Today, a junior hockey fan wouldn’t think twice about teams from the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island being a part of the LHJMQ, Québec’s division of the Canadian Hockey League. But until relatively recently it was inconceivable that there should be clubs outside that province. Such a mindset proved challenging for hockey in the Maritimes, a region that would not be able to support its own major-junior league, but separated from the rest of the country by the LHJMQ.
That changed in 1993 when, with some hesitation, the league agreed to expand into the Maritimes. Halifax, the largest city in the region, was the first candidate. One of the region’s iconic beer brands, Moosehead, commenced ownership of the team and named it after themselves. This is somewhat ironic, as Moosehead is from Saint John, New Brunswick, home of the rival Sea Dogs hockey team. Meanwhile, Alexander Keith’s is the iconic Nova Scotian beer, and so there is still a bizarre brewery rivalry with Moosehead’s name right at the heart of Keith’s territory.
The Mooseheads have had impressive success in recent years, having won the 2013 Memorial Cup as Canadian champions and recent alumni including Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Scotiabank Centre, until recently known as the Metro Centre, is a first-rate venue and as the largest in the Maritimes, has the professional feel of a top arena. While Halifax is a decently large city, Scotiabank Centre feels like the arena of a city much larger. As well as hosting the Mooseheads, Scotiabank Centre is home to the Rainmen of Canada’s National Basketball League as well as a number of trade shows, concerts, and the popular annual Royal Tattoo. It is part of the larger World Trade and Convention Centre which occupies a city block at the foot of downtown’s Citadel Hill.
The arena was renamed Scotiabank Centre (after the major bank, which was founded in Halifax) in 2014 and the new partnership is resulting in a number of upgrades being unveiled throughout 2015 that will continue to enhance the experience of attending a game at this top notch arena.
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".
If there is one area where Scotiabank Centre is lacking at the moment, its food and drink. This isn't to say that there is nothing good here, but the options right now are a bit ho-hum considering the amazing foods the city is known for. Before going further, know that Scotiabank have committed to revitalising the concession offerings as part of the renaming agreement. Still at present the options mainly revolve around the standard offerings of burgers, sausages, snacks and the like. Canadian favourite poutine is the standout here, at the Citadel Poutinerie stand, where the potatoes are fried fresh! There are also a number of sweet shops throughout the concourse, which have interesting options for snacking.
Appropriately for the city reputed to have the most bars and pubs per capita in Canada, one never has to walk more than a few steps to get beer or liquor here, with one or two stands at each entrance to the seating bowl. For now beer options are limited to only Keith's or Budweiser and nobody orders the Bud, preferring to stick to the immensely popular IPA brewed just blocks away on the harbour. There is something strange about not being able to order Moosehead beer at the Mooseheads' arena but it makes sense nowadays as Moosehead Breweries no longer own the team, in spite of the name. Draught cups cost $6 and mixed drinks are $5.
Halifax is the economic centre of the Maritimes and therefore, the Metro Centre was built as the largest and most important venue in the region and there is a big-event feel to everything held here. Part of a larger convention complex, the arena takes up a city block, sloping along the steep hill which downtown Halifax is built upon, so that the top end of the arena is only a couple stories high but the bottom part is a midrise building.
The top end of the arena front is on Brunswick Street, at the foot of the Town Clock and Citadel Hill, the city's old fortress. Along Brunswick there are banners featuring Mooseheads and Rainmen players. The façade is also highlighted by a large mural commemorating the 2013 Memorial Cup champion team. Inside the complex along the north side is the will call area, which features numerous historical photos and another mural commemorating the Memorial Cup win.
Also on this level is the free and extensive Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, which is certainly worth a visit. Hockey fans will enjoy the large Sidney Crosby exhibit - Crosby hails from Cole Harbour, a Halifax suburb. Ascending a level, one enters the arena concourse itself. On one side, the concourse is a high-ceilinged, brown brick area with plenty of room to move around and circulate as well as an atrium used for pregame and postgame interviews, music, and more. On the opposite side, the concourse is a little narrower but there are glass windows which frame an excellent view of the Town Clock.
The seating bowl is very large and ascends steeply along the sides. It is divided into the lower ring of about twenty rows and then the upper levels that rise up behind the hanging suites. At the top of these areas, the view of the scoreboard will be obstructed but there are plenty of screens installed on the back of the hanging gondolas to more than make up for that. The scoreboard itself is a large, modern number with four clear screens and all the standard information.
Right now, the seats are still the well known bright orange, although those are finally being phased out in favour of modern seats as part of the renovations. Meanwhile, looking up fans will find three honoured numbers, for Alex Tanguay, Jody Shelley, and J-S Giguere. There will certainly be more numbers added soon with the exceptional players having recently been with the club. Another banner commemorates Pat Connolly, who broadcasted the team's games for 16 years. He also has the press gondola named after him. Two more banners commemorate the 2013 campaign (LHJMQ and Canadian champions). After winning the Memorial Cup, the team removed a number of banners that had commemorated smaller victories like conference titles and the Canadian and Nova Scotian flags have been hung in the middle of the current banner row.
There are also 15 banners along one end commemorating the 'Fans 15,' the top 15 players in team history as selected by supporters. Overall, the atmosphere is one of professionalism throughout.
