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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Charlottetown Civic Centre (as it was originally known) was built as the principal venue for the 1991 Canada Winter Games and in 1993, became home to the PEI Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL). The mid-nineties saw every AHL franchise moved out of the maritime region. The Senators were no exception and moved to Binghamton, New York after four seasons in PEI. In 2003, the arena was renovated in anticipation of the junior team. Seats were added down to glass level in multiple locations, and luxury suites were built.
The Islanders franchise started out as the Montreal Rocket, named after legendary Montreal Canadien, Maurice “Rocket” Richard. In 2003, the QMJHL expanded outside Quebec, adding teams in several Maritime cities. With the Rockets experiencing financial woes, the team moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and became the PEI Rocket.
Excitement for the new team was evident; the first two seasons saw average attendance of well above 3,000 per game. However, the team struggled on and off the ice in the subsequent years. Attendance steadily decreased, managed only one playoff series win through the 2013 season, and was experiencing financial troubles once again. Charlottetown was in danger of losing its team until a local ownership group stepped in and bought the franchise in 2013.
The new ownership group re-branded the team with help from the fans. They sought a new team name that best represented the area and people of their city. In the end, fans voted for the “Islanders” as their team name by a large margin. The new brand has turned the tide of the junior hockey club as attendance figures are rising again.
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".
Eastlink Centre offers a unique variety of food and drink options. Concession stands are found throughout the arena in the concourse and portal areas. The lines and wait time during intermissions are fairly long, as only a few staff works at the smaller stands. The quality of the food is about as expected at a stadium. Some of the unique menu items include poutine, popcorn chicken, pulled pork (in sandwich or poutine form), mozza sticks, slushies, candy bars, and a delicious looking dessert with Funnel Fries, cinnamon, ice cream and chocolate, called "Ice Cream Poutine." For vegetarians, your options for a high protein meal are non-existent. For your thirst, Coca-Cola products are offered in both bottle and fountain style. Beer taps and bottles are full of Moosehead brewery products. All alcohol is served separately from concessions stands. Prices for food and beverage range from $2-$5 for regular menu items and $7-$8 for unique items. Combos are available to save a few bucks. Vendors do not walk the aisle; you will need to visit a concession stand for a desired item. Overall concession stands are well maintained, clean, and have a nice modern look with the menu on video boards.
Recommendation: Eat before heading to the game and grab a snack, drink, or dessert at the game.
The arena is only a small part of the complex, which also includes a convention hall, a casino, and a horseracing grandstand. The long, large building has an industrial look and feel. The façade is fashioned from good quality masonry block on the bottom portion of the building, and a plain blue corrugated metal skin on the top. The long horizontal exterior walls without varying the rhythm or materials, makes the building look exceptionally long and boring.
Inside, the seating bowl is small and intimate, with every seat close to the action. The seating arrangement is almost symmetrical with 14 seating rows on each side of the rink. The blue plastic seats are close together with no cup holders. A few luxury suites are along one side of the rink with the press box located above them. A lounge above section 5 is available for all ticketed patrons above the age of 19. Here you will find food and drink options, seating tables, and TV screens. The scoreboard hanging from centre ice is small and simple. Video is projected onto screens in every corner of the rink. But the bright lights in the arena and the low quality projected screen make it hard to follow the puck in replays. Although dance and jock rock songs are played in attempt to raise the energy in the arena, fans get more into the music when classic hockey and maritime songs come on later in the game.
In-game promotions are simple and effective. Noisemakers are available to pick up before heading into the arena. The in-game host keeps fans entertained during intermissions and commercial breaks with his good, quick-witted humour. Young kids get a chance to play on the ice during one of the intermissions to the delight of the fans. The mascot "Sly" shows up sparingly, and is not a part of in-game festivities.
The best seats are at the sides of the rink and not on the ends. The side seats have good viewing angles so you see all the action on the ice. From the end seats you will not see a puck cross the goal line, especially if you have fans sitting in front of you.
Charlottetown has a rich history that is very welcoming to tourists. The city is most famous for the 1864 Charlottetown Accord where delegates gathered to discuss, and eventually agree upon the initial concept of a Canadian Confederation. Province House, the location of that 1864 conference, remains the city's centerpiece. Visit Confederation Landings Park to learn more about this historic event and the growth of Charlottetown as a city. The downtown historic area and waterfront with beautiful old sandstone and masonry buildings provide inviting walks for tourists.
