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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When the QMJHL formed in 1969, one of its first franchises was the Shawinigan Bruins. Since then, almost everything about The Q has changed, with the exception of that team located between Montreal and Quebec City. What is now known as the Shawinigan Cataractes is the only original team from The Q to continuously run in the same city.
Known as the City of Energy for its production of hydro-electric power, the city of Shawinigan is also known as the home of Canada's longest serving prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and legendary Montreal goaltender, and first goalie ever to wear a mask, Jacques Plante. The Cataractes have a long standing tradition with the city, formerly playing in the Arena Jacques-Plante.
In English, Cataractes literally means "waterfalls," which is also a reference to the Shawinigan Falls, which is used to produce energy. The Cataractes were a community owned team, until 2007 when "Le Club de Hockey de Shawinigan Inc" was sold to a group of 15 investors.
The former home of the Cataractes, Arena Jacques Plante, was one of those arenas that oozed history and tradition. However, the Cataractes moved to a new arena in 2008, which was built and owned by the City of Shawinigan. The new area sold naming rights to a water treatment company known as Bionest. Although tragic that an old arena with a great tradition and name had to be abandoned, it is probably for the best. The Cataractes were the host team for the Memorial Cup in 1985, but Arena Jacques Plante only hosted 2 games of the tournament. The support columns in the seating area made it impossible to televise the games, and the remainder of the tournament was moved to Drummondville. Shawinigan has been rewarded for their loyalty. They are the host city for the 2012 Memorial Cup, a tournament in which the Cataractes are guaranteed a birth as the host city.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is decent variety of food at the Cataractes game and the prices are decent as well. Budweiser and Bud Light are the available beers at Centre Bionsest ($4.75). Hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, fries, and soda are available here. There is a Van Houtte Coffee stand that offers various flavours of coffee. You can also try some Quebec staples which would include a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich and some poutine.
Centre Bionest de Shawinigan has a newer look to it. The classic, red brick look to Arena Jacques-Plante has been left behind for something a little more modern looking. Once inside you will notice a couple of unique items in the causeways. There are numerous places to sit and eat, or stand and eat. You can also find a nursing station/kids area. Finally, there are a few "rod hockey" games for the kids to play as well.
Once inside the seating bowl, you will see a split level seating bowl with a 360 degree walkway around the centre of the seating bowl. That walkway offers much desired standing room which seems to be important at all junior rinks. The back wall of the walkways, which would normally be a bland painted concrete, are painted a sharp navy blue with numerous Cataractes logos around the arena.
Above the seating bowl there are numerous banners hanging. A couple of banners are for division and conference championships. These pale in comparison to the 9 banners that honour former Shawinigan players. These include the retired numbers of: Michel Brière, Benoit Plouffe, Marcel Giguère, Dean Bergeron, Patrice Lefebvre, Stephan Lebeau, Patrick Lalime, Marc-André Bergeron, and Stephane Robidas. However the biggest banners belong to two men who never played for the Cataractes. There is a banner honouring former Montreal Canadiens, and Shawinigan native Andre Pronovost, who won four Stanley Cups. The largest banner is of course for hockey innovator and icon, Jacques Plante. Plante was the first goalie ever to don a mask, and kicked off the era of colorful and exciting face masks. He is a native of Shawinigan and his number has been retired at Le Centre Bell in Montreal as well.
Centre Bionest is located on what is basically the edge of town, not far from the river. It is north of what would be considered downtown Shawinigan. There is nothing that is walkable for pre or post game fare. You are pretty close to Arena Jacques Plante, which is worth a drive-by at least. If you are looking for a place to go, head downtown where you can find a few places that may interest you. For something pretty close, you may want to try the Broadway Pub where they have a good beer selection.
Attendance in Shawinigan has been in the top 5 in the QMJHL, especially since they have christened the new building. This is one of the reasons that the Cataractes have been rewarded with the ability to host the Memorial Cup in 2012. Even more than the support at the box office that the Cataractes have received, Cataractes fans are LOUD! They seem to be in the play all the time, and when a goal is scored, the place gets really loud. On the other hand, when the opposing team scores, you can hear a pin drop. Shawinigan fans are intelligent and passionate, and much more hospitable than I ever expected.
Getting to the Centre Bionest is very easy. It is right on the edge of town, so traveling there by car is a piece of cake. Parking is free, but you might want to get there early enough to ensure that you are getting a good spot. Parking goes down to Arena Jacques-Plante, but is a little less organized down there. Centre Bionest does seem a bit small to host the Memorial Cup, but I'm sure they will do a great job. Washroom facilities are adequate, and traveling throughout the arena can be tight at times.
Tickets to see the Cataractes are an unbelievable deal! Adult tickets are only $15, and tickets for children are a staggering $5!! At this rate, a night for the family at a Cataractes game is cheaper than a night at the movies. Parking is free and concession prices are good. The Q is a fast-paced, high-scoring league, that never seems to disappoint. At the end of the day, I don't think it is possible to get a greater return on such a small investment.
An extra point for being the host city of the 2012 Memorial Cup.
An extra point for the large hanging aboriginal in the upper corner. He flashes with lightning when the Cataractes score a goal.
Extra points for the stability of the Shawinigan franchise and their great history in the Q.
If you REALLY want to see what Québécois hockey is all about, make a trip to see the bedrock of junior hockey in Quebec. The Shawinigan Cataractes are a fantastic entertainment experience and a must for all hockey gurus. When in Shawinigan you will most definitely feel l'energie!
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