Monday, December 28, 2009

Blue Cross Arena at War Memorial-Rochester NY

Basic Information
Team: Rochester Americans (American Hockey League)
Game: Americans vs Hamilton Bulldogs-12/26/09
Team Website: http://www.amerks.com/
Ticket Information: (585) 454-5335 or Ticketmaster (585) 232-1900
Tourism Information: (800) 677-7282 or http://www.visitrochester.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.whtk.com/

Team History: The Rochester Americans are one of the most storied franchises in all of minor league hockey, having been a part of the American Hockey League since 1956. The Americans have won the Calder Cup (the American Hockey League’s championship trophy) on six occasions, most recently in 1996.

Some of the legendary names that have worn the Amerks crest include Gerry Cheevers, Al Arbour, Jody gage, and Don Cherry. In addition to his time as an Americans player, Cherry coached the team for three seasons.

The team was purchased in June of 2008 by Curt Styres, the first Native American to own a professional sports franchise. Styres is a member of the Grand River First Nation tribe. Styres then hired Ted Nolan, another Native American, as the team’s vice president. Nolan played with the Americans in 1984-85 before beginning his NHL career.

Team Affiliation: The Americans are the top affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

How About That Name (and Some History): In 1945, the good people of Rochester began planning the possibility of a downtown civic center, which according to a committee, would cost 2.5 million dollars. The seven thousand seat arena would finally open in 1955, and the Americans hockey team would be one of its first tenants. In 1996, the city decided to renovate and expand their showplace, and two years later, the building, now seating over ten thousand, would re-open under its new name, the Blue Cross Arena at War Memorial.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the New York Thruway east to exit 47 (I-490). Go north on I-490 for approximately 12 miles to the Plymouth Ave/Inner Loop exit (exit 13). Make a right onto Plymouth Ave, and proceed three lights to Broad St. Make a left onto Broad St, and follow to Arena. The arena will be on your right side on the intersection of Broad and Exchange streets.

Nearby Airport: Greater Rochester International Airport is approximately six miles southwest of the Blue Cross Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: One of the more picturesque parts of downtown Rochester is the High Falls neighborhood. As one might expect, there is a substantial waterfall as the Genessee River flows through the city. In the neighborhood around the Falls, there is a welcome center which helps visitors learn more about Rochester, as well as many art gallerys, shops, and restaurants. For more information about the High Falls district, call (585) 325-2030 or visit http://www.centerathighfalls.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: As in this trip, I was just heading into Rochester for the game, I didn’t have the time to survey the local cuisine. I would suggest getting a Rochester visitors guide or visiting the visitor’s bureau website at the address listed above.

Where To Stay: There are many hotels of all price levels in the Rochester area. I would check with your favorite hotel chain for the lodging choices.

Tickets: Americans tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (100 level premium), $18.00 (200 level premium), $17.00 (100 level end), $14.00 (200 level end), $11.00 (200 upper level end and 200 level balcony). There is an additional $2.25 charge for tickets purchased at the box office on game day.

Parking: There are several municipal lots within a walking distance of the Blue Cross Arena. I parked at a lot directly behind the building which cost $7.00.

The Good Seats: Most of the seating at the Arena gives a good view of the action. However, the seats in the upper 200 “balcony” (sections 201, 202, and 203), are substantially back from the rink, and don’t have a clear view of the scoreboard. However, arena management has hung an auxiliary scoreboard just under the lip of the balcony, which gives those in the upper balcony all the pertinent game information.

Getting In: The main entrance to the Blue Cross Arena was one of the areas which was rebuilt during the most recent renovation. It now has a glassed-in atrium, which is the home of the box office and “the Zone” souvenir shop. After purchasing your ticket, fans go up a flight of stairs which takes them to the main concourse level. Just at the top of the stairs is a full service bar, where some of the team’s older championship flags are hung.

Arena Food: There are two main food courts located in the main concourse on either side of the center line. The food selections are limited to arena basics: hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries, etc. I sampled the $3.00 hot dogs on my last trip to Rochester, and to be honest, they weren’t exactly my favorite. Instead, I had a hamburger and fries, which for $6.50, wasn’t a bad deal. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it was hot. One of the more unusual things was that you had to order your burger at one stand, then head over to another one to purchase your fries.

