The Blues' regular season was supposed to begin this week with a Thursday trip to play the Colorado Falling Rocks. Sadly, it is just the first of many games that will not actually be played this season.
However, while we all anxiously await the thrilling conclusion to the Gary's Guide To Labor Harmony trilogy, the rest of the hockey world still moves on without the NHL.
Perhaps you plan to get your hockey fix by heading to Peoria to see the Rivermen (and a handful of likely Blues if/when the lockout ends) or to Springfield to take in a Jr. Blues game. If that's the case, cool. More power to ya.
But as your friendly GT hookup for all things Evansville IceMen (that would be the Blues' new ECHL affiliate, for those who haven't heard or have just been drinking too heavily in an effort to combat the lockout blues), I would implore you to also make plans to hit the road (I-64 to be precise) and make your way east to Evansville for some good old-fashioned Double-A puck.
Why Evansville? Well, for starters, it's more like St. Louis than you might think. Don't believe me? Take a few minutes and go read A Blues Fan's Guide to the ECHL's Evansville IceMen (my GT debut article from last month), which includes a lot of info about Evansville and the IceMen, along with a list of comparisons between the two cities. Go on. Click that link and take a ride on the Evansville Enlightenment train. Don't act like you've got something better to do right now. Your next online destination isn't going anywhere.
Alright, now that you spent 4 minutes reading my story and another 37 minutes looking at kittens, I'll continue.
So why Evansville? Because if you just can't get enough of Ballpark Village, we also have a downtown property near a sports facility that is still just a giant lot surrounded by a chain-link fence long after it was supposed to have been something much nicer. A block away from the Ford Center is what was going to be a major convention hotel, to be linked directly to both the arena and the nearby convention center. Currently, it remains a vacant lot, as the city courts hotel development bids for the umpteenth time. Like Ballpark Village, the hotel will probably be built eventually, but when is anybody's guess. Odds are, both will open sometime after the current NHL lockout ends, and sometime before the next NHL lockout begins.
Okay, enough sarcasm. Seriously now...for the Blues fan who needs a hockey hit long before the NHL gets its act together, I give you 11 (more) reasons why you should come to Evansville to get your fill of goals, saves, hits and fights - and some other fun stuff too!
11. IceMen tickets are cheap, especially compared to Blues tickets. You can sit between the blue lines just 2 rows from the ice for a whopping $21. You can sit in the lower bowl for as little as 15 bucks, and that includes 2 rows from the ice immediately behind the net. And at select games (as ticket demand dictates), you only need a crisp (or wadded-up and wrinkly for all I care) Alexander Hamilton to sit in the upper bowl. These prices are for every game too, including Saturdays (we have 11 of them) - there's no "dynamic pricing" or any crap like that in Evansville. But if you want a truly great deal, come over for one of seven (5 Sundays and 2 Saturdays) Subway Family Nights. You can get a ticket, a soft drink, popcorn and a t-shirt for just $12 per person. I'm sure that many of you have paid more than that just to PARK for a Blues game.
10. Speaking of parking, it's pretty easy to park for FREE for IceMen games. Yeah, you can pay 5 bucks (that's actually the EVENT rate) to park in one of the three city-owned garages that are within a few blocks of the Ford Center. But most IceMen fans park in the free Civic Center lot, which is only about 2 football fields from the arena. For all the deets and a handy-dandy map, head on over to IceMenManiacs.com's Ford Center Parking section.
9. Evansville not only has many of the same national retail and restaurant chains you love, but we also have several Missouri-based regional businesses that will make you feel right at home. You can spend the night at a Drury Inn, stock the hotel room's mini-fridge with beverages purchased at Schnucks, grab some grub before the game at Bandana's Bar-B-Q, and even toss back a cold one at Show Me's after the game. Unfortunately though, we do not have Lion's Choice over here. So if any of you have a million bucks to spare, I'd appreciate it if you would do me a solid and open an LC franchise in Evansville. I promise that my own visits will single-handedly keep the business successful.
8. If you want to supplement your hockey with some touristy adventures, you could start by visiting the Willard Library. Located just north of Downtown Evansville in a beautiful Victorian Gothic Revival style building (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the independent library has been in operation since 1885 and is still a fully-functional library to this day. Willard's biggest claim to fame, however, is its internationally famous ghost, known as "The Grey Lady." First spotted in the 1930s, she has had hundreds of encounters with patrons and library staffers, and is the subject of the library's popular GhostCam. The Grey Lady was even featured on Syfy Channel's "Ghost Hunters" in 2006. But if you're not interested in making like the Scooby Gang and determining if the library really is haunted, you can still enjoy the architecture and the library's huge collection of books and artifacts. Willard Library is open to the public 7 days a week (free of charge), including Saturdays from 9 AM to 5 PM and Sundays from 1 PM to 5 PM.
7. If you come late in the season, you might also be able to catch some Demolition City Roller Derby action. The ladies of the non-profit DCRD are full members of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, which also sanctions the Arch Rival Roller Girls in St. Louis. Both DCRD teams (the Dynamite Dolls and the Destruction Dames) play at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Downtown Evansville. Built in 1916, the nearly century-old coliseum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a very cool setting for roller derby bouts. With balcony-style seating overlooking the floor and a stage off to one side (click here for a photo of the interior during a derby event), the coliseum offers a trip back in time and provides a unique atmosphere for DCRD double-headers.
