During the 1995-1996 season, the London Knights hit as low as humanly possible. They amassed a 3-60-3 record, which was the worst in Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League history. The franchise had hit rock bottom. They were playing in an old arena, and it was falling apart. The owners had stopped putting money into it. They had possibly the worst logo ever, nicknamed the "Spiderknight." The Knightmare had reached its apex.
Enter former NHL players Dale and Mark Hunter. The brothers had finished their long NHL careers and were looking for a new challenge. They bought the fledgling, yet promising OHL franchise in 2000, and were linked to a deal with the City of London for a brand-spanking-new downtown arena.
Ten short years later the Hunters had completely changed the London Knights. Taking over the operations of the team themselves (Dale acts as President and Head Coach, and Mark acts as Vice-President and General Manager), they had done a complete 180 degree turn. The Knights have moved into an arena that is the envy of most of the league, set the CHL record for longest unbeaten streak (31 games), had four consecutive years as the top regular-season team in the OHL, and won a Memorial Cup in 2005, defeating some guy named Sidney Crosby.
The Knights' history dates back to the 1950's, but it was in 1965 that the London Nationals joined what would become the OHL. In 1968 they were sold and renamed the team the Knights following a contest to the team. Since then the Knights have changed hands a few times and had moderate successes and failures, but their fortunes really turned when they moved into the John Labatt Centre.
Named after Labatt Brewery founder John Labatt, who started up the brewery in London, the JLC is now at the heart of downtown London. It is owned by a public-private partnership known as the London Civic Centre Corporation and run by Philadelphia management company Global Spectrum. It is the JLC that has helped catapult the Knights into the upper-echelon of the OHL, and made the Knights the Hunters' Pride.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I was pleasantly surprised with the selection of food at the JLC. You can find all of the regular staples that you would expect at any hockey experience. Popcorn, hot dogs, candy and chocolate bars can all be found here. Pizza Pizza has a strong presence at the JLC with a few stands featuring their slices which can be purchased for $4.50. Mr. Sub also has a couple of stands where you can get a small sandwich for $6.50 or a large for $8.50.
Pepsi is the soda of choice at the JLC and the pouring rights feature Budweiser and Bud Light. Similar to the Rogers Centre, it is a travesty that a building so intertwined with Labatt's fails to sell Labatt's Blue, or any other beer labelled Labatt's. (It should be noted that Labatt's and Anheuser-Busch are owned by the same ginormous Belgian beer conglomerate). Beer is sold for $6 or $9.75.
There are a couple of stands that offer a little more unique fare. Lester's Hot Dog Nation offers a few hot dog variations that include the Mexicasa Hot Dog and Poutine Hot Dog. The Big Cheese offers gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and Shmokey Rob n Sons offers pulled pork and brisket sandwiches.
If you are looking for a more refined atmosphere, the brand new Club Cambria might be of interest to you. It offers a sit-down style bar with some specialty foods.
Even though it is already 10 years old, the John Labatt Centre has that shiny new feel to it. The JLC is a large building for the OHL. Behind only the Ottawa Civic Centre, the JLC packs in a strong 9,100. It also gives them the opportunity to bring in some bigger acts, which of course, brings in more dollars. The seating bowl is two-tiers of seating with a layer of private boxes in between. The lower bowl has a gentle slope to it, while the upper bowl has a steeper view. The sightlines are pretty good from all vantage points.
The ceiling is littered with banners displaying the successes that the Hunters have brought to London, including numerous division and conference championships, the 4 banners displaying the best records of the OHL, 4 consecutive years, and a banner commemorating the 29-0-2 unbeaten streak, the best in the CHL. There are also banners honouring great London Knights of the past, including Rob Ramage, Dino Ciccarelli, Darryl Sittler, Brendan Shanahan and Brad Marsh. It has been confirmed that this group will be joined by current NHL MVP Corey Perry. I'm sure former Knights Rick Nash, Sam Gangner, Steve Mason, and Patrick Kane will one day have their banners raised to the rafters. Other banners include broadcaster Pete James, and trainer Don Brankly. What I was surprised to find absent, was the 2006 Memorial Cup Banner. Hopefully, it was just out being cleaned.
