An excuse for visiting friends made a perfect opportunity to visit my 17th NHL city.
The problem was, all of them were three hours south in Austin. Thankfully, a former coworker and current Lightning fan agreed to drive me up to Dallas to see what the American Airlines Center had in store on January 27.
Alex was skeptical after attending the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl. Fans constantly standing up, not sure about the calls on the ice and just belligerent. I countered that honestly, it’s like that at every outdoor game no matter the fan base. People get amped up and super drunk for the outdoor games. So, let’s see what a regular, regular season game turned out to be.
Alex took the wheel and drove to the parking garage without a hold-up in traffic and even better, they opened the doors 90 minutes before face-off so we didn’t have to wait at the door. Once at the door, be prepared because in Dallas, they scan your ticket before the metal detectors. Threw me off because I haven’t had the experience at any other arena.
Depending where you’re coming from in Dallas, you can easily take the DART light rail line to the Victory station and walk to the arena.
The concourses are beautifully decorated with different themes, making it feel like neighborhoods or districts. The AtHome sponsored area with furniture on the ceiling felt like it fit in. Plenty of space to move around without feeling stuck, which is key. How are you helping move people through the arena?
And one smart aspect of that is the restroom placement. They’re off to almost their own area without busy concessions that could create lines running into lines. The men’s room had two different sections of urinals, giving plenty of room for guys to line up. Seriously, it’s the little things that matter.
As for the food, Dallas definitely has some unique offerings. I had a Dallas Chicken Sandwich in this self-contained bar area. It was pretty good, kind of like a Hooters buffalo chicken sandwich. Out on the course, there was an Avocados by Mexico stand with Avocado Toast, and even an Avocado drink. Hard pass. I was more impressed that there was a 7-Eleven Slurpee stand. They are based in Dallas, after all.
The View & Feel
Alex and I took our seats in the fourth row behind where the Lightning would shoot twice. Looking up, it’s evident the ceiling has an arch and curved structure.
With a square footprint and those arches, it felt like we were in a giant airplane hangar — apropos for a place named American Airlines Center. Outside, that same hangar effect came off with the all-brick building. One of the more classic looking arenas in the league. Except for the giant discoball hanging over the visitor goal.
What hits you in the face is all of the GREEN inside. It definitely sets the tone unlike any other arena. Once warmups started, it felt like Christmas. The Stars wore Texas Rangers warmup hockey jerseys … because … we are … several weeks away from spring training? During player intros, the giant star and strobe lights make it feel like I’m either at a big-time rodeo, WWE match or just an overall spectacle.
A nice touch before the game, the organization changed the lights on the star to purple and gold for a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash the day before.
Seating 18,532 for hockey, it’s just above the midpoint for capacity in the NHL but yet feels intimate with how the club level and upper bowl is distributed. The upper bowl looks super tiny considering how many seats are here. The arena seats more than Capital One Arena in D.C., but feels a fraction of the size. Very deceiving, especially considering that this game had the highest indoor attendance for me since a pre-season(!!) Canadiens/Capitals game in 2017 and a 2016 Lightning/Pens regular season game in Pittsburgh.
The only gripe is a first-world problem and I don’t know if it’s an actual gripe. We were in the fourth row and had a great view of the ice but I’m not sure if the pitch of the seats cut off the view behind the net or if it was just us. The big screen helped in a pinch.
As for the fans — a complete reversal of Alex’s experience at the Winter Classic from what I could tell. They were polite, not too much ragging. They were actually pretty entertaining, like the guy with the giant mullet who would find a way to dance and entertain the crowd three sections over. Wish I got a photo of him as we understood that he is a regular at the games.
The game itself was pretty tight. I was afraid after a 0-0 first that this was turning into a another tense Lightning road game. Three years ago I witnessed the Bolts squeak out a 2-1 OT win against Ottawa in the middle of a blizzard. This game also went to overtime thanks to a killer Stamkos one-timer in the third, but the Bolts fell in overtime against former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and associate coach Rick Bowness. Captain Jamie Benn potted a turnover behind Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 3-2 OT win.
I enjoyed by brief time in Dallas. If you need some BBQ, head to Pecan Lodge on an empty stomach. The two pork ribs and beef brisket lasted me for a good 9 hours. The Sixth-Floor Museum was an interesting historical visit. It’s entirely an audio tour and I learned a few things I didn’t know before about the assassination of JFK.