There are smaller carts set up in the concourse selling beer, Dippin’ Dots, and flavored nuts.

Restrooms: There are sufficient restrooms set up along the main concourse. They are old, but clean and well stocked.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Blue Cross Arena has a large center hanging scoreboard which features full video capability. There are also auxiliary scoreboards hung in the balcony, and on
the opposite end behind the goal.

The PA announcer was surprisingly subdued, and the music played was your standard “jock rock”, also played at a lower level. I’m not sure if this was intentional or the fault of the poor acoustics in the building.

Game Staff: Each section has its own usher which handles just about any issue. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a “customer service” area which is now a standard in most of the larger arenas.

Souvenirs: “The Zone” shop has a small lineup of team merchandise for the Americans and the Knighthawks indoor lacrosse team. There is another souvenir table set up to the right of the main entrance on the concourse.

Atmosphere: The Americans’ fans might seem a little quiet, but I think that is because they are intently watching the action on the ice. The promotions are kept to a minimum, and the team’s two mascots, a moose and an eagle, circulate in the stands, but don’t distract from the action. The Amerks also have a four-girl cheerleading/promotional team and an in-stands master of ceremonies, but again, they don’t take away from what is going on inside the boards.

Overall Rating: The Blue Cross Arena is a pleasant place to watch hockey, but as I mentioned, as many of these players are soon to be headed to the NHL, it’s an intense experience, as Rochester fans know their hockey. They should, since they have had a proud franchise for over fifty years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jack Gatecliffe Arena-St. Catherines, ON

Basic Information
Team: Niagara Ice Dogs (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Ice Dogs vs Ottawa 67s-11/28/09
Team Website: http://www.niagaraicedogs.net/
Ticket Information: (905) 687-3641
Tourism Information: (800) 305-5134 or http://www.stcatherines.ca/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.river.fm/

Team History: The 2009-10 season is the third in the short history of the Niagara Ice Dogs. The team played in Mississauga’s Hershey Centre from 1998 until the end of the 2006-07 season, when it was purchased by Bill and Denise Burke, and moved to St. Catherines.

How About That Name (and Some History): The Jack Gatecliff Arena, the home of the Ice Dogs, was built in 1938, and was called the Garden City Arena. In 1996, prior to the arrival of the Ice Dogs, the city of St. Catherines renovated the facility, and renamed it the Gatorade Garden City Complex. The Complex actually has two separate rinks, the main Gatecliff Arena, and the smaller Rex Stimers Arena.

Before the Ice Dogs moved to St. Catherines, the arena was the home of the AHL’s St. Catherines Saints, who were the American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Saints played at “the Jack” from 1982-1986.

“The Jack” is the smallest arena in the OHL, with a capacity of 3,145, which includes almost 500 standing room places.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (aka the “QEW”) towards Toronto for approximately 20 miles. Exit onto Thorold Stone Rd (exit 32) going towards Thorold . At the top of the exit ramp, make a left. Follow Thorold Stone Rd (Rt 57) for approximately 5 miles (note: Rt 57 turns into Rt 58.) Take Rt 58 to Rt 406 north going towards St. Catherines. Exit the 406 on Geneva St north. The complex will be on your left hand side virtually as you exit the 406.

Nearby Airport: Toronto’s Lester Pearson International Airport, Hamilton International Airport, and Buffalo International Airport are all less than an hour’s drive from St. Catherines.

What To Do Before The Game: A short drive from St. Catherines brings you to Niagara Falls, ON. The “Canadian side” features many tourist destinations, including the Skylon observation tower, Marineland, and two world-class casinos, the Fallsview and Casino Niagara. For more information, visit the friendly folks at the Ontario Welcome Centres located just over the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Dining in the area of the arena is EXTREMELY limited, and the neighborhood isn’t exactly the best. I recommend getting a copy of the St. Catherines visitors guide for more information. You can get one at http://www.stcatherines.ca/.

Where To Stay: Since I stayed in Buffalo during my trip to see the Ice Dogs, I can’t really give much information here. I would consult with the folks at the St. Catherines Tourism Bureau.

