As hockey fans gear up for the Condors' home opener Thursday, there will be something even more exciting than what's on the ice (no offense to the team) going on at Rabobank Arena. The venue will debut its upgraded video board, new lounge, craft beer bar and new concessions featuring Chinese food, flatbread pizzas and more. 

Although Steve Eckerson, general manager for Rabobank Arena, said he's most excited to see the new additions to the Condors lineup, he definitely knows these updates are a win-win for the venue and fans.

"We're creating some new spaces, with a different feel, a different energy. People don't want to just sit in the arena and see the game. ... We want it to be an experience."

Eckerson pointed out that when a group comes to a game and sits in a row of seats, they can watch the action on the ice but might miss some of the conversation in their crowd.

The Ice Level Lounge is designed to help with that socializing. Located next to the glass between Sections 111 and 112, the lounge will offer fans an up-close look at the action from a standing room area. The space will also be decked out with a cocktail bar, TVs showing other sports action from around the country, tables and bar games, including a Condors-branded cornhole set.

The lounge will be open to all fans 21 and older with lower level or suite tickets, subject to capacity limitations, which marketing manager Nick Wynne said is about 150.

Wynne also said the lounge is not limited to Condors games. Depending on the configuration needed for other events, the lounge might be open during concerts and other shows.

Of course, for those hockey games, even fans who look away for a moment will see replay action in all its glory with the upgraded video board. This a big step for Rabobank, which had used the same center-hung scoreboard configuration since it opened in 1998. This $700,000 update features four Daktronics HD video panels with crystal clear LED screens offering a great view of game action and crowd shots.

At intermission (or before the match), fans can take a quick break at the new Crossbar Craft Beer Pub, which addresses customers' No. 1 request: more craft beer options. Located behind section 100 on the concourse, the bar will feature at least six craft beer selections on a rotating basis. Lengthwise Brewing is repping the local craft beer scene with its Centennial Ale and Citra (which longtime fans may know is also available in the taproom). The rest of the opening lineup consists of Saint Archer (White Ale), Moose Drool (Brown Ale), Belching Beaver (Me So Honey) and Stone (Delicious IPA) and Big Sky Brewing.

The Crossbar will also feature a full selection of cocktails on its menu.

Speaking of menus, Rabobank has added two new portable concessions and unveiled new food items. The Wok (near section 104) will offer the venue's first Chinese dishes a la Panda Express. The concession will offer a show with induction woks fired up preparing the broccoli beef, orange chicken and chow mein that is available as a one-item bowl ($6.50 for one meat and noodles) or a plate with both meats ($9.50). Egg rolls will also be prepared on site, sold in pairs for $4.50.

Speaking of a show, staff at the Mobile Pizzeria will roll out, prep and bake flatbread pizzas to order in the ovens, which can cook up to eight pizzas with a three-minute cook time. Pizzas will be available in three varieties: cheese ($8.25), pepperoni ($8.75) and meat lovers ($9.25), featuring pepperoni and sausage. 

"It adds an innovation piece to the menu," Ulises De La Cruz, general manager for Aramark, which manages concessions at Rabobank, said of the new fresh preparation concessions.

Some existing concessions will also feature new items, including elotes, aka Mexican street corn ($4.50) and Southwestern nachos ($11), a snack behemoth featuring three cheeses (nacho, queso fresco and shredded cheddar), along with pot beans, carne asada, corn, jalapenos, olives, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole. Both dishes will be served in the Tortilla Flats concession (section 114).

Two new sandwiches are out this season: a Cuban sandwich, pressed with ham and pickles and served with potato chips, and the pork belly sandwich with lettuce, tomato and avocado mayo on Texas toast.

De La Cruz said the pork belly was one of the great creations from executive chef Michael Chandler. The pork is roasted in advance with chilies, then sliced and quick-fried twice before hitting the toasted bread.

Both sandwiches are $9.50 but while the Cuban will be available at a concession on the concourse, the pork belly is currently only on the menu for those viewing from a suite. 

Take heart: De La Cruz said there's already a plan to add it to one of the rotating menus, making it available to all fans on a limited basis.

All the new items and concessions will be open starting Thursday with the season opener, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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