March 29, 2017 - Romeoville, Illinois
The Silver Cup is a big deal. How big? Well for fans and supporters of Tier 3 teams across the USA this is the biggest prize of them all. With the NA3HL increasing to nearly 50 teams over the last several seasons winning this championship is a difficult task indeed. With its central location, Canlan Ice Sports in Romeoville, about 45 minutes west of Chicago, has been the host site the last several seasons, as teams flock to Chicagoland after winning their respective divisions from as far as the Mountain West states, to New England, to the Southeast. This multi-pad venue opened in 2006 as the International Ice Center. Financial troubles as the economy went sour found Canadian arena management corporation Canlan Ice Sports Corporation acquiring the arena and taking over operations. The arena, which sits in an industrial area just off Interstate 55, has a low profile and sprawling look from the outside. A brick facade marks the entryway as does a sharp looking clock tower. The rest of the building fits in with its industrial surroundings, and features gray and tan concrete walls. The low, flat ceiling makes the building seem as thought it may be one of the many warehouses or industrial buildings located in the vicinity at first glance. The building is nothing fancy, but is well maintained and serves as a solid home for local hockey and skating organizations. In addition to hosting the Silver Cup tourney the arena was also home of the NA3HL's Chicago Jr. Bulldogs, although before this event took place it was announced that the Bulldogs were being sold and moved to Wausau, Wisconsin. With 3 pads on site, each with its own grandstand, Arena 1 and Arena 2 saw action in the tournament. Just inside the main entry doors was a large table where fans could purchase their tickets or some NA3HL merchandise. The Silver Cup was actually on full display as well, and would be awarded to the champion after the 5 day tournament. Tickets were $15 per day which allowed entry into multiple games per day, or $25 for the week long pass. The lobby was a bustling place as teams and fans arrived or left after their respective games, and the large lobby also featured a busy concession stand which sold the usual arena fare, and a well stocked pro shop. Canlan Ice Sports is primarily an arena meant to service area youth hockey and skating organizations, and does not come across as a big event venue, but its location in the middle of the country, and the fact that it played host to a NA3HL team make it a reasonable venue to house a tournament such as this, with 4 games being played across the 2 arenas in use each day, and also a prospect combine taking place as well in the early afternoon hours.
The Silver Cup tourney features 3 days of round-robin action with the 8 teams being spit into 2 groups of 4. Games take place at the same times on Rinks 1 and 2, although the start times are staggered a bit. Rink 2 is the main arena at the venue, and is the middle of the 3 ice pads. Modest seating is available on one side of the ice with a small grandstand featuring 6 rows of plastic benches on aluminum grandstand risers. Rink 2 features a scoreboard on each end all above the goals, and the interior walls throughout the building are gray and red cinder block walls. Additional viewing is available by standing along the glass on the lobby end of the ice, as well as above the grandstand on the large, wide concrete concourse which runs between the rinks. We consider this venue a single arena as the rinks are all under an open ceiling, and you can see both Rink 1, and Rink 2 from the upper concourse which runs between the two. There is no wall or enclosure between the rinks, and fans can stand at the rail watching the action on Rink 1, and then step back about 15 steps and turn around and watch the action on Rink 2. The noises, music, cheers, and whistles get intermixed under the ceiling and can be heard from rink to rink. the low ceiling is supported by white metal rafters, and with such a small amount of grandstand the seating capacity in each rink can't be more than about 3-400. With standees you can fit quite a few more folks, and Rink 2 has an additional upper concourse on the opposite side of the ice, which supports a similar seating layout for Rink 1, so fans can see Rink 2 from either side of the ice if they so choose. Rink 1 features a single scoreclock on the end wall, and is used during the first 3 days of the tournament only, as once teams are paired down to the semi-finals all action takes place on the center rink. Oddly, the seating is not accessible from the ice level, so folks need to go up to the upper concourse and then back down the grandstand aisles to grab a seat. Having enough dressing room facilities and the infrastructure to have multiple games going on at the same time is clearly an advantage to having the Silver Cup event here in Romeoville, although the feel is that of a large youth tournament at a community multiplex rather than that of a major spectator event venue. Nonetheless, teams, families, and supportive fans assemble here for an exciting tournament to end the hockey seasons of the most successful teams in Tier 3 hockey.
The gameday presentation at Canlan Ice Sports for the NA3HL Silver Cup Tournament is all business, but well presented and organized. With the NAHL administration team in charge, the games go off like clockwork, and are presented in a professional manner. As this is a neutral site event, there is no home team type feel to the event, although teams such at Granite City and North Iowa and St. Louis have a bit more prominent presence than some of the other teams due to geography. There is music played during the stoppages and intermission, but otherwise there are not really any ancillary events taking place. Fans are here to see the hockey though, so events which cater to casual fans are not needed here. The level of play is fantastic, and the games over the first couple days featured some dramatic upsets and last second victories which led to joy for some fans and heartbreaks for others. With the team who will ultimately capture the Cup having to play 5 days in a row the event is a test of endurance and the intensity level is extremely high for every single game. The viewing layout is not the greatest in the world with the small grandstands in each rink providing a decent view, but being covered by netting as well. Fans are close to the action however. As mentioned, the odd dynamic of having 2 games going on on separate ice pads only 50 feet apart makes things a bit distracting, as if a goal is scored the goal horn and cheers and cowbells can be heard clearly in in the other rink as well. Whistles for penalties or infractions can also be heard in the adjacent rink, although that did not lead to too much confusion on the ice from what we were able to observe. Had there been a full wall between the rinks we would have actually considered them as 2 separate but attached arenas, but in this case, with the open concourse and layout of the facility we felt as though all games were in the same arena. The Silver Cup and the NA3HL often fly under the radar and get overlooked by many fans, but the action is very highly skilled and intense, and the entertainment level of the league is as high as you would find anywhere. Although Canlan Ice Sports has the feel of a community arena rather than a large event venue the level of play, intensity level, and magnitude of each and every game in the tournament, and interesting story lines that you can follow as the week progresses, makes this a definite must see for fans, especially those in the Midwest. If you are fortunate enough to have a team in your market advance to the final 8 you will certainly want to make the trek to Chicagoland to follow your team as they cap off their season.