Tickets: Ice Dogs tickets are priced as follows: C$18.00 (premium), C$17.00 (end), C$15.00 (youth/seniors), and C$13.00 (standing).

Parking: Parking at the complex is limited, but free.

The Good Seats: Every seat at “the Jack” is a good one. While seating is of the traditional wooden fold-down type, instead of being set up for one butt per, they are wide enough for two...kind of like a wooden love seat! The standing room is a good choice if the seating has been sold out, with the a standing area in the concourse about the seating bowl providing good views from almost any position. A bonus to the standing room is a shelf, provided by team management, to place your beer and hot dog on.

Getting In: There is one major entrance, which also hosts the box office, which leads you to the stairs which take you up to the seating area. Beware, the team locker room is the first thing you will encounter when you walk in, so you might be dodging the visiting team during their calisthenics!

Arena Food: “The Jack” is an old community rink , so concession stands are at a premium. In the slightly chaotic area which takes you into the seating bowl, there is one small concession stand selling basic arena food, a table set up nearby selling beer and pizza, and another table selling pulled pork sandwiches. The price wasn’t too bad, and the quality was acceptable.

Inside the arena proper, there are beer tables set up on the concourse where you can get a brew and watch the game. There is also a smaller concession stand below the grandstand on the opposite end of the arena from the main entrance.

Restrooms: There are restrooms set up in the entrance to the seating area and below the seating area near the smaller concession stand. They are small, but they are clean and well kept up.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Gatecliff Arena has an old-fashioned center hanging scoreboard which gives the basic game information only. Like the Hershey Centre, St. Catherines has four projection video screens which give a view of anything that you might have missed.

The PA announcer has a good delivery and the music played has a good selection.

Game Staff: The Ice Dogs have some of the friendliest, most helpful people that I have ever encountered in my sports travels. Everyone there had a smile on their face and had time to chat about the team. Even me, a first timer, was welcomed as a friend and not a stranger.
If you happen to visit the Ice Dogs, be sure and say hello to Bill and Denise Burke, the team’s owners. They sit under the press box near the center line. You will not meet two nicer people and more classy and genial hosts.

Souvenirs: The Ice Dogs have a small souvenir store located at the entrance to the seating bowl.

Atmosphere: You could not have more of a contrast. The evening before in Mississauga. It was comfortable, yet quiet…almost passionless. St. Catherines was a diametric opposite. It was loud, rowdy, and intense from the warm-ups to the final buzzer. You can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere, and even me, who didn’t know anything about the team when I walked in, was cheering loudly for the Ice Dogs when the clock reached zero.

One of the ushers told me that when “the Jack” is full, the cheering is so loud that it can be heard in the apartment building across the street!

Overall Rating: Gatecliff Arena is small, old, and chaotic on a game night. It’s a cracker box of a city rink which has a lot of drawbacks. However, once you walk in, none of that is worth a looney. All of the things I just listed make “the Jack” a special place when the puck drops. If you want a true hockey experience with a team that is intertwined with the community, a Saturday night with the Ice Dogs is the place to be, and is worth the drive.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hershey Centre, Mississauga ON

Basic Information
Team: Mississauga St. Michaels Majors (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Majors vs Barrie Colts-11/27/09
Team Website: http://www.stmichaelsmajors.com/
Ticket Information: (905) 502-7788
Tourism Information: (866) 327-4093 or http://www.visitmississauga.com/
Internet Broadcast: none

Team History: The St. Michaels Majors are one of the most storied names in the annals of major “Junior A” hockey in Canada. In 1907, a team representing St. Michaels College in Toronto started a hockey program. Just three years later, the Majors won their first Ontario Hockey League championship. The Majors would quickly become a powerful force in the burgeoning sport of junior hockey, winning the Memorial Cup (symbolic of the Canadian Junior Hockey championship) in 1934, 1945, 1947, and 1961. However, the school felt that the schedule was too grueling for the players, and the team was disbanded in 1961.

The team was reborn in 1997, when the Ontario Hockey League awarded a group of St. Michael’s alumni an expansion team. In 2001, another St. Mike’s grad, Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, purchased the team. He moved the club from its Toronto base in 2007 to Mississauga’s Hershey Centre to start the 2007-08 campaign.