6. If the weather cooperates, you can take the kids to Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden while you're in town. It's certainly no St. Louis Zoo, but it's pretty spiffy in its own right. The 50-acre zoo has over 700 different types of animals, including everything from jaguars and cheetahs to toucans and macaws to camels and giraffes to unicorns and dodo birds. (Okay, I might be making those last two up.) The zoo's most significant exhibit is Amazonia, a $13 million section that opened in 2008 and contains more than 150 animals. Mesker Park Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and is Indiana's second-largest zoo. The zoo is open 365 days a year, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Admission prices vary by season, but are always under $10 per person.
5. If the weather doesn't cooperate, take the kids to the Children's Museum of Evansville instead. Much like Magic House in St. Louis, "cMoe" offers a variety of interactive exhibits that are aimed at educating and entertaining kids, but they're a lot of fun for adults too. Located in a renovated Art Deco style building (built in 1931) that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and previously housed Evansville's Central Library, cMoe opened in 2006 and has over 18,000 square feet of exhibits on 3 floors. The museum, which is just a block from the Ford Center, is always open on Saturdays from 9 AM to 4 PM and on Sundays from Noon to 4 PM. (Weekday hours vary by season.) Admission is just $7 per person. To find cMoe, just follow Millie the T-Rex!
4. Another excellent museum option is the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, which is located along the Ohio River at the southeastern edge of Downtown. Along with a number of general exhibits in the main museum, the complex is also home to the Evansville Museum Transportation Center (EMTRAC) and the Koch Planetarium, Indiana's oldest planetarium. Fans of trains will particularly enjoy EMTRAC, which features a large model railroad and the opportunity to tour 3 actual historic railroad cars - a Milwaukee Road steam engine from 1908 (the last of its type in the country), a Louisville & Nashville Railroad caboose from around 1900, and a fully-equipped L&N club car from 1926. The latter was used during Dwight Eisenhower's successful presidential campaign in 1952. The Evansville Museum is open 5 days a week, including Saturdays from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sundays from Noon to 5 PM. EMTRAC closes 30 minutes earlier, and Koch Planetarium showtimes vary. An adult can visit all 3 (both museums and the planetarium) for just $9.
3. What's that? Get back to hockey? Okay, I can do that. Like any minor league team worth its salt, the IceMen offer a variety of promotional nights throughout the season. From giveaways to theme nights and everything in between, there's a little something for everyone. My favorite is the annual "Teddy Bear Toss," which will be Sat. Dec. 8 this season when the IceMen host the Cincinnati Cyclones. (Click here to watch last season's Teddy Bear Toss. This will only be the 4th edition in Evansville, so the event isn't yet as big or established as it is in places like Calgary and Portland that have been doing it for years, but it's still a lot of fun and for a great cause - that being 911 Gives Hope, a local charity formed by first responders that delivers stuffed animals and toys to kids in hospitals during the holidays.) Other prominent weekend promotions on the 2012-13 IceMen schedule include "Pink the Rink Night" for breast cancer awareness (Fri. Oct. 26 against the Kalamazoo Wings), "Pack the House Night" and "Star Wars Night" (Sat. Dec. 1 also against Kalamazoo), and "Disney Night" featuring a youth jersey giveaway (Fri. Mar. 15 against the Greenville Road Warriors). And at a date yet to be determined by the NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Stanley Cup will make an appearance in Evansville too.
2. You can meet beautiful ladies like Levyn. She's one of the attractive young women who make up the Icicles, the official IceMen "promotional team." The Icicles can be found all over the Ford Center at every IceMen home game, usually alongside Blizzard, the polar bear mascot of the IceMen. They greet fans in the lobby before each game, hand out giveaway items, help conduct intermission and media timeout promotions and games, and occasionally make other appearances around the Evansville community as well. The Icicles even have their own Facebook page, if you'd like to "like" them. No stalking though!
And the #1 reason you should get your hockey fix in Evansville during the lockout - and beyond...
1. IT'S HOCKEY, DAMMIT! Sure, it's "just" the ECHL, but it's still hockey, and with a nice mix of seasoned veterans and hungry young players, it's probably better hockey than you'd expect. The IceMen are starting the regular season with 4 Blues prospects on the roster - rookie netminder Paul Karpowich, rookie winger/enforcer Cody Beach, and young forwards Tyler Shattock and Brett Sonne. If I had to bet money, I'd guess that Karpowich has the best shot at eventually making it to the show, at least in part because the ECHL has long been a breeding ground for star goaltenders. (The league's alumni list includes the likes of Jonathan Quick, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, and the Blues' own Jaroslav Halak.) But even if none of the Blues' kids currently in Evansville end up making it to the Scottrade Center ice, you'll still be watching actual live hockey - which is more than the NHL can offer you at the moment. And any hockey is better than no hockey.
So come on over to Evansville for a game or two, and maybe check out a few other things around town while you're here. I'm pretty sure you'll have more fun than you would while sitting at home, staring at the TV and hoping for some puck to magically appear.
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Bleeding IceMen Blue (a.k.a. "Shocker" to Evansville IceMen fans)
IceMenManiacs.com Webmaster and Senior Writer