(This article was originally published on May. 21, 2020)
The 4,300 seat Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, Washington is home to a very passionate ice hockey fan base. I’ve been around hockey for quite a few years now and have been a fan as well as involved with teams at multiple junior hockey levels. But there’s something different and special about this fan base compared to that of a Western Hockey League or a Western States Hockey League crowd.
From Facebook fan groups to the Twitter crowd and even that of the in-arena atmosphere, Wenatchee is different … but in a good way. Their fans bring the energy, especially with those cowbells of theirs and a good majority stay until after the final horn to congratulate their boys on a great effort, win or lose.
On social media, the team is always posting about their sponsors, local organizations are seen at games including that of the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks arena football team. Fans make consistent posts in the Wild fans Facebook group because of what they call Wild withdrawal. Wild nation is known for its cowbells and ability to make the building electric and intimidating to the opposing team. Their staff is always on the go, but always friendly in interactions and the same goes for the players not dressing to play that night as well.
Good days will return.
Posted by Randy Dawson on Friday, April 10, 2020
The Wenatchee Valley is home to a top-notch junior hockey franchise top to bottom. Everybody is always smiling, always welcoming, and you can bet once the puck drops that it won’t be quiet for a very long time until a little while after the game has ended.
Comparing Town Toyota Center to local WHL buildings
Late this past season, I traveled to Kennewick to catch a Tri-City Americans WHL game. The Toyota Center felt similar to Wenatchee in both size and atmosphere. It’s much smaller than Spokane Arena where the Chiefs play and slightly smaller than that of accesso ShoWare Center in Kent where the Seattle Thunderbirds play.
What reminded me most of Wenatchee was the clang of their cowbells all game long. The team I was rooting for won 3-1, but what happened after also reminded me of Wenatchee. The Americans’ fans sitting along the glass with me were friendly all game.
That same weekend, I drove up Highway 97 from Ellensburg for Fred Page Cup playoff hockey in Wenatchee. The Vernon Vipers were in town for games one and two of their first-round playoff series against the Wild. I’ve always noticed a different atmosphere in Wenatchee than other places I’d been to.
I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, I’d say maybe that of combining the atmosphere of a WSHL and WHL crowd, but it’s not even that. I decided to make a post in the Wild fans Facebook group and reach out to others for input.
Thank you Wild Fans! With you support our Walt has won World Best Mascot! pic.twitter.com/npbSjbyjHr
— Wenatchee Wild (@WenatcheeWild1) May 19, 2020
I’ve always been big into the sports scene on social media so I noticed early upon finding Wild fans, that it was different, but a ‘good different.’ I could be wrong, but it seems like in a majority of online groups, no matter the level or team, there’s a lot of complaining. I’ve seen complaints ranging from food and parking prices to officiating. With Wenatchee’s fan base both on social media or in-person, you really don’t see that. I noticed fans get rowdy after some controversial calls in a couple of games, but not as intense as I’ve seen in other leagues.
A special connection with the Wild
I was inspired to write this piece for a few main reasons. After the Wild were eliminated from the playoffs in game five, the fans stayed after to congratulate their distraught team on a season well done. Over the course of the off-season, I’ve seen fans post hype videos in the Wild fans group. These videos engaged fans and got people talking. I thought, “Okay this fan base is different than others and someone needs to say something.”
I made a post in Wild fans and received great input from the group so I’ll share it here starting with Cherie LaViolette. She attended her first game with her boyfriend, knowing nothing about hockey. Cherie enjoyed it so much that she went to another game after that. Now she’s had season tickets on the glass for the last six seasons with her son and has even introduced her granddaughter to Wild nation.
Donna Mitchell Dawson says she was hooked on the Wild in the team’s second season. Shortly after that, she became a billet parent for four seasons and has stayed in touch with her 11 billet sons ever since. In March she had to deal with the tragedy and heartbreak of losing one of her billet sons, Chad Staley, who passed away suddenly. She says that having each and every one of the boys stay with her while playing hockey in Wenatchee is a great blessing to her life.
Keep the faith, it will come around…….
Posted by Randy Dawson on Saturday, May 2, 2020
Former team chaplain Don Meyers also weighed in with his input. He explained how he had almost no hockey experience when he started with the Wild. In fact, he says that he often entertained the boys with his ignorant and naïve questions about the sport.
Dedication to developing good people and good hockey players
However, he came to learn something important out of everything he experienced during his time with the team. Don learned that hockey in a sense almost comes second in the Wild organization. He saw the organization built on qualities like character development, leadership, honesty, integrity, and even very tight relationships that developed. He says it was those things that developed the foundation everything else was built on.
Barbara Claman Rogers started following the team during the 2017-18 season and the Wild made history that year. The team won the Fred Page Cup Championship and then the Doyle Cup against the Spruce Grove Saints, champions of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. She talks about how she kept telling herself that she better go to each game because it could be the last time for the season, but the Wild just kept winning. “It was so fun watching the players celebrate. I thought (Wild forward) Murphy Stratton was going to climb the glass he was so excited.”
Without a doubt, there are aspects of the 17 other markets in the BCHL that make each unique and special in their own way – and this isn’t to take that away from them. But there’s something about the folks of Wild nation and the league’s only American-based franchise that bring a distinctive perspective to junior hockey.