The location of the arena could not be better, located in the vibrant downtown area of the city. The downtown goes from the harbour up a steep hill to the Citadel at the top and the arena is at the upper portion of the hill, which may be difficult to walk after one of the many snowstorms the city gets during hockey season.
There is plenty to do in downtown Halifax and the city has a very authentic Maritime vibe. Attending early in the season, before winter sets in, be sure to take a tour of the Citadel and walk along the harbour, with a popular boardwalk stretching from the Pier 21 immigration museum for about 2km to Purdy's Wharf and Casino Nova Scotia. In between, there is the Seaport Farmer's Market, Garrison craft brewery and the Keith's brewery, the Maritime Museum, Historic Properties with its excellent restaurants and pubs, hotels, good food, live music, and boat tours. There is also plenty of live music every day at a couple different pubs within spitting distance of the arena; be sure to hear some Nova Scotian fiddling when in town. A small sample of nearby pubs include the Old Triangle, the Seahorse, the Split Crow, Gahan House - which has an onsite microbrewery, the Loose Cannon, the Lower Deck, and the Maxwell's Plum.
Food in Halifax is a big part of the experience and there is plenty to try. Of course, seafood is first and foremost. Right next to the arena, on Argyle Street, is the Five Fishermen, an excellent choice for their daily oyster happy hour, which from 4-7pm would make for a great pregame idea, or go afterward for lobster, mussels, or excellent meat dishes in the restored space, once the funeral home for victims of the Titanic sinking!
Other Halifax staples are less expected but must be tried. Donair is the local fast food item and consists of thinly-sliced meat in a wrap with a sweet milk sauce. Have it alongside garlic fingers, the city's answer to pizza, with plenty of garlic butter and cheese. Each dish is perfect to ward off the cold or the effects of a couple beers.
Finally, when in Halifax, try and head about 45 minutes south of the city to Peggy's Cove, an incredibly photogenic fishing village with a lighthouse that features prominently in touristic images of Canada. In the summer it is jam-packed with tourists but the windier winter season shows the rocky cape at its truest.
The Mooseheads have always drawn well, even more so lately with the excellent performance on-ice. Fans here are very enthusiastic and make a lot of noise. They have taken after their Québecois counterparts and make plenty of use of plastic horns to intimidate opponents. Halifax is also often called one of the friendliest cities in the country and that is true of fans at the Mooseheads. The atmosphere is heightened hugely when the Nova Scotian derby against Cape Breton takes place. The 'Battle of Nova Scotia' is one not to be missed.
Located in downtown Halifax, access by the city's efficient bus network is easy enough but parking may prove a little more challenging. There are not too many surface lots so street parking or one of the nearby parkades will have to be used. If you are parking on the street, remember to use your emergency brake, or else you may find your car in the harbour! Also know if driving that it is expected that drivers always stop for pedestrians crossing the street, even if jaywalking. Use of horns is almost nonexistent among the polite drivers but navigating the hilly city can be tough so watch for cars to roll back when shifting into gear at a stop.
In the arena, the concourses are adequately wide but the washrooms can become crowded. These, however, are currently being renovated and that problem should be alleviated soon.
Halifax is an affordable city for entertainment options and the Mooseheads are no different. Tickets max out at just $16.50 including tax for adults and go down to $9 for youth. Student and senior discounts are also available. Food and drink are not overpriced either for an arena, and a night out at the Mooseheads including the game, a snack, and a beer or two won't cost you more than $30. Considering the success of the team recently and the fast-paced LHJMQ hockey, this is a great deal.
An extra point for the big event feel of the arena despite being in a relatively small city.
An extra point for the pioneering Mooseheads, who first brought major-junior hockey to the region.
An extra point for the extensive and FREE Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame located in the complex.
An extra point for the new naming-rights deal. Normally this is just a corporate cash grab but Scotiabank really seem to care about putting money into the facility in the city where they were founded.
Halifax is a beautiful, historic, and authentic city and the Mooseheads are a club with a reputation for developing excellent local talent and providing an entertaining product on the ice. The Scotiabank Centre is a top notch facility and one of the very best in the league. Next time you are looking for vacation destinations, check out Canada's Maritimes and see fine hockey in an amazing arena.
Driving on the Trans-Canada Highway through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the last thing one would want to see is a moose-head. That all changes once you reach Halifax.
The QMJHL has long been focused on the province of Quebec. In 1993, Moosehead Breweries Limited convinced the league that expansion into the Canadian Maritimes was a good idea. Among great concern and skepticism, the league awarded an expansion team to Halifax and the brewery. The 1994 season saw the birth of the Halifax Mooseheads, and hockey in Canada's East got a much needed shot in the arm.
The Mooseheads ironically were named after, and originally owned by a Saint John, New Brunswick brewery, which remains Canada's oldest independent brewery. Eventually, the Mooseheads were sold to former Minnesota North Star and Montreal Canadien legend Bobby Smith, who still owns the team today.
Halifax is the biggest city in the Canadian maritimes, and therefore is the cultural centre of the East. Even though Halifax is not an overly large city, events at the Metro Centre have that big event feel to them. Moose Country is front and centre in the Halifax sporting scene. The Metro Centre, which is owned by the City of Halifax, and managed by Trade Centre Limited, offers a big event feel to it, and attracts the largest indoor events in the area.
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