Eastlink Centre is located away from downtown, at the north end of Charlottetown. The arena is tucked away between a largely residential neighborhood, and light industrial buildings, with no bars and a few fast food restaurants, making it more of a commuter venue. This means fans travel to the game and leave right after the final horn, instead of sticking around to enjoy some post game festivities. Lodging options are limited near Eastlink Centre. However, the Best Western sits at a good location right in-between downtown and the arena. For a sit down meal, plan ahead and visit some great restaurants downtown. For Irish bar/pub food, The Old Triangle is a popular place with local craft beers. For seafood, the Claddagh Oyster House is a local favourite. Wherever you eat, be sure to leave room for dessert at the highly rated Cows Ice Cream. The next morning, order a latte and breakfast burrito from Beanz, a local coffee shop.
Islander fans get a unique, up close experience with the players before doors even open. Because the concourse is tight, Islander players head to the atrium to kick a soccer ball around in front of fans waiting for admission. The fans respect the players' space and let them do their warm-ups without interruption for autographs or photos. The Islanders are averaging 2,000 patrons a game (54% capacity). During the game, fans are quiet, unobtrusive and respectful to the other team, the referees, and fellow fans. Even during a close game, only a handful were noticeably loud. Some tried to start a "Let's go Islanders" chant, with little participation by the rest of the crowd. Patrons are only conspicuously boisterous after a home goal.
Direct flights to Charlottetown are available from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and Ottawa. This small city has a population of around 35,000, so the arena is convenient from everywhere you are in town. To arrive by foot requires a 20-25 minute walk from the downtown core. However, almost everyone drives or takes a taxi. 800+ parking spaces are available within a 5-minute walk of the arena. If a horseracing event is scheduled simultaneously with hockey, the parking gets tight. By bus, it's a 15-minute walk from the nearest bus stop at Holland College. A fare for the "T3" transit is $2.25 and buses runs every half hour or hour, depending on the time of day.
The main entry to the arena faces Kensington Street and is clearly marked with an architectural canopy in front of a two-story glass curtain wall. The main atrium divides the building from the convention hall and the arena. Here, you will find the box office, will call, an ATM, the team store, the main concession stand, a Tim Horton's, and an outstanding Memorabilia room. Once doors open and your ticket is scanned, be sure to get your hand stamped for re-entry if you foresee heading back out to the atrium at some point.
Access to the interior layout of Eastlink Centre is disappointing. Separation of public and private spaces is not clear, circulation for patrons around the arena is awkward and space inside the bowl is wasted by various walkways.
The concourse is cold, narrow, and crowded at intermission with limited standing room. Walls are lined with concrete masonry block, cheap florescent light fixtures, exposed plumbing pipes and ventilation ducts above.
The arena has plenty of restrooms throughout the concourse. Even during intermission, none of them had a line outside the door.
Getting to your seat can also be confusing. Unlike most arenas where entrance to the seating area is from a high level above the rink, here you enter at rink level and walk up to your seat.
If your seat is in Section 20, be prepared to follow a circuitous route. From the concourse take a portal to the inside of the bowl. Once there, follow the hockey boards and squeeze between the boards and the seating area. This narrow passageway may be difficult to navigate, especially when patrons are coming from the opposite direction. And watch out for the Zamboni! Then proceed back into the concourse until you run up against a black screen that separates fans from the opposing team's locker room entrance. Turn and enter the seating bowl once again. If your timing is off, you may have to yield to visiting players entering the ice. Now walk behind the visitor's bench to a stairwell and, voila, you are in Section 20!
Patrons in wheel chairs have limited options, rink side at the ends or at the top of the bowl outside the lounge. Only a handful of spaces are available.
Prices for individual game tickets are reasonable for witnessing the highest level of junior hockey. Tickets are $16.50, with discounts for seniors, students, youths, and groups. No matter if you are a casual or a die-hard hockey fan, the experience you will get from the staff, fellow fans, and the product on the ice is well worth the price of admission.
+1 for the video booth replaying opponent goals. In-game operators realize that Islander fans are also true hockey fans that enjoy seeing great plays, even if the opponent makes that play.
+1 for the Islanders goal celebration. Immediately after a goal horn sounds, the arena lights turn off and a light show decorates the ice.
+1 for the Memorabilia Room. This is a fitting hall-of-fame showcase of hockey in Prince Edward Island that includes past and present teams, players and coaches from the island.
For a tourist, the best time to make a visit to Charlottetown may be September. The fall colours are spectacular, the hockey season has started and most of the popular tourist areas have yet to close for the winter.
Prince Edward Islanders are proud of their hockey heritage, past and present. Fans are making the effort to support their local team that now has the local ownership and branding. Hopefully the past financial problems are behind them and the Islanders have a solid future in Charlottetown for the long term.
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