December 17, 2011 - Ann Arbor, Michigan
A great way to start a Saturday is with an early game, followed by a late game. A 3pm start for this USHL game in Ann Arbor featuring Team USA, also known as the USNTDP (U.S. National Team Development Program) against the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders fit into the schedule perfectly. The Ann Arbor Ice Cube sits in a suburban area in a business park type setting, and could easily be mistaken for a warehouse. Its tan brick exterior is essentially windowless, and is only accented by a small raised-letter sign indicating its use. It is surrounded by a well landscaped parking lot, and houses 3 ice pads, one of which is known as the stadium rink which Team USA calls home. The main entrance sits at the middle of the building, and is flanked by a small glass door which also houses the offices for the USNTDP. For being essentially the home of the national training center you would think the building would be more impressive, but the Ice Cube is essentially a community rink, albeit a nice one. The building is fairly new, and is very similar to other multiplex arenas, with a central hallway running down the center of the building. The arena management tries to get trendy by referring to the building as a2ice3. I guess you can tell you are in a college town when they do that.
There is a surprisingly big-time looking box office area inside the main door, with a good sized lobby and multiple ticket windows. Team USA signage is evident immediately once you enter the building. Tickets are a bargain at $6, and a decent program costs only 50 cents. Inside there is a concession stand with seating and room for birthday parties and events. There is also a very good pro shop, which is one of the Perani's Hockey World chain locations. The Stadium Rink sits just off the main hallway and you enter the arena itself through glass doors and are then at the top of the grandstand. There are seats running the length of one side, consisting of blue plastic individual seats, which are backless. There are 12 rows of permanent seats, and then another 4 rows of aluminum bleachers on the top. There is a makeshift press area atop the center of the seating area, made of of a couple tables. The benches are across from the grandstand, and there is additional aluminum bleacher seating behind the net on one end, and in the corners on the bench side, and next to the benches. The corner bleachers extend upward in a pyramid shape. The entirety of the seating on the end and bench side was closed off for this game however, making everyone stay in the main grandstand. Seating capacity for the Ann Arbor Ice Cube is listed at 1,000, although it looks like you could fit a couple hundred more than that. There is a glassed in suite overlooking the ice in the corner next to the main grandstand as well. Unfortunately for the fans the entire spectator area is covered by white netting, obstructing the view somewhat. There is no center ice score clock, and the scoreboards are situated between the benches, and on 1 end. The area behind the benches is blocked off by an enourmous blue curtain. It is pretty cool seeing world championship banners hanging above the ice on one end. You may see banners at your arena, but chances are they are not world championship banners. The arena is nicely kept, and as mentioned on the smaller side, even for the USHL.
The game experience at the Ice Cube is OK, but you don't get the feeling that this is Ann Arbor's team in much of a sense. The USNTDP is sort of an odd stepchild to the rest of the USHL teams, having actually 2 teams made up of many of the top US prospects in the country. The USHL schedule is actually split between the 2 teams, the under-18 team, and the under-17 team, who took on Cedar Rapids for this game. The rest of the NTDP schedule is made up of international tournaments, and exhibitions against college teams. Make no mistake about it though, the younger age of the Team USA roster does not limit their competitiveness against the up to 20 year old age limit of the other teams in the USHL. In fact the home team won rather easily, taking a 4-1 win. A crowd of about 350 people saw the game, many of whom were college scouts. There did seem to be a fair number of locals on hand. Clearly Ann Arbor is a hockey town, and there are a lot of kids who play, it is just that the Michigan Wolverines garner most of the attention in town, and rightfully so. It was neat seeing young kids scramble to get near the locker room door before intermission ended to get a fist bump from the players as they headed to the ice, and the quality of the roster is hard to match. College commitments to schools such as Boston College, Michigan, Michigan State and North Dakota are listed for the Team USA players. The quality of hockey is fun to watch at the Ice Cube, but the presentation is mostly business, although they did have youth hockey at intermission. The netting in front of the spectators is a little annoying, but for $6 to watch such high quality hockey is certainly a treat. Watching the USHL here is certainly a little different than experiencing it in the rest of the league, but it is still worthwhile. There is also nothing like hearing the Star Spangled Banner while a group of the country's best stand at center ice with USA on the chest of their sweaters.
Other information about Team USA of the USHL is available at: Team USA/ NTDP Home
Other information about the Ann Arbor Ice Cube is available at: Arena Home
More Photos of the Ann Arbor Ice Cube are available Here