In an era where consumers are offered a plethora of ways to entertain themselves on the weekends, live sports are constantly trying to evolve and keep up with the times. Sports teams have added digital ticketing systems, fancy scoreboards, and more ways for fans to keep track of stats than you could ever imagine. But other teams like the Colorado Eagles seem to know their position in the market and simply give the fans what they want: Hockey culture.
Last weekend was my first trip up to Loveland to see the Eagles play and I will admit I did have my reservations. I’ve been to a few AHL games before and, at the time, it seemed like they were trying too hard to keep fans interested. There were pyrotechnics, over-the-top fan contests, and carnival food, all things that don’t really scream hockey. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above cheap beer and dollar hot dogs, but the experience never wowed me.
We left Denver on Friday around 4:30 PM to head up to Loveland. I told a coworker I was going north on I-25 after work and he immediately laughed and said, “Good luck with that.” He went to college in Fort Collins at Colorado State University so I figured there was some truth to why he scoffed. The traffic wasn’t so bad, but it still took us about an hour to get there.
As we pulled off exit 259, there were a handful of restaurants and bars that we were desperate to check out. To our surprise, every place was packed with Eagles fans. I knew right away that there was a strong following for this hockey club.
After we found something to eat, we drove towards the Budweiser Event Center. I knew the Eagles games could seat just under six thousand people so I was excited to see the inside. Walking through the front doors, you were greeted by security and ticket takers who were moving at a decent pace. Eagles cheerleaders were handing fans the giveaway of the night, which was a poster of Logan O’Connor, the former Denver Pioneer.
Well, hi there #EaglesCountry
Ready to do that hockey? pic.twitter.com/StJsSRmX2a
— The Rink — Colorado (@TheRinkColorado) January 25, 2020
I sat down in my seat in section L and noticed something right away. I heard the sound of cowbells, a tradition that I’ve seen at other AHL arenas. I looked around and didn’t see a bad seat in the house. You really felt like you were on top of the players when they came out for warmups. Fans ranged from kids all the way to seniors, many of whom I was told have been season ticket holders since the inaugural season 16 years ago! As I looked up, banners lined the rafters featured by two Kelly Cup Championships in 2017 and 2018. Some really special hockey has been played on the ice at the Budweiser Events Center and you could really feel it.
The game got started and I immediately felt nostalgic. It wasn’t because of the old-time hockey vibes either. It was because of the heckling! Right from the start fans laid into San Antonio Rampage goaltender Adam Wilcox who didn’t have a great night in net, so the insults came pretty easily. Going to games in Chicago as a kid, I always felt at home sitting in the cheap seats barking at the opposing team’s players. The jokes never crossed the casual “you suck,” however there were some creative ones.
Overall the game was exciting. The Eagles were well-coached and very disciplined. There was a solid pace too as both teams got up and down the ice lightning fast. I assumed there would be more roughhousing since it was the AHL, but it seemed like that kind of behavior is being cleaned up outside of the NHL too. I think my favorite part was getting to see guys like T.J. Tynan and Jason Megna perform so well. A lot of people want to hear about Conor Timmins and Shane Bowers, but there are other players providing a spark for the Eagles too. It was a pleasure getting to see Logan O’Connor play at the next level, yet still doing all the things that made him successful in college.
If someone asked me about my experience in Loveland with the Colorado Eagles, I’d probably tell them to definitely give it a try. They check all the boxes of having a good time, plus the team is playing well. They don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but what they do offer they seem to get right. And when all you want is a cold beer and a great view of some good hockey, you couldn’t ask for more from the Eagles.