September 26, 2021 - Morrisville, North Carolina
The early season USPHL Southeast Showcase brought Premier and Elite League teams from the southern divisions to do battle at this modern twin pad arena just outside of North Carolina's capital of Raleigh. The nearly new Wake Competition Center opened in 2020 and is the practice facility for the NHL's Hurricanes, home of the North Carolina State Ice Pack ACHA team, and home of the USPHL's Carolina Jr. Canes. The modern looking exterior features tan and gray block, lots of glass, and a large white concrete marquee that features the "W" logo of the Wake Competition Center. Red and black trim ties in the fact that this is home of the Hurricanes, and the arena is part of a larger sports complex featuring swimming, gymnastics, and soccer facilities. There is quite a bit of parking on site, although if all the complex's facilities are in use at the same time parking can be a bit hard to come by. Wake Competition Center ties in nicely the community arena needs with enough seating in the larger arena, the Red Rink, to house mid-sized hockey events and accommodate fans. Showcase tickets were $15 for a day pass and that allowed all day access to games on both rinks. The ticketing and sign-in table featured USPHL signage, free event programs, and a friendly staff. The Black Rink is the secondary ice pad, and is not the primary spectator rink here, but is adequate enough to host USPHL level games, albeit with a modest amount of seating. For a showcase event to truly work it needs to be at a venue with at least 2 ice pads, and have games going on all day, so as to make scouts and team staff's trip worthwhile. Wake Competition Center's layout fits that bill, and also provides enough locker room space to accommodate games on both ice pads. we were in attendance for a Sunday evening matchup between the Premier level Florida Jr. Blades, and the Richmond Generals. Although basic in its confines, the Black Rink offers facilities equivalent to some Tier 3 hockey teams primary venues, even though it is essentially the auxiliary ice pad here.
Fans on hand at the USPHL Southeast Showcase could kill time between games by grabbing a bite to eat in the on site bistro, sitting at one the the several tables overlooking each rink, or checking out the nicely stocked pro shop, which in addition to hockey equipment features an excellent selection of Jr. Canes gear, including hoodies, shirts, hats, etc. For a USPHL level team this is among the best merch lines I have seen. The information desk at the center of the lobby also sells sodas and snacks if you want to grab something quick. Although the Black Rink is visible from the lobby through glass on the end of the ice entry is through a door on either side of the end of the rink. One side of the ice features team benches and penalty boxes, the other has seating for a couple hundred fans on 3 rows of black plastic bleachers that run the length of the ice. The ceiling here is fairly low, and large metal trusses hold up the roof and sits along the top of the bleachers. Signage for the Hurricanes is themed black in this rink, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes also has prominent signage here as well. Netting spans the entire length of the bleachers, and the scoreclock is along the end wall above the goal. Wake Competition Center's Black Rink is certainly nothing fancy, and is primarily meant for games with a lower spectator turnout, but is is modern, well kept, and seems like a place that the building owners take pride in. The Black Rink is hardly a destination in itself, but can come into use at the junior hockey level and above on occasion, and provides an additional option for games in the Raleigh market. The rink was in use over the 4 day weekend showcase nearly all day long, and a hundred or so fans were on hand for this 8pm Sunday night matchup between Florida and Richmond.
Game day presentations at showcase events are usually a combined effort between the hosting team and venue and the league. For this game at Wake Competition Center's Black Rink the presentation was a basic as it could get. There was music played in warmups and then the National Anthem, but the PA system was largely quiet otherwise, including during stoppages. Sight lines in the Black Rink are OK for such a small capacity venue, as all the seats are near ice level, so you are always looking through the glass and there are no higher vantage points to watch from. Nonetheless, fans are close to the action here, and in addition to the 3 rows of seats on the side of the rink some attendees chose to stand along ice level in the corners, or watch from the lobby overlooking the end of the ice. Interestingly enough, although the crowd on hand was mainly comprised of family and friends of the players, the USPHL's different levels of play provide an interesting dynamic, as teams travel with 2 squads to showcases, and often have their Elite roster on hand cheering for the Premier team and vice-versa. In this case, the Generals Elite team took up an entire section of bleachers, and cheered, chirped, and carried on providing a fun and raucous atmosphere in an otherwise silent barn. The game, despite the early season timing, counted in the regular season standings and brought with it a level of intensity that you would expect from Tier 3 hockey. Lots of physical play, and a decent level of speed was witnessed, and the 3 second period goals would be the only tallies of the evening, leaving the Jr. Blades, with their alligator themed uniforms, shut out by a 3-0 score. Although the Black Rink at Wake Competition Center is not the primary hockey venue on site it provides a solid second rink to allow for simultaneous games during a showcase weekend. Showcases themselves provide an interesting hockey experience for those who may not have ever attended one, as there is a constant coming-and-going of teams, a line of team buses arriving and departing, and constant action in the building, allowing diehards to watch one game, and jump a couple hundred feet away to watch action from another game during intermission. The USPHL's Southeast Showcase was a welcome hockey fix in the 75 degree weather of the late September South, and would be worth a return trip if i were in the area again in the future.