More than anything — if you visit Dallas, package it with a trip to Austin. You won’t regret it.
Right now, I am 14 teams away — soon to be 15 once Seattle comes on board. I’m feeling good at the halfway point. Despite all of these arenas I’ve been to, I have not closed out a single division. That might change by season’s end.
Arena Total: 20
Individual Home Teams Visited: 17
American Airlines Center — Jan. 27, 2020 (Stars 3, Lightning 2 OT). Dallas clogged the neutral zone, keeping the score 0-0 after the first. A floater found its way behind Ben Bishop from Nikita Kucherov at the point. After the Stars evened it up, Jamie Benn converting on a breakaway from a bad Lightning turnover. After what seemed like 5 consecutive one-time attempts, Stamkos finally scored with 1:26 to go to send it to OT but Benn ends the game in the extra session after what else? A horrible Lightning turnover. Attendance: 18,345
Madison Square Garden — Nov. 10, 2019 (Panthers 6, Rangers 5 SO) With a thin roster, the Rangers were fortunate to get a point in an offense-filled game despite the Panthers coming off playing the Islanders the previous day. Henrik Lundqvist made some key saves despite giving up 5 goals to keep the Rangers in it. Rookie Ryan Lindgren scored his first career NHL goal. Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar left the game after being struck in the head with a slapshot. Vincent Trocheck scored the shootout winner. Attendance: 17,464
NYCB Live (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) – Feb. 28, 2019 (Islanders 6, Maple Leafs 1) — In a six-goal feast, nobody really remembers who scored in this game beyond Captain Anders Lee. The fans were the real star of this game with the epic trolling of former Islanders captain John Tavares returning home to the Coliseum for the first time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Tavares got owned both on and off the ice in a game that will be remembered for years to come. Side note: Johnny Boychuk had a scary incident taking a skate to the throat, rushing off the ice grabbing his throat. The cut wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the game. Attendance: 13,917
Prudential Center — Jan. 12, 2019 (Devils 3, Flyers 2) Long removed from the days of Brodeur vs Hextall, two rookie goalies faced off in this rivalry game. One, the much heralded Carter Hart for Philly, and the other, MacKenzie Blackwood, who is working to earn respect on the goalie depth chart. Dana Severson buried a one-time feed from Drew Stafford at the bottom left circle to open the scoring. Later, Nico Hischier went five hole on a breakaway in the second period then feeds Miles Wood for the final goal. James van Riemsdyk shoveled a puck top shelf in the second to get the Flyers on the board. Philly’s second goal game with 2 seconds left in the game when Sean Couturier received a stretch pass to break in and get the puck past Blackwood. Attendance: 16,514
Barclays Center — Nov. 13, 2018 (Islanders 5, Canucks 2) Thomas Khunackl scored two goals, including a nifty fluke goal on his back, easily being named the First Star of the game. Jacob Markstrom looked a bit shaky in goal as the team was coming off a back-to-back swing, losing to the Rangers the night before. Matthew Barzel and Brock Nelson also picked up two assists.. Canucks rookie phenom Elias Pettersson was held scoreless and was a -3.But did anyone notice? The official attendance was 8,806.
T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025
Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two. Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win. (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena) Attendance: 10,904
Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4) [Pre-season] Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist. Attendance: 21,288
Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.) Attendance: 16,894.
Consol Energy Center (Now PPG Paints Arena) – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.(Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.) Attendance: 18,643
Nationwide Arena – Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime. Attendance: 17,170
BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.) Attendance: 17,779
Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.) Attendance: 17,754 (A visit on Jan. 18, 2014 that had Marty St. Louis score 4 goals in a 5-4 loss against the Sharks featured a 19,204 attendance. Joe Pavelski netted a natural hattrick in the same game.)
RBC Center (Now PNC Arena) – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.) Attendance: 16,483 (A 2019 revisit had a 18,680 sellout)
Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)
TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)
Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)
United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)
MCI Center/Verizon Center/CapitalOne Arena – Pretty much every year since 1998. 2018 Stanley Cup Finals! (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers) 2018 capacity: 18,056
US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)