One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Berglund Center - Home of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs
December 23, 2021 - Roanoke, Virginia
Roanoke, Virgnia, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a blue collar town that is about as far removed from a traditional hockey market as you can get. Nonetheless, hockey dates back to the 1970's here. The Roanoke Civic Center, now known as the Berglund Center thanks to a naming rights deal with a regional car dealer consortium, opened in 1971. This concrete arena appears largely unchanged on the exterior, and saw the ABA's Virginia Squires bring pro basketball here the same year the venue opened. The Salem Rebels, a team playing 15 minutes away at the Salem Civic Center in the rough and tumble EHL split time at the newly opened Roanoke arena, then moved here full time in the arena's second winter. Roanoke has had hockey off and on over the years with the Rebels leaving in 1976, and then a decade and a half later the ECHL's Express coming to town. The Express was replaced by the UHL's short-lived Roanoke Valley Vipers, who folded in 2006, leaving Roanoke without pro hockey until the Rail Yard Dawgs inaugural season in 2016-2017. Roanoke is still a railroad town and current pro hockey incarnation, despite the bad name and equally cringe-worthy logo, plays upon Roanoke's heritage and history as a railroad hub. The Civic Center itself is a mid-sized venue, featuring a modern digital marquee message outside announcing coming events. Parking is available on site, and the exterior is a throwback to arenas of the 1970's as the windowless exterior is boxy, but interesting with vertical fluting on the concrete. A flat roof tops the facility, and the arena is easily visible from Route 581, the adjacent highway. Roanoke is not thought of as a "hockey town" but fans did flock to see the Virginia Tech ACHA team here when there was a nearly 10 year void in having pro hockey in town. The building's exterior just exudes an old time hockey feel, and this midweek game a couple of days before Christmas was decently well attended by a supportive crowd. Berglund Center is one of those places that just looks like it should be a good hockey venue. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the character and appeal of the building on approach and entry. Tickets range from $11-$30 overall, and we chose seats on the side up high for $18.
Upon entering into the box office area and through the annoying metal detectors that are all too common at mid sized venues these day you can purchase a ticket at the box office window just inside the main entrance. Entry onto the main concourse after getting your ticket scanned allows you to walk the concourse and find your seat. The square concourse goes all the way around the arena. The concourse is fairly wide and offers beer stands, concession stands, and a team store known as the Kaleidoscope, which offers Rail Yard Dawgs gear. There is also a fan and ticket information table where jersey raffle and 50/50 tickets were being sold, The entire concourse is carpeted with a rather gaudy and colorful carpet, which appears fairly new but has a vintage look. Entering the seating bowl there is an inner concourse aisle that runs around the building behind the first 8 or so rows of seats. The arena looks big at first sight, and, with a capacity of 8625, is indeed larger than some AHL venues. An older video board sits above center ice, and the flat maroon ceiling has exposed metal beams. The ice surface itself appears to be under sized and is possibly a 185 foot long rink. Seating is comprised of individual seats, some of which are padded. The lower level features maroon seats, with gray, black, and blue seats above the concourse aisle. Sight lines from seats on the sides of the ice are excellent and the seats are steeply pitched. The end seats offer an obstructed view as the net closest to the end you are sitting on is either fully or partially obstructed, similar to SPHL rival Knoxville's building. For an older venue the building has enough updates to make it comfortable without feeling sterile, and the Berglund Center is able to still feel like an old school hockey barn. The lack of suites, save some ice level tables, also adds to the old school feel.
The game day presentation at the Berglund Center is what we would call "minor league hockey light", and that is a good thing. There are some promos, and advertisements, and some fan interaction contests, but it is not over the top, and it is easy to stay focused on the game here. The arena pays tribute in small ways to is hockey history, with a Roanoke Express championship banner on display, and the team does a lot right as far as building off the railroad theme. The mascot named Diesel is quite active amongst the crowd. The goal horn is an appropriate and very loud train whistle, and the overall presentation just seems to work here with this size venue and this level of hockey. The downsides to attending a Rail Yard Dawgs game are the poor sight lines from the end seats, although not usually an issue as you could move to the corner if you wanted, and the lack of concession variety and rather high prices. The PA announcer is of the "pro wrestling style" which can be a bit over the top, but is not terribly annoying. The crowd was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, exceeding our expectations since this was essentially a failed non-traditional hockey market that sat dormant for 10 years. Fans know when to cheer, are loud, and the cowbell to fan quotient is high here, adding to the atmosphere. With this game being only a few days before Christmas Santa was on hand to greet the crowd and drop the first puck. The game itself was very good, and featured a good amount of hitting, and an exciting conclusion as the Dawgs trailed 3-1 to Fayetteville with 5 minutes left, scored a couple goals very late in regulation, and took the 4-3 win in OT, sending the Dawgs fans home happy and leading to a parade of fans ringing cowbells as they exited the venue and headed to the parking lot. Overall the Berglund Center, which in our minds has the feel of a place that should simply be called the Civic Center like in the move Slap Shot, is a solid arena with a lot of character and surprisingly fun atmosphere. The architecture, although unattractive, is a pleasant relief from the modern cookie cutter venues, and provides a throwback experience that is the way hockey is supposed to be experienced. . .