I think if you’ve been reading our blog you might have gotten the idea that Amanda and I crave sunshine and the warm summer breezes (which is true), so it might feel like a contradiction when you learn we freaking love ice hockey. I know, weird huh? Remember our trip to Toronto last February? It was prompted by our love of hockey and the need watch our Capitals play.
If you’re a hockey fan too, you know watching a NHL game this year seems less and less likely to happen due to a lockout. But that doesn’t mean you have to completely miss out on quality professional hockey. The American Hockey League, one of the feeder leagues of the NHL (and the best in my opinion, sorry Ontario Hockey League) is filled with quality play and the league’s future stars. Watching these games gives you a first look at the prospects so you can say “I saw them play way back when”.
In our case that team is just a little over an hour north of Frederick in Hershey, PA where the sweetest place on earth is home to the sweetest hockey on earth. The Hershey Bears hockey team is 75 years old and happens to be the lead farm team of our Washington Capitals. The first misconception you might have about minor league hockey is you’ll get a minor league experience. Not so. The play is fast and the hitting is hard, both on the boards and during the fights. And venues like Giant Center are top-class facilities. The arenas may not be as big as places like Madison Square Garden but that allows for a more intimate experience; and by that I mean be able to see the missing teeth in a hockey player’s grin. The fans are great and often hard core; in Hampton Roads I remember seeing countless fans walking around in Admirals jerseys and in Hershey the sport’s following is equally as big. The AHL towns I’ve been to take their teams seriously.
Now for a little on Hershey as a destination. Hershey is just outside the capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. It is the home of Hershey’s Chocolate and the wonderful Hershey Park (amusement park), which is bound to be the subject of a post sooner or later. The Hershey area is filled with cute bed and breakfasts and plenty of hotels. The best and most expensive is the Hotel Hershey. The four diamond hotel has a spa, pools, golf, and every other high-end amenity you could imagine. You can even have a skin treatment that involves being painted in chocolate. The more reasonable Hershey-owned hotel is the Hershey Lodge. We’ve stayed there and enjoyed it a lot. The lodge has the scent of chocolate piped in through the air vents for one, the rooms are spacious, and the Bears Den pub (specializing in Hershey Bears’ Hockey) is attached.
I think, though a few thousand seats smaller, the Giant Center is just as good a venue as Verizon Center (the home of the Capitals). The parking is $8 and it only took between 10-12 minutes to get to a parking space once we got in line to exit from the highway. From the car to our seats in section 123 added just seven minutes to our trip.
The game itself was great; the Bears scored first on a penalty shot (seriously, click this link, you can watch the penalty shot and Amanda screaming her head off) and then finished out the game with an empty netter and a score of 4-1. Amanda will enthusiastically tell you a big part of that was Bears’ goalie Braden Holtby, who spent last year bouncing between the Caps and the Bears.
So if you’re like us and need a hockey fix during the lockout, take a road trip and head back to the minors.