Road Review: Gila River Arena, A Possible Neutral Site For 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Arizona RepublicPhoto: The Arizona Republic

About four weeks before the NHL paused the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, my dad and I went out West to see the Washington Capitals face the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale and the Vegas Golden Knights in Sin City. The tickets were a Christmas present I had been hoping for. In this two-part series, NoVa Caps reviews each arena, starting with Gila River Arena in Glendale, which could be a neutral site to resume the rest of the season.

It’s not easy to get to Phoenix from the DMV. We woke up around 5 AM that Saturday to get ready to fly to Chicago for a connecting flight to Phoenix which landed about 1 PM MT. The scenery was nice, like a hotter, drier version of California. The ride to Marriott Renaissance next to Gila River Arena took about 40 minutes. The hotel couldn’t have been more convenient to the arena and had an outdoor pool and an indoor fountain in the lobby along with a bar and some shops.

Glendale was gorgeous. Our hotel was just a short walk away from Gila River Arena, which is in the middle of the Westgate shopping mall and opened in 2003. There are lots of good shops and restaurants, including a Mexican place where we ate a late lunch outside in beautiful 70-degree weather. There were plenty of small fountains around the mall. The arena is also close to the University of Arizona Stadium, which is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

The area outside of the arena was buzzing as game time neared. There was a lot of music, including a live band, and swarms of hockey fans decked out in Capitals, Coyotes, and even other team jerseys buzzing around the mall as puck drop inched closer.

Outside of the arena, there were a few life-sized bobbleheads of Coyotes players and an oversized inflatable mascot, Howler.

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We also went inside the gift store that featured the usual assortment of team gear, including a Hall & Yotes tee shirt touting their December acquisition of Taylor Hall from the New Jersey Devils.

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While the mall area outside was beautiful, Gila River Arena, which has a capacity of 18,300 and 87 suites, wasn’t the best arena I have been too. While the stadium is newer than Capital One Arena, it seemed older — particularly after Capital One got a multi-million dollar makeover last year.

The arena recently got a new jumbotron that had a fairly large central screen with smaller ones tilted beneath it for fans in the lower bowl. The screens in front of the goals were smaller but good quality. The 200 level of the arena was a lot smaller than most arenas. One side of the video board that rings Gila River Arena had an old scoreboard and one new on the other side. My best guess is that the old one will be upgraded soon.

Since hockey isn’t as popular in Arizona and the Coyotes haven’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012, there were a ton of Capitals fans in the arena, especially in our section. The fact that captain Alex Ovechkin was two goals away from the 700th in his career no doubt helped drive the Capitals representation. 17,139 people were in attendance that night.

The food was nothing to get excited about, but that’s fairly standard in most stadiums.  They had a wide selection of things to eat, including plenty of Southwestern-themed foods and beverages. Gila River Arena implemented some new food options last summer including Brat Haus (sausages, pretzels, and Belgian style fries), 1000 Island Burger, and Gadzooks (tacos and soups).

Our seats were in the section behind the net where the Capitals shot twice. The seats were comfortable. Sitting in them felt like sitting in a movie theater and they had plenty of legroom.

The PA announcer’s voice was booming and enthusiastic when the Coyotes came out for warm-ups or a period and scored.

At one of the corners of the ice, the arena had a “Coors Light Chill Zone” with a couch set up for a couple of lucky fans to enjoy the game up close and personal.

Coyote fans were friendly and enthusiastic, and many of them were Arizona transplants who had come to the desert from NHL cities and were lifelong hockey fans. Several of the people we spoke to were service members who had become Capitals fans while being stationed in Washington.

Overall, it was a great place to watch a game, although the Capitals fell to Arizona the night we were there. I would definitely make a return visit, especially for another February game after suffering through a cold DC winter.

Additional NoVa Caps Road trip reports 

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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