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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The dream of NHL hockey in Hamilton, Ontario seemed to come to the forefront in 1983 with the conception of the Victor K. Copps Trade Centre and Arena. Copps Coliseum, as it became to be known, was to become the centrepiece of a revitalization of Hamilton and the ticket to NHL hockey in Steeltown. Unfortunately for hockey fans in Hamilton, the city was passed over in expansion for, most notably, Ottawa, Ontario. Rumours persist that any move to Hamilton for the NHL would be blocked by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. There is a widely believed story that former Sabres owner Seymour Knox said that an NHL team would come to Hamilton over his dead body.
The arena that was named after long-time Hamilton Mayor Victor Copps became home to various levels of hockey, most notably the OHL and AHL. The current incarnation of hockey in Hamilton is the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have a good affiliation agreement with the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens remain a fairly popular team in Ontario, and the Bulldogs reap the rewards of that relationship, grooming future players for the winningest team in NHL history.
With the 1996 founding of the Bulldogs as the Edmonton Oilers affiliate, Hamilton has seen a fairly successful run for hockey, culminating in a Calder Cup Championship in 2007. Hamilton and Copps have remained at the centre of NHL expansion controversy with it being used as a possible relocation destination for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres over the years. The latest word on the hockey front in Hamilton is that there is a distinct possibility that the Bulldogs will leave. A new arena in Laval, Quebec could be the destination for the Bulldogs if the Canadiens wish for their farm team to be closer. There have also been rumours of the OHL returning to Hamilton. Any way you slice it, the future of hockey in Hamilton is up in the air, but not for a lack of suitors.
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".
You will find all of the usual suspects concession-wise at Copps Coliseum. Soda, burgers, popcorn, nachos and hot dogs can all be found. Pizza Pizza slices can be found in the concourse, as well as a couple of unique items. The Coyote Jack's stand offers more unique items, most notably turkey legs, which go for $6. For those of you interested in alcoholic beverages, Coors Light, MGD, Corona and Molson Canadian can be found for $5.75. Concession prices are decent, and you won't go away disappointed. I would suggest going with the Cin-City Mini Doughnuts, which you can actually watch being made fresh!
For the longest time, Copps Coliseum seemed like a sub-standard arena. The exterior harkens back to the eighties and seventies, with no use of glass, and some pretty ugly siding. It reminds you of arenas like Joe Louis Arena, which don't pass the eye test outside. Once inside, Copps is fairly decent. There is one concourse which circles the arena and allows access to both the lower and upper bowls. The concourses feature banners of "Hometown Heroes," "Bulldog Graduates" and other moments in Hamilton hockey history.
The seating bowl has gone through a few improvements, most notably new seats in the lower bowl. The blue leather seats are very comfy, but still so new that the ushers are constantly bugging fans to keep their feet off of them. The upper bowl still has the old seats which are the ugliest yellow, orange and purple, non sequential group that I have ever seen. Thank goodness they aren't like that in the lower bowl anymore.
Above the ice surface is a decent video scoreboard. At the north end you will find all of the division and conference championship banners, highlighted by the 2007 Calder Cup Championship banner. At the south end you will find a large Bulldogs sign which lights fire and smokes after a Bulldogs goal.
The in game presentation is decent, and the pre-game video was very entertaining with a collection of sci-fi movie vignettes.
Copps Coliseum is located in downtown Hamilton. Although still in need of some revitalization, downtown does offer decent parking, a few other options for entertainment, and a small neighbourhood with fantastic places to eat and drink. Just south of Copps is Hamilton Place, which offers some theatre selections as well as some concerts. Jackson Square is also nearby for a bit of shopping. The gem of downtown is just southwest of Copps. Hess Village is a small neighbourhood that offers some great restaurants and is a must for pre or post game fare. Most restaurants on Hess St. have great patios, which are great in the summer, but not so stellar during hockey season.
Bulldog fans are a fairly loyal group. They cheer at all the right times, but don't make an abundance of noise. The Bulldogs usually average in the mid 4,000's per game, which is in the middle of the pack in the AHL. However, Copps is an NHL sized arena, and therefore 5,000 fans can seem like not enough. For a city that is screaming for a higher level of hockey, they don't seem to be doing enough to show support for the product that they do have. In this regard they would need to take a page from Quebec City or Winnipeg.
Getting to Copps Coliseum is pretty easy. It is located on the east end of downtown, close to Highway 403, so you shouldn't have to drive through downtown to get to the arena. Hamilton also offers offsetting one-way streets downtown, which makes travel a bit faster. There are more than enough surface lots around the arena so parking can be a decent price. I parked for just $5, three blocks away from the arena.
The concourses and washrooms, being built for larger crowds, offer more than enough space for the patrons that do show up.
I have always felt that AHL tickets are on the expensive side, and Hamilton is no exception. Regular price for tickets are $26, with discounts available for kids. As compared to junior hockey pricing, for what is arguably, at best, comparable hockey, the extra price is not reasonable. Concession and parking prices are decent, and you will have a good time.
An extra point for fan appreciation day, which offered numerous give-aways to the fans in attendance.
An extra point for the hockey card tables that were in the concourse. What seems to be lost on kids of this era can be introduced here. There were numerous cards for sale and on display. If you wanted to get your kids involved, you could by 3 grab bags for $10, which would give you over 150 cards from various sets. The grab bags included the opportunity to win a Sidney Crosby card, which we did!
What is the future for Hamilton hockey? Nobody really knows. However, everyone can agree that hockey will remain in Steeltown, whether it is the AHL, OHL or maybe even the NHL one day. In any event, the Hamilton Bulldogs are a pretty good time, at a decent price.
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