Both King Street and Dundas Street offer a variety of fares. I was really surprised to find a few upscale restaurants in the immediate area. There seems to be something for everyone, but that is the advantage to a downtown location. Many of the offerings are also original. You might want to try Billy's Downtown Deli or Jambalaya on Dundas or Cello Supper Club, J-Dee's Market Grill, or La Casa Ristorante on King. There are also a few chains kicking around including McDonald's, Starbucks, and Pizza Pizza. Any way you slice it, you can't go wrong when looking for some pre-game or post-game activity in downtown London.
Since the opening of the John Labatt Centre, the Knights have brought in top flight attendance figures. They have had the highest average attendance over the past 6 years in the Ontario Hockey League, and they had the second highest average before that. Even further, the Knights brought in the second highest attendance figures in the entire Canadian Hockey League, behind only the Quebec Remparts.
Knights fans are typical Southern Ontario fans. They are polite, and fairly quiet, but full of knowledge and passion. The fans I sat with were of great help and loved to talk Knights hockey!
Downtown London is a fair distance from the 401, which is the major highway around Southern Ontario. To get downtown from the highway, you must travel a fair distance on major roads, that have numerous traffic lights.
Once downtown, there are a few surface lots for parking, as well as the lot right by the JLC. With many places around the OHL having free parking, the cost is pretty steep for the JLC. The lot directly across from the JLC on King Street was a whopping $15 for event parking. Although the City of London keeps the police out in the streets directing traffic after the game, you still should expect a bit of a wait to get out of your lot of choice, and out of downtown overall.
Inside, the washrooms are numerous and clean and the concourses leave ample room for travel.
The Knights are a pretty tough ticket in London. You can get your ticket for around $20 including taxes and fees. That's about average for the OHL. The concession prices are pretty good, but the parking is definitely high. The opportunity to bring the family out to a game is present. The Knights have also produced a strong on-ice product since the Hunters took over, which makes the return well worth the investment.
An extra point goes to the local Tim Horton's restaurants that produce a special green and yellow Knights donut that is only available on Knights gamedays.
An extra point goes to the Hunters for their phenomenal turn-around of the Knights franchise over the last decade.
An extra point for the Timbits mini-game during the intermission and their salute to the crowd that was watching.
If you are looking for some great hockey action at a decent price then the OHL is for you. If you are looking for the opportunity to see some future NHL stars, then the London Knights are for you. Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, Sam Ganger, John Tavares, Steve Mason and Corey Perry have all recently worn the Green of the Knights. It is fascinating that the Knights have almost erased the sting of the Knightmare 3-60-3 season and have become the pride of London and the Hunters.
Going to a Knights game is like going to an OHL game in a full NHL arena. Amenities are NHL-level, it has a big game feel, and downtown London is a great setting, especially when the market across the street has the outdoor rink in front. But NHL crowds have changed from blue collar, passionate to quiet and corporate. London feels NHL in that regard too. Southern Ontario is known for quiet fans, but London is quiet even by local standards. I've actually sat in the back row of this 9,000 seat arena and heard conversation on the ice. It's not just the fans but the sound tiles that surround the arena at the top and front of the upper level. Acoustics for concerts are good, but I'm not sure it would be physically possible to make the arena loud.
Concessions are in a class of their own in the OHL. In most arenas, it's not possible to make a meal at the game, unless you like a lot of hot dogs and popcorn. At the JLC, you can grab a burger, chicken or beef nachos, some BBQ, you name it. It's arena pricing of course, but the selection is greatly appreciated.
The facade of the one-time hotel has been preserved, and the exterior of the arena is as nice as you'll find anywhere. That's deserving of an extra point. Washroom facilities are nowhere near sufficient, long lines are the norm. That's deserving of one less point. The setting in downtown London is deserving of an extra point, as is the outdoor rink across the street in winter. Another point for having a big-time event feel for a roughly $20 ticket.
Overall, you'll find a full house in a beautiful rink. The atmosphere is very sedate though, and sometimes feels more theatre than sports when it comes to the game environment.
Absolutely gorgeous entryway and concourses. Plenty of room to walk through the arena with clean restrooms that had zero waiting time. The team store was very well done and the seating was superb. The only bad thing about the JLC is that they don't serve Labatt beer!! Other than that, this arena is the gem of the OHL.
113 Dundas St
London, ON N6A 1E8
119 Dundas St
London, ON N6A 3G6
117 King St
London, ON N6A 1C6
99 King St
London, ON N6A 1C1
109 King St
London, ON N6A 1C3
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