Monday, December 13, 2010

RBC Centre, Sarnia ON

Basic Information
Team: Sarnia Sting (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Sting vs Oshawa Genrerals-11/27/2010
Team Website: http://www.sarniasting.com/
Ticket Information: (519) 541-1717
Tourism Information: (800) 265-0316 or http://www.tourismsarnialambton.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.chok.com/
Local Newspaper: Sarnia Observer http://www.theobserver.ca/

Team History: The history of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting actually starts a few hundred miles away in another league. In 1969, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League granted one of its charter franchises to the city of Cornwall, ON. That team, the Cornwall Royals, won three Memorial Cups, emblematic of earning the championship over all of Canadian junior hockey. In 1981, the Royals moved to the Ontario Hockey League, and in 1992, moved to Newmarket, ON. That move would only last two years, as in 1994, NHL star Dino Ciccarelli and his brothers purchased the team and moved them to their home town of Sarnia, renaming them the Sting.

How About That Name (And Some History): One of the provisos which enabled the Ciccarelli brothers to bring the OHL to Sarnia was that a new arena was necessary. The team would play their first three seasons in the ancient Sarnia Arena, but in 1998, the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Complex was opened. In 2009, the Royal Bank of Canada purchased the naming rights, and rechristened the building the RBC Centre.

Getting There: (From the US): Take I-94 east to the Blue Water Bridge (the last exit). After crossing the bridge, follow to Highway 402 east to Highway 40 (Modeland Road South). Stay to the right on the ramp, and after crossing Modeland Rd South, go straight to Exmouth St. Follow towards London Rd. Go through the first set of traffic lights, follow around the bend to the arena. Look for the Lambton College sign on left (Note: the sign IS there, but it is definitely not well lit!!). Linda and I passed it once, and after going about a mile south, we stopped at a local PetroCanada gas station, and the helpful clerk told me what to look for!)

Nearby Airport: Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport is approximately four miles northeast of the RBC Centre.

What To Do Before The Game: Unfortunately, my trip didn’t allow for time to explore the Sarnia area. I would recommend contacting the local tourism bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Going south on London Rd, there are many fast food and quick service restaurants, but Linda and I recommend bypassing those and eating at the arena (see more later).

Where To Stay: While Linda and I stayed outside Detroit for this trip, one of the Sting’s sponsors is the Holiday Inn Sarnia/Point Edward. According to the team’s website, this location offers a special Sting fan rate of C$99.00 per night. For more information, call (519) 336-4130.

Ticket Prices: Sting tickets are priced as follows: C$18.00 (adult) and C$12.50 (children 4-12)

The Good Seats: All of the 4500 or so maroon seats are comfortable and angled well, so you should get a good view no matter where you sit. In addition,
the main concourse is open to the seating area, so if you prefer to stand or are getting a dog and a beer while the puck is in play, you won’t miss any of the action.

Getting In: The main entrance foyer is along the side of the building. It’s slightly on the small side, so if you get there close to game time, you’ll be waiting in the cold. The ticket windows are on the outside of the building, so you might want to get their early so you can purchase your seat and get out of the chill (which was a problem when we visited).

Arena Food: We found that one of the areas that the RNC Centre truly shines is in its food services. While the selection might not have been particularly huge, the quality and price made up for that. Once settled in my seat, I sampled the arena’s hot dogs, and unlike the ones at the WFCU Centre in Windsor the previous night, these were something to write home about! They were larger than a normal jumbo hot dog, and were hot, tasty, and served on a sesame-seed roll. There are three concession stands, one in each corner of the arena, and although it’s just the standard arena fare, it’s really pretty well done, except for that Canadian staple, Pizza Pizza, which I can do without. In addition, one of the stands serves a French Canadian delicacy called Poutine, which, I am told are French fries covered with gravy and melted cheese. One of the Sting fans I was talking to referred to it as a “walking heart attack”, but I didn’t have the courage to try it. I also noticed that if you ordered a cup of tea, they gave you a cup of hot water and allowed you to select one of the six different varieties of tea, including Earl Grey.

Linda fell in love with the Coyote Jack’s Bar and Grill inside the arena. I will let her describe it in more detail later, but on the 90 minute drive back to Detroit, it was pretty much all she could talk about!

Here is a selection of the concession prices at the RBC Centre (all prices in Canadian Dollars):

Hot Dog: $3.57 Nachos: $4.57 Draft Beer: $5.75 Pretzel: $3.57 Large Soda (Bottled Pepsi): $3.57 Ice Cream: Various Prices Pizza Slice: $3.57 Poutine: $5.24

Soft Drinks: As mentioned above, the RBC Centre serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There is a small souvenir store located in one of the
corners of the building. The store has a smaller then expected line of merchandise.

