As much as I’m not a Philly sports fan, I’ve got to hand it to them: They support hockey. For a number of years they supported two teams, the NHL Flyers as well as the AHL Phantoms. If the Spectrum were still standing, I think they’d still be supporting both teams.
It was evident Friday night as we made our way to the city to watch the Phantoms play a 1-off game with the “Baby” Pens of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. I expected a half to three-quarters filled Wells Fargo Center, but it turned out to be the third largest regular-season indoor crowd in AHL history. There were many groups, and many families. Price is the thing, you know? I think it was a good deal as far as ticket prices compared with the NHL club. I suppose lots of folks might have purchased tickets before the NHL lockout was settled. The parking and concessions were full price, though.
I purchased my tickets as part of the “pre-sale” held for Lehigh Valley Phantoms season ticket holders. I think I bought them last October or November. I bought among the most expensive seats available: Club Box. My ticket was $33.00 face value, and the kids were $25. Not bad for hockey. Many less expensive seats were available as well. Tickets in the same box are selling for $140.00 on StubHub for tomorrow’s Flyers’ game. Even upper deck (“Mezzanine” ) seats for tomorrow’s game are $40.00 in the same region of the arena.
We left around 4PM for the 7PM start, leaving plenty of time for traffic, parking, arena exploration and eating. Traffic was no problem despite some volume slowing on the Schuylkill (a Native American word which roughly translates as “obsolete highway.”) I made a parking lot turn error which landed me in New Jersey, but other than that we made it by 5:35 or so without incident. Parking was $15.00. Folks were lined up for the gate opening at 6PM but we were allowed in early via the VIP entrance (club level perk). On entrance, we were handed a picture/score card for the night’s game, and escorted via elevator to the club level of the arena.
The Club/Suite level of the Wells Fargo Center was very nice, and on par with what you would expect from a “Club” level: private concourse, a couple of places to eat and drink, and plenty of folks around to help you if you have questions or need help. The level also holds a fine dining restaurant at one end, the Cadillac Grille. It’s a white table-cloth “chop-house” menu type place. If you sit near the glass, you can see the ice. There is a bar in the back where we were allowed to wait until the rest of the level opened.
As we made our way to our box, it became clear that glass is verboten outside the restaurant. The gentleman in front of me practically got tackled by security as he as just walking along with a Corona bottle in his hand. They weren’t too happy to see me with a wine glass, either. No matter. We poured it into a cup. The club box had a private bar as well as in-seat food service. The food service menu was limited and slow, but it was nice nonetheless. It would have been good to be able to get drinks delivered to our seats–not because I’m too lazy to go to the bar, but because it would have been easier for the kiddos to get sodas on the tab without the bar and cash and whatnot. The club box had pub tables and bar-rails where you could sit and eat or relax before going to your seat.
The Hockey: The AHL players were fast and skilled. As I noticed last year, they seem a bit reluctant to wind up a slap shot on net, preferring instead to try wrist shots or work the puck for an open look. Eventually, this usually fails, as a pass gets missed or the defense makes a play. It turns out, the Baby Pens are among the lowest scoring teams in the league with among the lowest allowed-goals as well. This played out in our game as the Phantoms took an early 1-0 lead which held all the way into the third period. The Pens got a couple of goals late to take the win 2-1.
They smartly played this game to benefit the Phantoms’ travel schedule. It was a great idea, as the Philly crowd certainly supported the team. The team was on the way from a game in Norfolk, had a home game (Adirondack) then an away game in Hershey. They were able to play their home game in Philly, then proceed directly to Hershey without a detour to upstate New York. Nice plan–and nice to get the Lehigh Valley fans involved. I think they’d be smart to do this again next season–maybe more than once–in advance of the move. In fact, I wonder about renting out the Sovereign Center in Reading for a few games to get the local crowd involved.
SECTV-2 was there. They played Ryan Kelly’s TV-2 Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ promo piece on the jumbo-tron at one point. I was lucky enough to run in to him, too; unfortunately, I have a face for radio. And, my mouth went Rubio-dry. Hopefully that thing ends up on the cutting room floor. Maybe the bathroom floor…
What this means for our local Phantoms? I think it would be smart of the organization to market the team all the way down to the North Philly suburbs. I think folks in Philly like their hockey enough to travel up for a cheaper, family friendly game periodically.
As long as we can find a place for them to park…