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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Centre 200 is named in honour of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Sydney. The arena opened in 1987, as the home of the Cape Breton Oilers of the American Hockey League (AHL). In their nine seasons in Sydney, the Oilers won the Calder Cup once (1993) before moving to Hamilton, Ontario; this was around the same time all AHL teams moved out of the Maritimes. That franchise is now the St. John’s Ice Caps. Hockey returned to Sydney when the Granby Predateurs moved prior to the 1997-98 season. The Screaming Eagles have won their division once and have reached the conference finals twice, but have not advanced further. Marc-Andre Fleury is celebrated as one of the greatest former Eagles players. His #29 jersey hangs in the rafters.
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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".
Most concession stands in Centre 200 are located at one end of the arena in a large, open atrium with a high ceiling. The arena offers a basic array of food and drink options. Concessions are well organized with clear signage and with stanchions to avoid congestion at intermission. Quality of food is as expected at a stadium. Prices are reasonable, ranging from $2.75 for a hot dog, up to $5.75 for poutine. Other concessions offer snacks or cafe items. For vegetarians, your options for a high protein meal are non-existent. To quench your thirst, Pepsi products from the fountain or bottle are available. A small variety of Molson and Coors beer are sold by the can. Be sure to bring cash as concessions do not accept credit cards. Two ATM's are available on the concourse. Vendors do not walk the aisle, so you will need to visit a concession stand for a desired item. Overall, the concessions are well maintained and clean, with enough food and drink options to satisfy your cravings.
The game day atmosphere inside Centre 200 is exciting for the hockey enthusiast, however the exterior atmosphere is car-dependent and underwhelming. The arena is connected to a casino with bright lights, a well-designed parking area, and sidewalks for the pedestrians. In contrast, the arena's window wall entrance is basic, with poor pedestrian connectivity to the adjacent businesses, major streets, and parking areas. The arena is built with an appropriate symmetry and rhythm of brick, concrete, and glass on the bottom, and corrugated metal siding above. At the right angle, a fan can look through the glass and see the interior seating bowl, which adds to the anticipation of entering the arena.
The brightness and openness inside the arena sends a chill of excitement for the event. The concourse runs around the rink with continuous views of the game. The lower seating bowl offers great viewing angles to catch all the action without fans in front obstructing the view. The rink is surrounded by eleven rows of seats except for seven rows at one of the ends. An upper level is located on one side of the rink. It consists of 15 rows with good viewing angles. However, avoid seats in the first two rows (row L & M) due to a railing obstructing the view, and the last five rows (V thru Z) because of poor sound quality and the inability to see the scoreboard. The blue plastic seats are in good shape but with no cup holders. Skyboxes are located on the opposite side of the rink and separate from the main concourse. The four-sided scoreboard hanging from centre ice is small and simple with a good video display.
In-game promotions and entertainment is kept simple. Young kids get the chance to play hockey at the intermission to the delight of the crowd. The mascot, Screech, is seen during player introductions and seemingly disappears for the rest of the game. Arena acoustics are fairly poor, as sound from the PA announcer echos around the building. A simple, eclectic mix of music from classic maritime to the classic jock rock songs plays between whistles.
Sydney was a booming city back during the two World Wars as the local steel mills were vital to the success of the allied forces. Since then, the economy has been depressed. The steel mills have closed and the population has decreased significantly. Much of the downtown core is still stuck in the past, with out-of-date storefronts and vacant lots. However, a significant effort has made the waterfront a tourist destination. A boardwalk along the Sydney River provides a peaceful walk away from car traffic. The North End neighborhood of Sydney is a pleasant area to explore. Historic houses and churches line the streets dating back to the late 1700s. Centre 200 is located just off George Street, a major thoroughfare of the city, on the fringe of downtown Sydney. Though it is possible to walk from downtown to the arena, the pedestrian access is poor and dangerous, especially at night. George Street is lined with commercial areas including a few bars and restaurants. For lodging, the Cambridge Suites and Holiday Inn are located a few blocks away along the waterfront. For a good dining experience, head to the Governor's Pub & Eatery. Located in the home of Sydney's first mayor, it specializes in home cooked meals and fresh seafood.
Screaming Eagle fans are some of the most knowledgeable and attentive fans in the QMJHL. The first seven years saw large crowds at Centre 200, with an average of around 67% of capacity. However, average attendance has steadily declined. Lately, Screaming Eagle games average just under 50% capacity. Fans are fairly quiet throughout the game, but let their feelings be known for good shifts by the home team or questionable calls by the referee. Even without ushers, fans know not to move to or from their seat during play. Overall, the fans are passionate in a unique way. Instead of yelling loudly, they concentrate on the plays and are respectful throughout the game's ups and downs.
Direct flights to Sydney are available from Toronto and Halifax. A road trip from Halifax takes a scenic 4 1/2 hours. This small city has a population of around 32,000, so the arena is convenient from everywhere in town. To arrive by foot requires a 10-15 minute walk from the downtown core. However, almost everyone drives or takes a taxi. Plenty of free parking spaces are available behind the arena. A CBRM Transit stop is located in front of the arena along George Street and connects Sydney with Cape Breton University, Glace Bay, along with other surrounding communities. A ticket cost $1.75 for a local ride or $3.25 from outlying areas.
The main entry is clearly marked by a large illuminated "Centre 200" sign along a two-story window wall. Inside the atrium is the box office and will call. A second entrance is located on the opposite side of the rink. Once doors open, access around the arena is simple and straightforward. The concourse is open to the seating bowl with plenty of room to either walk around or relax during intermission. There are plenty of table seating areas or lounge around with friends in the artistic Adirondack chairs. The arena has plenty of restrooms throughout the concourse. Even during intermission, none of them has a line outside the door.
Getting to your seat should not be a problem. With the open concourse, it is easy to see the section numbers, and visualize a route to get there. Very few ushers are available to help if you do happen to get lost. A few security personnel are around, but are not approachable, as most are focused on the game or their cell phone. Patrons in wheelchairs have only three sections to choose from. Unfortunately, all three are located at corners of the rink.
Prices for individual game tickets are reasonable for witnessing the highest level of junior hockey. Tickets are $16.75 for an adult, with discounts for seniors, youth, and children. Screaming Eagles offer a "build your own" half season ticket pack for those who can't make every home game. Family packs called "4 for $44" are offered on Sunday day games and includes a postgame skate on the ice. Birthday packages are available for a group of eight or more, including a birthday mention on the video board. The openness of the arena, along with reasonable prices and great viewing angles, help create a memorable overall experience for the fans. Centre 200 checks all of those boxes.
+1 for the video booth replaying opponent goals. In-game operators realize that Screaming Eagle fans are also true hockey fans that enjoy seeing great plays, even if the opponent makes that play.
+1 for the banners of the arena that celebrate former Screaming Eagles players (Fleury), teams (2003-04 Division Champs), and even the Cape Breton Oilers 1993 Calder Cup championship banner.
+1 for Hockey Heritage Hall of Fame. Located in concessions atrium, past local players, referees, and announcers are celebrated with their picture and jersey encased in glass.
+1 for the simplicity of the in-game experience. The focus is on the game, not on any theatrics or pyrotechnics.
If you are looking for a place that promotes the action on the ice without all the glitz and glamour you find in many arenas, this is a great venue to see a hockey game. Many arenas are loud, and try too hard to raise the energy of the fans. This becomes distracting and unappealing to the fan and hockey enthusiast. If you enjoy hockey at its purest, a visit to Centre 200 is a must.
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58 Wolfe St.
Louisbourg, NS B1C 2L2
Sydney, NS B1P 1A7