Citizens Business Bank Arena opened its doors this weekend and although the glitzy star-studded first night welcomed Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder as its inaugural event, it’s the “AA” icers that’ll call the new barn home.
The Ontario Reign of the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, also known as the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), will play 36 home games at the sparkling arena between October and March. And if the remaining 35 games are as successful as opening night, then the $130 million investment will look mighty good to the city and the facility operators, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). AEG also runs the Staples Center and Nokia Theater LA Live in downtown Los Angeles.
Before an announced crowd of 8,832, the Reign triumphed over the visiting Las Vegas Wranglers, 4-1. It wasn’t quite a sellout—CBBA has a seating capacity of 9,736 for hockey—but the arena was loudly packed with inland hockey fans decked out in varying colors and logos—the majority of them in Los Angeles Kings jerseys, the Reign’s nearby big league affiliate.
And it was a memorable first game.
“HELLO ONTARIO” read the promotional signs as you enter the facility, against a backdrop of daredevil cyclists and glamorous teen idols. Everything about the arena is glowing and immaculate—even the slop buckets are squeaky clean. Concessionaires are all around to entice you: Burger Burger!, Ciao Now and Big Diggety Dawgs. Disappointingly, the latter vendor only offers hot dogs and not hot “dawgs.” When quizzed on this, a server laughs and says, “You’ll have to talk to AEG about that!”
Hawking Inaugural Season Reign programs is hockey mom Susan Wilhelm. All proceeds go to help the Pee Wee League Ontario Eagles. “We’re trying to get the kids to Ontario,” says Wilhelm. But aren’t the kids already there? “The real one!” Wilhelm clarifies, meaning the Canadian province.
This southerly Ontario is real enough for club box ticket holders Danni and Bob Hessler. Relaxing over drinks in the San Manuel Club VIP Room, the Lake Arrowhead couple is excited to finally have a venue with quality sports and entertainment so close to home.
“We’re members of the Premiere Marquis Club,” said Danni. “We go to many shows at the Greek and Gibson Theaters in LA. But we got tired of driving all the way out there and finding a hotel room to stay in overnight.”
Now the Hesslers won’t have to travel to see the likes of Neil Diamond or Metallica, and as they can catch those acts close to home—on the very same spot a teenaged Bob had rocked to Emerson Lake and Palmer at the Cal Jam over 30 years before. After attending the Lakers game pm Friday, it was time for something new and exciting for the Hesslers.
“We’ve never been to a hockey game before,” said Danni.
Finally, as an animated pterodactyl flew over the IE on the Jumbotron and deposited a flag waving Dark Knight on the ice, the Reign’s season began. Speedy skaters, violent collisions along the protective glass, and a Zamboni machine wiping away the traces in between periods. For the history books, the Reign’s first penalty at home belonged to center Tim Kraus, two minutes for hooking. The first goal at Citizen’s came courtesy of defenseman Dan Knapp, at 18:11 in the first period. The Reign are here.
And team sponsors were out in force, too. Section 118 were the big winners of $30 off their next brake job at Brake Masters. Winning Smiles of Fontana proudly trumpeted their selection as official dentist of the Reign.
During a rowdy second period came the first punches thrown, when left winger Ryan MacGregor dusted it up to the bloodthirsty delight of the crowd. And in the end, the first victory celebration—the Reign collectively encircled the mysterious Dark Knight as the victors.
Best part is that Citizens Business Bank Arena has about half the seating capacity of the vast Staples Center, which means there’s not a bad seat in the house—and in hockey specifically, you feel like you’re sitting right on top of the action.
Just how many Reign players are NHL bound is of course unknown, but 21-year-old goalie Jeff Zatkoff was a 3rd round draft pick by the Kings and played a sterling game in the net. But Andrew Martens has a wicked freaking hair cut, and back-up goalie Kellen Briggs is a former Golden Gopher along with Mike Howe—which is like the USC of college hockey.
And now they play at Citizens Business Bank Arena right here in the IE.