Restrooms: They are a bit on the small side, which makes for a bit of a wait between periods, but are clean and serviceable.

Mascot: Buzz the Bee

Program: Sting Game Night is a well produced black and white publication which is updated for every game. The C$2.00 magazine is packed with statistics and game stories and is worth the cost.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The RBC Centre has an eight-sided scoreboard similar in design to the one in the WFCU Centre, but not as large. Instead of having an HD video display, it has projection screens which show in-game
action. While not as advanced as Windsor’s system, “Sting Vision” has a good, clear picture and is used to its fullest. The PA voice is good, and like in Windsor, he didn’t rely on histrionics, but was a pro and let the game tell the story. The music selection was pretty good, and played at an appropriate level.

Arena Staff: Like in Windsor, the people working at the RBC Centre all were pleasant, helpful, and looked like they enjoyed what they were doing.

Arena Features: You’ve seen banners honoring retired players, but
how often do you see banner honoring a referee? Well, Sarnia has one, as they have a large banner saluting home town refereeing legend Kerry Fraser, who spend twenty years as one of the NHL’s top zebras.

Atmosphere: While it’s as “hockey-centric” as Windsor, the fans in Sarnia seem a bit friendlier. While it seemed like people were intent on the game in Windsor, the Sting fans I spoke with were more inclined to get into a conversation. I had a great time sharing hockey stories with two of the gentlemen that were sitting next to and the row above me. These quys were obviously long time and hard core fans, but were more than happy to tell me some of the history and lore of hockey in Sarnia.

Overall: The RBC Centre has its faults, but they really aren’t that noticeable on the grand scale of things. While the Windsor game was professional to the point of being somewhat sterile, the Sting game was a bit more relaxed, more home-town, and in some ways, was a more fun experience.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WFCU Centre, Windsor ON

Basic Information
Team:
Windsor Spitfires (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Spitfires vs Oshawa Generals-11/26/2010
Team Website: http://www.windsorspitfires.com/
Ticket Information: (519) 254-5000
Tourism Information: (800) 265-3633 or http://www.visitwindsoressex.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.am800cklw.com/
Local Newspaper: Windsor Star http://www.windsorstar.com/

Team History: The Spifires team that thrills the fans that pack the beautiful new WFCU Centre is actually the second team to maintain that proud name. The original Spitfires played in the Ontario Hockey Association from 1945-1953. After that team ceased operations, it would be 17 years before hockey came back to Windsor, but in 1971, a new Spits team joined a local Junior "A" league, and in 1975, the team joined the Ontario Hockey League, playing their games at the legendary, yet infamous Windsor Arena. The Spitfires played at the building known throughout the OHL simply as "the Barn" until December 2008, when they moved approximately ten minutes to the east and the new WFCU Centre.

How About That Name (And Some History): The arena has always had the name of the Windsor Family Credit Union since it's opening on December 11, 2008. In addition to being the home of the Spitfires and other events, the building also features three other ice pads and a community center for local events and usage.

Getting There: (From the Ambassador Bridge) Exit off the Bridge onto Huron Church Rd West (Rt 3). Follow Huron Church Rd to the EC Row Expressway East. Take the Expressway for approximately seven minutes, exiting on Lauzon Pkwy North. Follow Lauzon Pkwy for approximately two and a half miles to Lauzon Line/McHugh St. Follow McHugh St, and the arena will be on your right.

Nearby Airport: Windsor Airport is approximately seven miles southwest of the WFCU Centre. Detroit Metropolitan/Wayne County International Airport is 31 miles west of the arena.

What To Do Before The Game: While there are many restaurants, shops, and bars in the Windsor area, probably the most popular place to go if you want to spend some time before the game are the city’s famous casino. Caesar’s Windsor is located right near downtown, and features slots, table games, poker, and a sports book where you can place a bet on your favorite team. Caesar’s also features 758 guest rooms in their hotel, as well as several on-site restaurants, and a concert hall. For more information, call (800) 991-8888 or visit www.caesarswindsor.com. There are also other slot-machine only facilities at the Windsor Raceway and OLG Slots.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Downtown Windsor features some very good restaurants for all price ranges. I would check with the folks at the tourism bureau for their recommendations, as when we visited, we decided to eat at the arena.

Where To Stay: We stayed at a La Quinta Inn outside of Detroit for this visit, but Windsor does have locations representing most major chains.

