Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was the desire to witness the first-ever game. Maybe it was the desire to get winter sports underway.
Whatever the reason, 1,112 fans packed the Chippewa Area Ice Arena a week ago for the debut of the Chippewa Steel. The North American Hockey League team, which relocated to Chippewa Falls this year, played a memorable debut game that sent fans home happy. After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, they rallied for a 2-1 lead and added an empty netter in the final minute to win 3-1.
I am a hockey fan, but I typically only make it to three or so Minnesota Wild games a year, as even a cheap ticket for an NHL game these days is at least $50. So, I was eager to take my two boys to see the Steel play. The team didn’t disappoint. The action was fast-paced — a much quicker game than in high school hockey. There was more hard checks into the boards too, but it was all-in-all, a pretty clean game.
I can’t help but compare the Steel to the Eau Claire Express. The teams comprise college-age kids working hard to try and get noticed. I have averaged about eight Express games a summer over the past three years.
With young kids in tow, cheaper ticket prices and a shorter distance to get home afterward are really appealing to me. Steel tickets are $10 for general admission adult tickets, and kids under age five are free.
The Steel aren’t just fun to watch, they are a big boost for the Chippewa Youth Hockey Association. The CYHA has obtained permits from the city to serve beer during games.
The Steel and the CYHA have an agreement to split revenue from concessions and alcohol sales. The Steel, of course, also pay rent to use the building. This is all a great new source of money for the hockey association. Keep in mind, the Chippewa Area Ice Arena is entirely funded by the hockey association — they don’t receive money from the city.
CYHA organizers were thrilled to have 500 advance tickets sold before that first game. I don’t know what the official capacity is of the arena, but it sure felt close to a sellout.
The city, as a whole, also is going to benefit from having the Steel playing here. As I looked around at the crowd, I didn’t recognize a lot of people. Undoubtedly, this crowd wasn’t just Chippewa Falls residents. It was hockey fans from across the Chippewa Valley. While this first opponent was from Fairbanks, Alaska, the Steel will be playing teams in the future located in Minnesota and elsewhere in Wisconsin. I’m sure a lot of spectators from those teams will be making their way to Chippewa Falls for the first time. That means more hotel stays in Chippewa Falls, more stops at area restaurants, shops and gas stations.
I don’t doubt that this crowd size could be a season high. Not only was it the first-ever game, the Chippewa Falls Cardinals football team was playing a road game that night. But even if the crowd average is closer to 500 for the season, it will still be great news for the city.
The tickets were cheap, the action was fast-paced and fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. You should make it a point of checking out a Steel game at least once this winter.