October 18, 2002
Coach USA Center (Capacity: 3,784)
Elmira Jackals vs Fort Wayne Komets
Final Score: 2-1
* Coach USA Center has been renamed First Arena
* The arena was re-visited for a game on April 4, 2014
Nestled in a valley amongst rolling hills, the small city of Elmira is located in the Southern Tier region of New York. The city has a population of just 30,000 and is also a former home of Mark Twain, where visitors can check out various Twain things around the area. For my first visit, Elmira was in their third season of pro hockey, having competed in the UHL. Success on and off the ice led to a bump up in level to the ECHL in 2007. They’ve made it to the playoffs each season, but have yet to get past the second round. Elmira’s downtown facility opened in the year 2000 and while the $16 million facility is on the small side, the new addition seems to fit this area quite well. There have been tumultuous times though with the city and owners as the whole pro hockey venture seems to be on thin ice in this community.
Prestige Ranking: 2 out of 5
Elmira feels much more like a big town as opposed to a city and that is most evident when driving to the center of it. Coach USA Center is right in the tiny downtown core, which is close to the Chemung River. Elmira certainly is not bustling and is even a little downtrodden. Places to eat around the arena were sparse, but M&M Hot Dogs and its famous meat sauce, is a few blocks down.
Location Ranking: 4 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The major road coming in to Elmira is Route 17, which is a four-lane highway that runs along the Southern Tier. From my start of travel (Oswego, NY), it was a little awkward to get to, but for most other points of departure, connecting highways are quite sufficient. Exit 56 easily leads downtown and the parking garage a building away from the Coach USA Center was very convenient.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
The facility takes up a city block and has a nice modern appearance with a beige top half and brick on the bottom. Two of the four sides have a look to them and the main side is appropriately on Main Street. An arena sign is promptly displayed on the wall and underneath is the team box office. A circular glass entrance then follows to the right, while the rest of the side features windows to peek inside. It is a short arena, but one that fits in with the city’s low-rise architecture.
Exterior Ranking: 6 out of 10
The concourse considered narrow, is to be expected for a building this size. It doesn’t go around the entire arena and that forced U-turn leads to congestion in between periods, along with an annoyance for getting to a corner section. There are also signs of cheapness around, including the bathrooms (where one of them was out of hand soap). Light purple and white walls were mostly bare for my first visit and then became more ad-filled the second go around. A small separate room contains a merchandise shop. Windows at street-level and in-house TVs help liven up the concourse a bit. An unexpected surprise however was the sports bar accessible from both the concourse and outside the building that includes a restaurant. In 2014, they added some pre-game music to this area, enticing fans to come hangout before the game. The restaurant on the second-level includes a view of the game.
Concourse Ranking: 2 out of 5
With the exception of the restaurant, each stand featured a generic offering of food that is fairly standard of sporting arenas. I did appreciate the carving station though, which had fresh roast beef or turkey sandwiches available. This was a nice option off to the side. There is also a decent assortment of alcohol at a separate bar table setting.
Food Ranking: 5 out of 8
Inside, the seating bowl is small and simple with one section that surrounds the rink, thus offering a close-up view of the action for nearly every seat. Entrances to those seats can be found near the lower rows. The arena gets a little funky at the west end of the building, where a shorter number of rows quickly stop with a huge wall behind it. That wall (and its siding), along with a trapezoidal roof, provide a modern barn feel to the place. The end seating waves up to a maximum number of seats in one corner before settling back down to a standard look. It may be small inside, but they still managed to get in a ton of luxury suites; 28 of them are set up behind the main seating and circle half of the bowl. Seems like an absurd amount given the size of the city and arena. One luxury touch I do approve is the aforementioned restaurant that overlooks the ice on the east side. Purple is the main color tone, which is uncommon, but a nice changeup. That color is used for the seats, railings and ceiling piping. When the Jackals changed their colors to blue in red as they went to the ECHL, it now makes for an odd color clash inside.
Interior ranking: 8 out of 14
The scoreboard above center ice is a standard, four-sided display that has a black background and carries the basic statistical information. There is also a dot matrix display at the bottom. On the large end wall, a horizontal board also provides score, time and penalties.
Scoreboard Ranking: 1.5 out of 4
The only thing in the concourse is a plaque board to honor those that got the facility up and running. It’s nice if you are or know that person, but let’s be honest…who really cares. Inside, the end wall siding has a fair share of ads, but there are also banners underneath the scoreboard. These for Eastern Conference Championships in the UHL. The other one is the #26 of former player Eddie Lowe.
Displays Ranking: 2 out of 6
Parking at the garage was only $3 and concessions were fairly priced as well. Ticket prices for my 2014 visit were between $12 – $18 and that seems about right for the league and the market.
Cost Ranking: 7.5 out of 8
Elmira fans initially responded very well to their new team and averaged over 3,000 for their first two seasons. My first game featured a building about 2/3rds full. After the team moved up a league, it was inevitable that they would always be in the lower half of the ECHL attendance rankings because of their small building. However, it is disappointing to see attendance drop markedly the last few years, averaging near 2,500 (which is more like 1000-1500 actually at the game). I think the fans are still passionate, as evidenced by the many Jackal jerseys, but the team is playing in front of small crowds. Playoffs are no better with paid attendance dropping below 2,000 and the team ranking #12 – #14. Looks like Elmira is a common victim of the honeymoon effect wearing off as the newness of the product hasn’t sustained after 13 years, which is too bad.
Fan Support Ranking: 4 out of 8
Fans had a decent knowledge on their team and brought a good amount of noise during my first visit. The small arena, in addition to the fan participation, made for a good atmosphere and I’m sure it is one of the tougher places to play in. For my second go-around, the atmosphere suffered, though I need to cut them a little slack as the team was on an 11-game losing streak. Still, there were signs that I am keen to picking up on for a good hockey place and I didn’t see that here anymore.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7.5 out of 14
I was very surprised to find out that there is actually a second ice rink at the facility. Attached at end of the building on the College Street side is an ice sheet used mostly for area recreational activities…..Coach USA is indeed the bus-service company and they had naming rights to the arena for a little while. Ironically, the new rights holder, is also a transit company…..The development of the arena was controversial in that several businesses were evicted and forced to relocate to make room for the new facility.
Game (Initial Visit)
I was treated to quite a hockey game and it started very chippy. The first period featured a crazy 15 penalties, including 3 fights. The main battle was a six man tango, where each team sent four to the box and many of those dropped their gloves for some legit fights. First time that I’ve seen a brawl like that. Back to hockey, Fort Wayne took a 2-1 lead and held it going into the third period. With :16.4 left, Elmira scored, but the goal was disallowed since it was kicked in and the Komets went on to win by a goal. The call was the right one as I had a decent view of the goal mouth. There was also a big fight at the end of the game too. It resulted in 6 misconducts and 22 penalties. The main reason for Elmira’s loss: going 0 for 13 on the power play.