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Official Review by Greg Johnston, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In terms of the fan experience, hidden treasures are sometimes found in the smallest locations. Bathurst, New Brunswick is a little city of around 12,000 people located in the northeast quadrant of the province. This is where the Acadie-Bathurst Titan from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) call home. Creative economics, along with government commitment and community loyalty, have all contributed to the Titan competing in Bathurst since arriving in 1998. The Titan franchise originated in 1969 as the Rosemont National before moving to Laval, Quebec in 1971. The team changed its name four times while in Laval (1971-1998), eventually settling on the Laval Titan Collčge Français before moving to Bathurst. The franchise was extremely successful in the 1980’s and 1990’s, winning five President’s Cups, one as the Acadie-Bathurst Titan (1999). “Acadie” is in homage to the vast Acadian population in the area. Famous alumni include Roberto Luongo, Vincent Damphousse, Patrice Bergeron, and Hockey Hall-of-Famers Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux.
K.C. Irving Regional Centre opened in 1996 as a modern two-pad arena. Eddy Rink is the main ice surface surrounded by 2,900 fixed seats. Though the Titan are the only major tenant, the arena integrates community events, youth and professional sporting events, entertainment shows, exhibitions, and trade shows. As you walk around the concourse, the flooring doubles as a walking/jogging track.
Learning more about the history and deep connection with the citizens of Bathurst, adds more to the experience of a game at K.C. Irving Regional Centre.
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".
Food options at K.C. Irving Regional Centre are pretty basic for a sporting venue. The main concession stand is located just to the right as you enter the concourse. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs are all offered between $4-$5, with discounts for combining your order as a "platter" including fries, onion rings, and a drink for around $13. Poutine is the only unique feature, costing around $5.50. Be prepared to wait in line if you attempt to order food before the game or at intermission, as the lines can get fairly lengthy. For a snack, two smaller concession stands offer popcorn, chips, chocolate bars, and slushies with little to no wait time. Oddly enough, the alcohol bar may be the best place to get food. Located at one end of the rink, the bar offers "The Hercules" special. This mammoth meal includes wings, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, and curly fries for $14.50. Small snacking options are also available in the vending machines scattered around the concourse.
The bar is the only place to purchase alcoholic beverages. A refreshing beer selection includes: Rickards, Granville Island, Creemore, and Heineken, in cans or bottles. Water, Gatorade, juice and Pepsi products are available in bottles for approximately $4 after tax. Credit cards are accepted at all permanent concession stands.
Recommendation: Share an order of "The Hercules" with a friend. The flavour and variety is both appetizing and satisfying.
K.C. Irving Regional Centre is hard to miss from the main road. The arena's strong stone masonry base and white corrugated aluminum panel middle and top with green trim, give clear indication of a major sporting venue. The look of the facility attracts your eye and draws you into the clearly recognizable main (and only) entrance. Occasionally outdoor festivities attract patrons before the game with bouncy castles, barbeques, and face painting. The location of the box office and entry to the seating area are clearly recognizable walking in the front doors. On your left is a tiny team merchandise store and an athletic "Wall-of-Fame." Plaques recognize achievements of area teams and individuals in a wide range of sports.
The arena interior is an intimate experience. The limited number of rows ensure every fan is close to the action. Programs are available for $1 and free paper noise makers are folded over every seat. Sightlines and row pitches are ideal for seeing the game at all times; however, if you do miss a play, a video board replays the action on a crisp, clear high quality screen. The public address announcer speaks with enthusiasm and professionalism in both French and English. A simple four-sided scoreboard hangs from centre ice, while championship banners and retired numbers hang from one end of the rink.
Crowd noise is amplified by the cozy features of the arena, including the private boxes hovering over the concourse, creating an intimidating atmosphere for the opponent. Maximus is a visibly active mascot who high-fives all the kids and poses for cameras. Event-day operations do a great job keeping the crowd entertained with contests and fun activities through intermissions and commercial breaks. When the Titan score, prepare for a deafening horn to sound for several seconds. After relaying the home goal scorer, the PA announcer lets out a series of "WOOO's" equal to the number of goals scored. Though this may be common in many hockey arenas today, Titan officials boast they started the fan-favorite activity.