Ticket Prices: Spits tickets are priced as follows: C$29.00 (restaurant) C$21.00 (adult), C$19.00 (students and seniors), C$15.00 (13 and under). There is a C$1.00 surcharge for tickets bought at the box office. I would highly recommend getting your tickets ahead of time, since the Spits are one of the top draws in the OHL and sell out frequently.

The Good Seats: All of the seats at the WFCU Centre are comfortable and angled well. The maroon seats completely surround the rink, and on the one end, go higher up than on the other three sides, which probably provides more noise, which is why the Spitfires choose to shoot at that end in the first and third periods.

Getting In: There are four entrances to the arena, with the box office being located at gate 2.

Arena Food: As with any new arena, the WFCU Centre has a plethora of concession stands which will suit just about any taste. Linda sampled the hamburger before the game, and according to her, the burger had an unusual taste, and that perhaps Canadian beef has a different taste. The burger was served with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. She did notice that the top part of the bun “disintegrated” once she bit into it. She was a lot happier with the popcorn, which was freshly popped at the concession stand. She remarked that “it had a light texture, with just the right amount of butter and salt”. I’m not much of a popcorn connoisseur, but I dug into the bag with gusto myself. I sampled the arena hot dogs, which weren’t bad, but weren’t the best either. The French fries, however, were hot and crisp. We also sampled a pretzel, which was filled with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. I thought it wasn’t bad, but it cooled down in a hurry, which made it a little less palatable.

Linda also raved about the cherry cheesecake ice cream, which she said "was the best thing ever", and might have overtaken the Creamscicle ice desert at the Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, MD as her all-time favorite arena sweet treat.

The arena has it's own on-site restaurant, which gives a nice overview of the action while getting served. It is open to the public.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the WFCU Centre (all in Canadian dollars):

Hot Dog: $4.50 (jumbo dog) Hamburger: $5.75 Nachos: $4.00 Draft Beer: $8.00 (large) Pretzel: $4.00 Large Soda: $6.00 (souvenir cup sized) Ice Cream: $4.50 French Fries: $4.50

Soft Drinks: The WFCU Centre serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There are two souvenir stores, called "The Crease" inside the arena. One is located outside the seating area near one of the main entrances, and the other is inside the main concourse. Both sell a fairly large line of merchandise. There are also smaller souvenir booths inside the concourse.

Restrooms: There are plenty of restroom facilities in the seating area. All are clean and in good working order.

Mascot: "Bomber", a World War II era fighter pilot, circulates in the stands leading cheers.

Program: The Spitfires Magazine, which cost C$4.00, is an impressive four color production, which as features on the players, staff, and the Spits team that won back to back Memorial Cup championships the past two seasons.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: One of the more impressive features of the WFCU Centre is it's large, state of the art scoreboard. The center hanging scoreboard is eight-sided, with four HD video screens alternating with boards which show the pertinent game information. Although it is used frequently for sponsor ads, they don't overdo or overpower you with them. The scoreboard is assisted by two smaller message boards which run along the sides of the arena above the luxury suites. The PA announcer is good, but I thought he could have been a bit more enthusiastic. He is helped by an attractive young blonde lady who serves as the emcee for the in-game promotions, which are fairly low-key as well.

Arena Staff: All the people I encountered were very helpful, outgoing, and approachable. Before my visit, I found that I needed to get a photo crediential, since picture taking is not allowed inside the arena. I got my credential (a pink wristband), and was happily snapping away, when a Spits staff member told me that I was not allowed to shoot. I showed him my wrist band, and the staffer almost fell over himself apologizing.

Arena Features: In the concourse, the Spitfires have a display case which honors their former captain Mickey Renaud, who passed away of a rare heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyapathy on February 18, 2008. His number 18 was retired by the club the next day. On a much lighter note, one of the advertisers on the boards in the rink is one for Aren’t We Naughty, which apparently is a chain of stores which sell….ahem…adult novelties. I found this even funnier since the home of the Spits used to be well known for something called “the Windsor Ballet”. I will leave this up to your imagination.

Atmosphere: Windsor knows their hockey, and they are serious about it. Although everyone I met there was friendly, you could tell they were intense about watching the game. The in-game entertainment was subdued, and the team management “lets the game tell the story”.

Overall: The WFCU Center is, simply put, a fabulous building, the best of all of the OHL arenas that I have visited so far. Granted that it doesn’t have the intimacy or the atmosphere that the old Windsor Arena had, it is just a matter of time before it becomes just as intimidating a place for visiting teams, and builds its own history.