How About That Name (and Some history): The home of the Majors has been known as the Hershey Centre since opening in 1998. The building is located on Rose Cherry Place, named after the late wife of Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry, who was instrumental in the building of the arena and it’s first tenant, the Mississauga Ice Dogs. In 2007, a new multi-sport facility called Hershey SportZone opened just to the north of the main bowl. SportZone houses a full size indoor soccer field, a full size basketball court, a gymnastics facility, and two outdoor soccer fields.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (aka the “QEW”) towards Toronto for approximately 80 miles. Exit onto the 403 Hwy (exit 123) going towards Toronto for approximately 8 miles. Exit the 403 on Hurontario St. Go north on Hurontario St for approximately a mile and a half. Make a right onto Matheson Blvd E. Proceed on Matheson Blvd E until you see the complex on the left. There is a large sign at the entrance to the complex.

Nearby Airport: Lester Pearson International Airport is less than five miles from the Hershey Centre.

What To Do Before The Game: Obviously downtown Toronto, which is less than a half an hour from the Hershey Centre is located, is an obvious choice. But, if you don’t want to brave the notorious traffic heading into downtown, there are alternatives in Mississauga. The incredibly helpful and friendly staff at the Ontario Welcome Centre in Fort Erie (just over the Peace Bridge which connects Buffalo to Canada) suggested visiting the Playdium. A 40,000 square foot interactive arcade, the Playdium features over 200 arcade games, a roller coaster simulator, a miniature golf course, bowling lanes, batting cages, and a go-kart track. For more information, visit http://www.playdium.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many choices along Hurontario St, ranging from fast food to sit-down ethnic restaurants.

Where To Stay: There are many choices in the Mississauga area for lodgings. I recommend getting a copy of the city’s visitor guide either at the Ontario Welcome Centre or at the website listed at the top of this article.

Tickets: Majors tickets purchased the day of the game are priced as follows: C$21.95 (platinum level),C$16.95 (gold level), and C$14.95 (red level). There is a discount if you purchase prior to the game you are attending.

Parking: Parking at the Hershey Centre is plentiful and free.

The Good Seats: All of the seats at the Hershey Centre have a good view of the ice, so any where you want to sit will more than likely satisfy you. The Majors average around two thousand or so per game, so good seats at all price levels should be available at the box office.

Getting In: There is one major entrance at the box office, and a separate entrance for club seat holders.

Arena Food: This is a mixed bag. At each corner of the building are concession stands, cleverly named “Hershey (snack) Bars”. The selection is limited to hot dogs, pizza, drinks, and (to no one’s surprise) Hershey candy. There are several smaller tables selling roasted nuts in the inner concourse. Just below the press box is the “Bistro”, which has two full service bars, a small concession stand, and booths to eat at. Two slices of pizza and a bottle of Pepsi cost C$11.00 and a hot dog was C$3.50. The pizza wasn’t the most spectacular, but the hot dog was fairly tasty. Interestingly enough, the hot dog was served on what might be considered a sandwich bun, instead of the normal hot dog bun.

Restrooms: There are sufficient rest rooms in the main concourse, which are clean and serviceable.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Hershey Centre has a moderate sized center-hanging scoreboard which has the basic game information. The main scoreboard is assisted by two projection video screens, which are hung on either side the arena. Unfortunately, the screens are hung at a level where the view is obscured by the roof scaffolding.

The PA announcer was fairly sedate, and gave just the basic game information.

Game Staff: The Hershey Centre arena staff was all friendly and very helpful during my visit.

Souvenirs: The team’s main souvenir stand, the “Maniac Shack”, is located at the main entrance to the building. The small store has a very limited line of merchandise, but the prices weren’t too bad. There is another souvenir table located in the concourse, which also sells a limited line.

Atmosphere: I was surprised at how quiet and reserved the fans for the Majors were. I assumed that there would be some kind of hardcore following, but if there was, I didn’t see it.

Overall Rating: The Hershey Centre is a very good building to watch hockey. However, if you’re looking for a intense experience, this isn’t going to be it.