standing in line.
Of course, standing in line with hockey fans can be amusing. As expected, there was a fair contingent of Blackhawks fans at the Arizona stop (hey, if you could spend your winters where it was 70 degrees and sunny versus 20 degrees and windy, you’d snowbird too), but there were also at least some representative fans from the Blues, Avalanche, Oilers, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Sharks, Ducks, Bruins, Wild, Canadiens and Lightning along with a large group of Coyotes fans. Chatting and friendly banter made the lines pretty bearable.
For the actual events, I was not able to try out the virtual Zamboni experience. It looked pretty true to what it’s advertised as - fans wear VR goggles, jump on a replica zam and “race” the other participant - but I can’t speak to whether it’s worth the wait for something that only lets two people on at a time.
The museum truck is rather interesting. There are some neat artifacts from vintage NHL stars (a stick from Stan Mikita caught my eye because holy cow the toe curve on that thing is insane), a very cool interactive touch screen of the Stanley Cup where you can move around the engravings, and an opportunity to take your picture in a mocked-up home-team locker room. I skipped this, but families seemed to get a kick out of it. It’s also interesting to note that the exhibits seem to be customizable - in the stick display, there were three Coyotes-used sticks, and a Mike Smith goalie helmet was in the helmet display. I assume these and a few other things will be swapped out at each stop.
The Cup itself, as always, is a very cool experience. You don’t get a lot of time with it, but watching everyone else get excited while you’re waiting is very fun. It’s also a unique hockey fan experience to wait a pretty absurd length of time to see this trophy, so everyone in line is both resigned (at the wait, which in Arizona wrapped around the half-regulation-sized ball hockey rink twice) and enthusiastic at the same time. In Arizona, Phil Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup, was hanging out next to the photo area and gladly took pictures or chatted with anyone who asked. I can’t guarantee he’ll be in Dallas on Saturday, but if he is, he’s a very nice man.
Also, if you play and have gently used gear you no longer use, they have a donation opportunity at the event. It’s both a charitable way to give back to the hockey community and a great way to get old gear out of your house. Plus if you’re one of the first 200 people who donate, you get a 10% off coupon to NHL.com, which is a nice touch.
The other events likely vary by location. The Coyotes had a bounce house, a slap-shot station, a prize wheel (I won a Coyotes sticker, but there were also pucks, autographed mini-sticks and ticket discounts), some marketing representatives, Howler the mascot and a few other little things. I’m sure the Stars will end up with something similar.
I do think they’ll have to expand the offerings as they go on, if only because the more people that crowd in to 5-10 stations, the more out of hand the lines will get. But would I recommend going to the version likely to arrive in Dallas this weekend? Absolutely. It’s a neat little event that is 100 percent free, something that makes all the standing in line worth it.
Don’t worry about the RSVP thing online. I did that and got exactly zero usage out of it (the big advantage seemed to be the photo-op in the museum truck was personalized more quickly). Get there early if you can (I saved about 45 minutes in the Cup line by being in it before it wrapped around on itself), bring some patience, maybe a good book and a fully charged smartphone. It’s worth the lines.