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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Red Deer Rebels have been a highly successful WHL franchise for quite a long time. A Memorial Cup winner in 2001, they have had a number of very successful playoff runs. The first pick overall in last year’s NHL entry draft was Rebel forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is now playing up the road for the Edmonton Oilers.
Since their inaugural season—1992-1993—the Rebels have played in the ENMAX Centrium, which opened its doors the year before. Now just over 20 years old, the facility nevertheless has a number of modern features and continues to undergo regular upgrading to keep the fan experience as cutting-edge as possible.
In fact, over the spring and summer of 2012, the Centrium is undergoing a $3.5 million seating expansion, adding two new sections of upper deck seating and a number of new luxury boxes between them on the west end of the building. This should increase the stadium’s seating capacity by about 1,000.
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".
The food setup here is quite decent. Although it is basically standard concession fare, the prices are excellent and the food itself is quite tasty. A cheeseburger is only going to run you $4.75 and over at the pizza concessions, a slice and a soda only costs $7. Very good value.
Another real positive is the adult beverage selection. As with the food options, the alcohol choices are all very reasonably priced, in the $6-$7 range.
At the several regular beer concessions, you have a choice of Canadian or Rickard's Red on tap (the Canadian was green in honor of St. Patrick's Day while I was there) and there is also a selection of Mike's Hard products in bottles. Beyond that, there are also a number of kiosks set up providing a more discriminating selection of bottled beer, adding another half dozen choices to the beer menu. And on top of all that, there is a lounge area set up on the east end of the arena with tables from which people can relax and enjoy the game and yet another different selection of beer in the fridge.
Clearly, Red Deer knows how to party.
The atmosphere at the ENMAX Centrium was, for the most part, subdued while I was there. This was partly due to the Rebels being out of the playoff picture at the point in the season, and partly because their rivals on the night, the Edmonton Oil Kings, scored a couple quick goals early and took the crowd out of it.
Things picked up significantly early in the second period as the Rebels staged a comeback and tied the score, bringing the energy back to the audience and making for a much more raucous vibe in the stands.
The arena does a few things to keep things fun. Their mascot, Woolly Bully, is out and about to help cheer on the Rebels and keep the kids engaged. In between periods, teams of youth players get a chance to play exhibition games. And there are a number of promotional events over the course of the season; prior to the game I attended, anyone who arrived early got to watch a full-length movie on the scoreboard screens.
Generally speaking, the environment was pleasant and positive.
The Centrium is situated right near the south border of Red Deer, just off Gaetz Ave, the main street in town. Consequently, the stadium is only a couple blocks from all the major restaurants and commercial businesses in town. A five-minute drive will get you to Earl's, Five Guys Burger and Fries, East Side Mario's, Applebee's, Wendy's, Dairy Queen and several other dining options from fast food to pubs to more upscale fare.
Coming highly recommended as the Number One spot for an after game meal is the local Tony Roma's, just a few blocks north at 5250 22 St. This place is owner-operated and does an exceptional job of taking care of their customers. If you're craving a rack of ribs after a couple hours of hockey action, this is the place to go.
I also highly recommend Las Palmeras, a few minutes further north and just off Gaetz Ave, at 3630 50 Ave. My wife and I go out of our way to dine here whenever we're in the area. In fact, Las Palmeras has won several restaurant awards as it serves up some of the best Mexican food in Alberta.
Ultimately though, if you have a favorite hangout in Red Deer, you can get there from the Centrium in a matter of minutes, no matter where you're heading. I was able to drive from the south city limit to the north city limit in 17 minutes, straight up Gaetz Ave in late afternoon traffic, so there's really nothing you can't get to in a very short time.
As noted above, the fans at the game obviously knew their hockey and were engaged throughout. They were enthusiastic, clearly enjoyed being there (even if they weren't happy with the outcome) and had a good time.
Overall this crowd clearly knew what was going on and were very engaged in the action. Cheers, oohs and ahs (as well as some boos and taunting of the refs following a questionable call against the hometown squad) showed that even when the crowd was subdued, they were paying attention and understood the game, making for a satisfying experience.
Getting to Westerner Park, where the ENMAX Centrium is situated, is quick and easy from anywhere in Red Deer. Coming straight off the main drag and into a more-than-ample parking lot is a snap. The $4 parking fee was a little tougher to take and felt a little spendy in a part of town where literally thousands of free parking spots are located only a couple blocks away. I was also a little disappointed by how slowly traffic cleared out of the parking lot after the game. With a crowd of only a few thousand, it still took well over 10 minutes to get back onto the streets, although traffic freed up quickly as soon as we were back on the roads.
For those people who prefer public transportation, bus routes drop off passengers right outside the gates, making the bus an easy option as well.
Adult ticket prices are $20 per seat, $16 for youths and seniors, and $11.50 for kids, so taking in a game is a bargain and great value for your entertainment dollar. The Centrium also has a couple other special pricing deals as well: College Saturdays allow college students through the doors for only $18. And a Family Pack will get you four tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas, and a copy of R Magazine (the Rebels' periodical) for only $79.
With a high-end scoreboard and sound system, the audience is treated to great sights and sounds during the game.
The Rebels' Official Team Apparel Headquarters on the west end is spacious and extremely well appointed with hats, shirts, jerseys, sweaters and all manner of souvenirs.
The concourse is huge. Wide corridors make moving about the arena a snap, with very few bottlenecks.
Also situated on the west end, hanging proudly in the rafters are the numerous championship banners the Rebels have earned over the years. There is also a display case just inside the west entrance showing off some of the trophies the team has won, an excellent testament to the team's historical success.
Overall, attending a Red Deer Rebels game was a fun experience and I'm looking forward to going back next season to check out the renovations.
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3630 50 Avenue
Red Deer, AB T4N 3Y6
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