Carolina Thunderbirds: Melting the Ice in Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem has a long history of hockey that spans over decades and after an almost 10-year gap, last year saw the revival of the beloved Carolina Thunderbirds. Seeing that the area had long supported past teams (fans still show up at games proudly wearing their Polar Twins jerseys!) they knew there was a desire to have hockey back and a venue that was already equipped for ice making. After hosting two wildly popular and heavily attended exhibition games, the plan to bring the Thunderbirds back to Winston went into high gear and the dream became a reality for hockey starved fans.
The Thunderbirds did not disappoint fans the first season and this showed with 13 soldout games last season and 1500 season tickets sold for this season. Hockey fans who support professional teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte Checkers, and the Fayetteville Marksmen come from all over the region to watch and support our hometown team and get their ice ‘fix’.
How does the team work as it relates to the pros? The Thunderbirds are part of the Southern Hockey League
(SHL) and using baseball terminology with Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A clubs, the Thunderbirds would be a low A – one-half step below how the Winston-Salem Dash would rank. However, the minor leagues in hockey don’t work the same way as they’re not a feeder system into a professional team like the Hurricanes. The players are under contract to play within this league and are able to move within the league via trades and acquisitions but they’re not the property of an NHL team. The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), which is a half step above them, is also unincorporated. Once players hit the East Coast Hockey League, (ECHL) is when they start to become affiliated with the NHL. players in the SPHL are 4 or 5 steps from conceivably playing in the NHL which is obviously very difficult to make given the amount of speed and precision it takes. The ultimate goal of the team owners and coaches is to be able to develop their players to move into the ECHL and several past players have done just that!
This team is all about the fun and family-friendly environment. The players love anything they can do for the kids and to promote that family atmosphere. After games, you’ll find kids lined up outside the locker room just for a chance at a high-five or an autograph and the players are happy to oblige them. When the Charleston Junior Stingrays were here for a youth hockey game against the Triad Storm, Thunderbird players took the time to watch the younger players and get a feel for the next generation of hockey players – some who could become Thunderbirds themselves.
The schedule is full of promotions and special nights. In the past, the team has partnered up with the Carolina Hurricanes as well as Lucas Films which helped sponsor a Star Wars themed night. There have been many other special nights such as Veteran’s Night, Cancer Awareness, Scout Night and so on. If there are 30 games, they usually have a theme night for 26-27 of those games. For the holidays, there was a Thanksgiving-themed night and a Black Friday night and you definitely want to mark your calendars and get your tickets for the New Years Eve game. That night will be spectacular for attendees with the puck dropping at 8:35 (instead of the normal 7:35) against rival team Columbus and will conclude with a social hour after the game to meet others, have a drink, and watch the puck drop from the ceiling to celebrate the new year. It’s this kind of creativity and ingenuity that makes the experience worth coming back for time and time again.
No matter where you sit, you’ll have a great view as there is no such thing as a bad seat. Even if you’re in the upper corner of the arena, the site lines won’t interfere with watching the action. Tickets start at $10 and the most expensive ticket which is located on the glass is just a shade over $20. Group ticket packs start at $16 and those include a ticket, food, and a souvenir. Parking is always free and souvenirs and concessions are also reasonably priced. If you want to bring a large group, there are group ticket sales available. As you can tell, the Thunderbirds are committed to keeping it at an affordable price point for family night or even a date night!