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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Comuniplex opened in 1971, 10 years to the day after the Minto Arena had been destroyed by fire, and brought hockey back to a city that had been missing the sport for a long, long time. On opening day, there were no seats in the arena, so fans took to bringing pillows and blankets for sitting on the concrete slabs surrounding the rink.
Times have changed.
The Art Hauser Centre, as it has been known since 2005, has seen a number of improvements over the years, including seats, an elevator, an upgraded scoreboard and plenty more.
Playing at the Art Hauser Centre, the Prince Albert Raiders have been one of the more successful junior hockey teams in Saskatchewan. Between 1977-1982 the Raiders won four Tier II junior national championships in six years. After graduating up to the WHL for the 1982-83 season, the Raiders went on to win the Memorial Cup in 1985 as the top junior team in the country.
The Raiders have produced 72 players who have made it to the NHL, including Brad McCrimmon, James Patrick, Wes Walz and Mike Modano. And all of them have paid their dues in this little arena in this little city.
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Good options at good prices are what you'll find at the Art Hauser Centre.
The main concession stands are located in the main floor lobby on the west end of the stadium, known as the Johnny Bower Lobby in honour of the NHL Hall of Fame goalie who was born and raised in Prince Albert. There is also another stand with a paired-down menu at the far end of the stands in the southeast corner.
The menu itself is quite substantial and tasty. You have your typical arena fare, such as popcorn (small bag is $2.25), chips ($1.50), burgers ($4.00) and pop (small cup is $1.75), all at very reasonable prices. And there are also some other choices such as delicious pizza-by-the-slice ($3.75) and breakfast burritos ($3.00).
Curiously, and awesomely, you can also pick up some bona fide oddities at the concessions. Certs, Rolaids, Tylenol and hockey tape are all available for fans with... unique needs. I love this.
Upstairs in the Art Hauser you'll find the Ches Leach Lounge, named after one of the founding fathers of the Prince Albert Raiders. The Lounge is huge, with seating for 600, and serves adult beverages for patrons looking for something a little stronger than soda. It has a very social, beer garden-type feel to it and seems very much like a place where friends can meet and hang out before, during or after games.
The Prince Albert Raiders have a long and storied history and the fans are enthusiastic supporters as a result. The Art Hauser Centre only holds 3,366 people, including 786 standing room spots, but to sell the place out requires almost 10 percent of the city's population to show up. Impressively enough, they fill the place to near capacity every night.
The game I attended had a crowd of 2,755 fans and, in a small venue like that, the crowd is right on top of the action. The stands in fact are just 10 rows deep so no one, including the many fans who choose to stand at the back, have a bad view. The net result is a ton of audience energy, a great look at the ice surface, and a lot more crowd noise than one might expect. Overall this made for a very fun and entertaining experience at the good ol' hockey game.
The Art Hauser Centre is located in the southeast corner of Prince Albert, well away from most all of the entertainment options in the city. About your only dining choices in the immediate vicinity are the Spicy Peppercorn Chinese-Vietnamese Restaurant across the street to the south, an A&W another block south, and a Tim Horton's to the west of the A&W. Other than those, you'll be going for a drive to find some fun.
The good news is that you're no more than five minutes from some of the more happening spots in town.
Head a few blocks west on Marquis Rd. and you'll find the Northern Lights Casino and just a little further on is a strip of hotels and restaurants on 2 Ave. Standard fare such as McDonald's, KFC and Boston Pizza can all be found in this stretch along with a few mom and pop restaurants.
Heading a couple minutes north along 6 Ave. from the Art Hauser quickly brings you to the Cornerstone commercial district where all manner of shops and services can be located. Again, many of the standard dining options are here, such as Ricky's, Fatburger and Original Joe's, all of which will fit the bill.
Raiders fans are enthusiastic, engaged, and don't mind voicing their displeasure with questionable calls by yelling at the offending ref by name. Like most junior hockey audiences I've observed, they are fairly quiet most of the time but, whenever something exciting happens on the ice, the noise level rises very rapidly, often punctuated by cowbells. With the low ceiling in the Art Hauser Centre, that gets things booming in a hurry.
What this means is that you'll be among fun, energetic people at a Raiders game and that's always a good thing.
The Art Hauser Centre is situated near the outskirts of Prince Albert, in the southeast corner of town. Located near the corner of two major arteries, it is pretty easy to get there from anywhere in the city.
Parking on site is free and there appears to be sufficient parking for everyone coming to the game. There is also a bus stop right outside of the rink, so public transit is an option.
The downside is that there is only one way in or out of the parking lot, so leaving after the game is a bit of a lengthy ordeal considering the relatively few number of cars.
Inside the arena, the Johnny Bower Lobby is roomy; the halls behind the stands and at the top of the stands, not so much. It can, therefore, be a little slow to move from your seats to the concessions or the washroom facilities.
Seats at the Art Hauser are $18.99 for adults, $14 for students and $9 for children, with standing room and luxury box locations also available. At that price, the level of entertainment is a bargain. You'll be getting a quality product on the cheap which leaves you plenty of extra cash to buy a 50/50 ticket or some hockey tape at the concession stand.
Once you've entered the Johnny Bower Lobby, you'll see a large bronze statue of a goalie in honour of the late, great netminder. Behind the statue is a wall covered in glass plaques dedicated to key figures in the history of the Art Hauser Centre.
Many of the rest of the walls throughout the Lobby as well as upstairs outside of the Ches Leach Lounge are covered in displays dedicated to the many members of the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, giving the place a real sense of the history in the community.
Behind and below the south stands, the corridor leading to the far east of the stands is also the hallway through which the players travel from the locker rooms to the ice surface. Along this hallway you'll find pictures of every Prince Albert Raiders team from 1971 to the present day, names of all the Raiders' award winners and the Wall of Honour with plaques dedicated to the most critical members of the Raiders' family over the years.
The Raiders have a nice souvenir shop in the south corner of the Johnny Bower Lobby. All your needs for jerseys, hats, sweaters, keychains, etc. can be met here. A bonus for season ticket holders is a 10 percent discount for all purchases here.
The team mascot, Riley Raider, makes the rounds before, during and after the game, shooting tee-shirts into the stands, encouraging chants and cheers, and entertaining the kids in the crowd.
Out in the Lobby at the game I attended, several tables were set up raising funds for Saskatchewan's annual Kinsmen Telemiracle campaign, a 32-year-old telethon that runs in support of people with disabilities; always a very worthy cause. Among the fundraisers for the day was also an auction for the extremely cool-looking special edition game-worn jerseys the Raiders wore that night.
Lining the rafters in the stands are the many, many championship banners the Raiders have earned over the years. It's a very impressive sight from anywhere in the rink.
As things are ramping up to the start of the game, the Prince Albert Raiders theme song, "Go Raiders Go" by Russ Gurr, The Singing Farmer was played over the P.A. system. Having a classic 1970s vintage tune like that was a real treat to hear. This was followed up by Captain Tractor's classic rendition of "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" which fits with the team's pirate-themed current logo rather perfectly.
No, you're not getting the great big monster event you might expect at an NHL game, but the more intimate, small town environment at a WHL game such as this has its own appeal. The Raiders have a good sense of tradition and do an excellent job remaining connected to their community. A trip up north to take in a game will be worth the effort.
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3590 6 Avenue East
Prince Albert, SK S6V 8C8
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