K.C. Irving Regional Centre is located off of St. Anne Street, a few kilometers from both downtown to the east, and highway 11 to the west. This section of road is full of big box stores and chain restaurants with vehicular dominated layouts. The area lacks any desirable restaurants or attractions to experience before the event. Thus the vast majority of fans arrive near game time, and leave right after the final whistle. To get a better feel for the town, check out La Promenade Waterfront in downtown Bathurst a few hours prior to a game. Cute, unique shops and restaurants follow the curvature of Bathurst Harbour. For a little flavour of local crafts, make your way to the market on a Saturday just off of Main Street. For a fun, delicious and local dining experience, visit Jobie's Mobile Kitchen for unique burgers, tacos, and sandwiches.
Titan fans are one of the most supportive, boisterous, and knowledgeable fan bases in the QMJHL. Fans stay on every play and stay positive even if a call does not go their way. Multiple fans bring bells and horns to add to the already great game atmosphere. The city's citizens have continually "chipped-in" to keep the Titan in Bathurst. Unfortunately, hard times have hit the town in the last decade, decreasing attendance figures at hockey games. Prior to the 2008-09 season, fans came out to support the Titan at approximately 75% capacity. Since then, Titans have an average draw between 1,400-1,700 fans per game, or approximately 45-50% of capacity. In a small market, declining attendance is devastating for a franchise, and has threatened the existence of the Titan in Bathurst. The good news is both the new investors and the community continue to show their commitment to keeping the team in Bathurst.
Getting to Bathurst is a long trek no matter how you get there. Moncton is the closest major airport, approximately three hour drive away. Early October offers stunning fall colours, making the drive an enjoyable experience. Clear signs off the main highway navigate you to the arena. A large LED sign at the Sean Couturier Avenue signals your arrival. Parking is free and very close to the main entrance.
The seating bowl layout is simple to navigate. The concourse runs a full 360 degrees around the rink on a single level. The view from the concourse is open to the ice, maintaining constant sightlines to game action, and permits standing room only atop dedicated sections. However, these concourses are narrow and can be difficult to weave through the crowds during intermission. Appropriately sized washrooms are located on both ends of the rink with little to no wait. Seating areas consist of 24 sections and 10 rows of seats. Sections are clearly marked on signs over each stair. Seats are made of blue plastic with sturdy metal supports. The seats provide adequate legroom but lack cupholders for your drink or personal items. Accessible seating is available at the top of multiple sections located at the sides of the rink or the corners. Private boxes are located on top of the concourse, offering excellent up-close and elevated view of the game.
The history of the Titan franchise and Bathurst's dedication to hockey, along with the amplified in-game atmosphere, make an event at K.C. Irving Regional Centre an entertaining experience for any casual hockey fan. Ticket prices are "on-par" with the other teams in the Maritime division. An adult single-game ticket costs $17, with discounts for "reduced mobility," seniors 60+, children (3-11 years old), and students (12-18 years old). For a family event, "Sunday Family Packs" are available for a discounted price of $22, which includes one adult and two children, or $33 for two adults and two children. Sunday games are advantageous for kids, as activities such as face-painting, picture stations, and player autographs are available. Group packages are also offered for parties of at least 25. Prices include taxes and fees if purchased at the box office. Tickets are available on-line but additional fees apply. Titan games very rarely sell out, and offer a lot of great seating options. Avoid the on-line fees and let the helpful box office staff find the right seats for you.
One point for the community's effort towards maintaining the hockey team
Another for starting a trend around a number of rinks with the "Woo!"
A third for fun fan experiences before you enter the facility, in the main lobby, and around the concourse.
And finally, for the clarity and simplicity for a first time patron to easily navigate their way from parking the car, to finding your seat.
The franchise was for sale and seemed poised to leave Bathurst in 2013. However, the team has remained in town after being sold to a local businessman with investors, including former Titan players. The spirit and dedication of the community is passionate for hockey. Come out to an Acadie-Bathurst game to witness and experience the heart of the city for yourself.
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Bathurst, NB E2A 2L6