September 26, 2021 - Morrisville, North Carolina
Junior hockey is the South is often under the radar of most North American hockey fans, but the USPHL is seeing decent success drawing interest in markets across the Southeast, including defending USPHL Premier defending champions the Charlotte Rush. Make no mistake about it, this is serious hockey, and the Raleigh area's Carolina Jr. Canes receive decent support from both the community, and their NHL crosstown counterpart. Wake Competition Center is a multi-use facility in Morrisville, not far from Raleigh International Airport, and the facility features turf soccer fields, a competition swimming facility, a gymnastics center as well as the twin pad ice arena. The ice arena opened in August of 2020, and is also the practice facility of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. The area has a suburban office park feel, and ample parking is on site. This weekend was the USPHL Southeastern Showcase, featuring games on both ice pads from the USPHL Premier and Elite divisions. The modern looking exterior features tan block and metal trim and windows across the front facade as well as a swooping red and black "W", which is the facility logo. Entry through the main doors finds a ticketing and registration table set up with USPHL signage. Tickets were $15 for a day pass, which allowed access to both ice pads and viewing of up to 4 complete games, or parts of all 8 games taking place on this Sunday, which was day 3 of the showcase. It is clear that the NHL's Hurricanes have an influence here, and their signage is present, and, although it is essentially just a twin pad community arena, the venue has a professional look to the exterior and overall appearance of the building. In addition to hosting the USPHL's Jr. Canes (officially the Junior Hurricanes, but all branding, signage, etc in the building and the teams' media pages refers to them via the shortened Canes moniker, so we will too) Wake Competition Center also is home to the NC State Icepack ACHA team. With NC State being the main draw in the Raleigh area having their presence in the building is a plus for the facility as well. Wake Competition Center is a sharp looking, although simple, facility that is more than sufficient for teams at the USPHL level.
Fans entering through the main doors of Wake Competition Center will find most games with anticipated high spectator counts, including the Jr. Canes and NC State, in the Red Rink, which is to the left as you enter. A lobby area along the end of the rink allows for table seating overlooking the ice, and there is a dine-in restaurant selling rather upscale burgers and sandwiches which is very good, albeit a bit pricey, which sits just across from the Red Rink in the main lobby. The Red Rink features seating on one side of the ice comprised of 9 rows of plastic red chairback seats in the center ice sections, and plastic red bench seats closer to the ends. Capacity for the Red Rink is listed at 1100, and the sight lines are decent, although there is netting in front of the entire seating area. Many attendees also chose to stand at ice level along the end glass and watch from there. The Sunday afternoon contests taking place on the Red Rink when we attended was the Elite Jr. Canes vs the Palm Beach Typhoon. As it was a showcase weekend we caught the end of a USPHL Premier game also being played on the Red Rink prior to the start of this game. There is nothing remarkable about the layout or amenities when watching a game here, but the entire facility still has that "brand new feel" to it. The ceiling is relatively flat, and supported by gray beams. There is a single scoreclock on one end of the ice, and a small announcers perch above the team benches, which sit across the ice from the stands, which serves as a press box. Quite a bit of Hurricanes signage sits on walls and is tastefully done. The Jr. Canes also have a presence with signage and their logo present throughout the building. Wake Competition Center's Red Rink would be classified as the facility's larger event venue, and it is a comfortable, modern place to watch hockey.
The game day presentation at Wake Competition Center for this Sunday afternoon USPHL Elite contest was laid back and very basic. Music was played during stoppages over a robust PA system, and in somewhat unique fashion, speakers were playing the audio from the HockeyTV play-by-play broadcast into the arena itself. A good sized crowd was on hand filling about half the seats by game time, and the Jr. Canes made easy work of Palm Beach, taking a 8-2 win. There is no activity at intermission other than the ice being resurfaced. Being a showcase there were quite a few scouts on hand as well as league officials taking in the early season action. Thankfully these were regular season games, so the intensity level of the play was quite high, and the action on the ice was intense. Wake Competition Center feels like the home of the Jr. Canes, from the colors of the trim on the interior walls, to the signage and inspirational quotes posted throughout the building, to the team pro shop, which had a full line of Jr. Canes apparel, almost inline with what some USHL teams have to offer. Wake Competition Center also gives an affordable options for Raleigh area hockey fans looking to catch a hockey game without the hassle and expense of an NHL game. In looking at the Jr. Canes schedule there is another cool thing about attending games here, as the team usually features double header games where the Elite team plays, then the Premier level team will play, immediately after, so 2-for-1 hockey is easy to come by here. Of course a showcase weekend is always chock full of hockey action and can even be overwhelming at times, but this early season taste of hockey, while the weather was still 80 degrees outside in North Carolina made for an enjoyable afternoon and evening at Wake Competition Center.