- Eric Hasman
BMO Center – Rockford IceHogs
Photos by Eric Hasman, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
BMO Center 300 Elm St Rockford, IL 61101
Year Opened: 1981
Big Orange Box
Opened in 1981, BMO Harris Bank Center was known as the Metro Centre or the “Big Orange Box” due to the reddish/orange brick facade. It seats about 5,900 for hockey, 10,000 for concerts, and approximately 7,700 for basketball.
The IceHogs are currently the AHL affiliate for the Chicago Blackhawks since the 2007-08 season. Prior to that season, they were in the now-defunct United Hockey League (UHL).
The unique thing about this venue is that when the IceHogs were accepted into the AHL the arena ice surface had to be extended by 15’. As a result, the open end of the arena used to have seating but no more. Also, since the rest of the seating bowl was not changed, the benches do not have enough room for the backup goalies. Therefore, the goalies sit away from the rest of the team where the Zambonis come in/out between periods.
The seating is a horseshoe shape with one end being open. In the open end, there is an ice level club lounge area. Any fan can visit the upper level and watch the game if the area is not rented (the view is nice from up there). In addition, there are about 10 conventional skyboxes on one side of the arena.
Their gift shop is huge and has a great selection of the usual stuff…hats, t-shirts, sweatpants, game-worn uniforms, etc...
The seating areas and restrooms are very clean in the arena.
Food & Beverage 5
The food here is outstanding. The IceHogs offer many choices. My favorite is the Barnyards pulled pork bbq sandwich. However, the country fried chicken sandwich and the "Pig Slop" are very tasty too. The Pig Slop is French fries, cole slaw, pulled pork, and nacho cheese. Barnyards also sells fried buffalo chicken sandwiches. Sandwiches are $13.
The Oak Leaf Grill has chicken tenders with fries ($13), pork tenderloin ($8) or grilled chicken sandwiches ($8), corn dog or cheese curds ($8), or a bratwurst ($6).
Nacho Dillas stand has “gourmet nachos” - beef or chicken with queso, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, jalapenos, and salsa ($13). In addition, there are “walkaway nachos” - beef or chicken topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato & sour cream ($7.50).
The arena has standard fare foods such as Pizza Hut pizza ($7 a slice). This stand also sells breadsticks with marinara sauce ($7).
The Barnburner stand has a cheeseburger basket ($14) or just a cheeseburger ($8),
Various stands have hot dogs ($5.50), popcorn ($7), nachos ($6), hot pretzels ($7.50), and candy ($4.50).
Alcoholic drinks include the River City Brew stand which serves mixed drinks ($10 to $17) as well as domestic draft beer ($8), specialty beer ($9), champagne ($9), frozen margaritas ($13), and wine ($10).
For drinks, regular and diet Pepsi brand soda is $9 for a souvenir cup ($4.50 for a refill), Rockstar energy drinks ($6), water is $4.50, and Gatorade or tea goes for $4.75.
A Dippin’ Dots stand sells its ice cream for $5.50 (small) and $7.50 (large). Popcorn is $7.
The fans who attend are really into the game. This is a major plus since the place is so small you are very close to the action and there is no bad seat in the arena. The main level open end seating area has a bunch of sit-down tables and stand-up bar tables. My only beef with this area is if you are not right against the railing, you cannot see all of the ice.
The IceHogs have updated the look of Hammy - the mascot. Many fans dislike the new look, as do I. Hammy does a lot of stuff on the ice. Hammy walks around the arena and is readily available for pictures. I do have a problem with the IceHogs changing the look of the "live" mascot but not on all of their swag and specialty jerseys.
A lone championship banner from the IceHogs UHL days hangs from the rafter. It is the only banner indicating that the franchise, as a whole, is not very successful on the ice.
The in-game entertainment is your usual stuff and includes a local choir singing the national anthem, a local drumline team performing between periods, chuck a puck, and t-shirt tosses. The IceHogs Game promotions throughout the year are outstanding. They include different themed nights like Star Wars Night, Pink in the Rink, Halloween festivities, Country Nights, Teddy Bear Toss (always a fun time), dog days, specialty jersey auctions and more. In addition, they have great giveaways throughout the year.
BMO Harris Bank Center is located in downtown Rockford, IL on the west side of Rock River. There is not much of a neighborhood immediately around the arena. It is mostly government offices and buildings, store fronts (many vacant), or parking. However, there are some bars / restaurants within walking distance. Cantina Taco and J-bears Place is good.
Less than a half a mile away from the arena, across the Rock River, is the more riveting part of the downtown area. It has bars, breweries, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and a river walk for those warmer days. For local craft beers, go to Prairie Street Brewhouse or Carlyle Brewing Company. Vintage@501 is a local favorite and is considered one of the best places in Rockford for a burger.
As with most minor league sports, the people in attendance are mostly families. Many fans wear IceHogs game-worn jerseys/replica jerseys. In addition, visitors see many Chicago Blackhawk jerseys in the stands.
COVID really hit attendance during the last two seasons. However, things are getting back to “normal.” The average attendance is about 3,500 per game now. And the fans who go are loud and into the game which makes for some good times. The intensity increases when local rival, the Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate), are in town.
One thing that amuses me is after a home team goal is scored the crowd taunts the opposing goalie to the old tune of "Mony, Mony," by saying “hey guess what, your goalie sucks.” Note: If you don’t like cowbells, you are not going to like this place. It seems that most of the people have one here.
Getting to the arena from Chicago is easy, off I-90 onto US 20 going first through first commercial shopping and restaurants. Just about every major chain you can think of is down this stretch. Then you drive through residential neighborhoods which are rundown but safe. Then it becomes somewhat industrial and lastly, downtown.
There are parking lots all around the arena which cost about $5 - $7. More expensive parking is nearer the arena too. In addition, a lot of free street parking is a couple blocks from the arena. My only problem is, when leaving the game, the one road, US 20, is packed, and it takes about 15 minutes before you get to an area where traffic is flowing again. It really would help if Rockford police directed traffic after a game.
BMO Harris Bank Center has adopted the clear bag policy where only 12” x 6” x 12” bags are permissible in the venue during a hockey match. Small wallets, clutches, and purses less than 8 ½” x 11” are also allowed.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets range from $12 to $29, depending on the game. In addition, there is a service fee too. Sadly, I did not get a paper ticket on the day of this review. I don’t know if they are available. The IceHogs have instituted a “premium” pricing program which I really hate. Despite this pricing, between the promotions, game activities, and food, it is well worth the time and effort to get there.
Several things are worth noting.
Fans can purchase a between-period Zamboni ride. The organization took a Zamboni, removed the water tank, and put seats in that spot. The Zamboni fits ten people, and the money goes towards charity.
Next, the IceHogs organization displays the promotional-themed night jerseys worn throughout the franchise's history along the concourse. I wish all teams would adopt this.
The Stars of Tomorrow area features pictures of former players who have made it to the Pros.
Finally, the standing areas with tables in the arena are worth a mention. The open end of the upper level has an area where fans can stand and watch the game.
Rockford being fairly close to the Chicagoland area (about 2 hrs), the IceHogs being the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate, and all the promotions the IceHogs have, this is a can’t miss venue. A bad time can't be had here.