Southeastern Idaho now has professional hockey. Well, kind of.
The Idaho Falls Spud Kings formed this year, playing in the United States Premier Hockey League. The USPHL’s goal is to help its players get recruited to college teams. Players are between the ages of 16 and 21.
Although the level of play is comparable to Junior A or Junior B, the Spud Kings organization does a great job of making the games exciting to watch.
Here are five things the Spud Kings do well and five things they can improve to keep growing hockey in Southeastern Idaho.
1. The arena
A good arena can make or break a team. If there are nice facilities, players will want to play there. If the rink is comfortable, fans will want to watch games there. The Spud Kings play at the newly christened Mountain America Center, which checks all the boxes and more for junior hockey players and fans.
2. The team name
The name “Spud Kings” might be lost on those unfamiliar with hockey, but to lifelong hockey fans, it’s perfect.
Having the word “Kings” follow the area’s biggest industry in a team name is a defining characteristic of junior hockey. The Edmonton Oil Kings, The Brandon Wheat Kings, the Prince George Spruce Kings — it’s just a junior hockey thing.
3. The “Tater Toss”
Chucking things on the ice to win money is another junior hockey tradition. Some teams throw frisbees, others throw pucks. The Idaho Falls Spud Kings throw foam potatoes.
The idea is that participants can buy an item for a couple of dollars, and during the intermission throw them onto the ice, trying to get them as close as possible to a target. The closest throw wins a sum of money.
The Spud Kings put the perfect Idahoan spin on this classic junior hockey tradition by using potatoes.
4. The food venues
Lots of junior hockey teams don’t have the facilities to run full-fledged food venues in their arenas. You might only be able to buy hotdogs, nachos, fries and a handful of snacks and beverages. At Mountain America Center, however, you can purchase full meals.
The various food booths offer everything from barbecue to tacos to hand-made pizza. They even have poutine, a Canadian classic.
5. The call explanations
Not everyone in Southeastern Idaho is familiar with the intricacies of hockey, and the Spud Kings recognize that. When the officials make calls — even simple things such as offside and icing — the announcer often explains them to the crowd. This enables new fans to both follow and learn the game.
1. The jerseys
The design of the Spud Kings’ uniforms is great — especially with the red pant shells and the yellow helmets. But if they want to be taken seriously, they need to make some big changes.
No professional hockey team has screen-printed logos on their on-ice jerseys. Logos are always embroidered. The Spud Kings must have gotten a good deal at a screen printing shop — at least that’s what it looks like.
Many Spud Kings players don’t have name bars on the backs of their jerseys. Some jerseys have name bars, but the letters are so small you can hardly see them from the stands.
To understand the importance of name bars, ask New York Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello.
When Lamoriello was with the New Jersey Devils, the team came out with new jerseys. Lamoriello went to the top of the nosebleed section and had a player wearing a jersey stand on the ice at the opposite end of the rink. He wanted to make sure that the name bars were big enough that even the furthest fan could see them, and thus get their money’s worth for their tickets.
If Devils fans can read their team’s jersey names from that far up, the Spud Kings should make theirs visible in their “nosebleed” section 10 rows away from the ice.
2. The jumbotron
Mountain America Center has large screens on opposite sides of the ice. They look nice and you can see them from everywhere in the arena. They’re perfect. But the Spud Kings don’t use them as well as they could.
Most professional hockey teams show replays after goals, penalties and notable plays. The Spud Kings attempt to show replays after goals, but they only show them once, and it’s from an angle that doesn’t show much.
It’s especially important to show replays in places like Idaho because fans are trying to learn the game. They don’t always catch things in the moment, so watching slow-motion replays is critical to their learning experience.
The Spud Kings should, however, get credit for using the screens for crowd engagement. They do the kiss cam, dance cam — all of the things that keep the crowd entertained between whistles.
3. The in-house music
Throughout the first few minutes of the game, fans get really excited. That has a lot to do with the hype music being played. Songs like “Stronger,” “Can’t Hold Us” and pretty much anything by AC/DC tend to get the crowd ready for battle. But the hype songs only last so long.
The arena’s DJ seems to use every hype song in existence during the first two periods of each game. During the last two periods, the audience listens to nothing but sing-alongs and country songs.
Sing-alongs and country songs also get the crowd engaged, but they have to be mixed with everything else. If the Spud Kings can make a few adjustments, fans will have even more fun.
4. The player introductions
The beginning of the game seems more like a basketball game than a hockey game. Typically in hockey, the announcer introduces the team as a whole when it takes the ice. Then, just before the national anthems, he introduces the starting lineup.
The Spud Kings, however, introduce the starting lineup as each player takes the ice, a-la basketball.
5. The national anthem setup
There are always talented musicians that sing the national anthems before games. The crowd wants to see them sing while paying tribute to the represented countries. But the Spud Kings make it impossible to do these two tasks simultaneously.
The anthem singer stands at one end of the ice, while the flags hang at the other end. The crowd must decide whether to face the flags or the artist. The team should move either the singer or the flags.
Overall, the Spud Kings do a good job of presenting the game. Fans leave satisfied but wanting more.
As the years go on, the team will iron out the kinks and Spud Kings hockey will be a must-see event.