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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) took a calculated risk in 2007 when they approved a move of the Mississauga IceDogs to St. Catharines to become the Niagara IceDogs. Staying in Mississauga was not the issue. The 1998 expansion team whose roots extended to controversial Canadian Hockey icon Don Cherry, had a fairly terrible existence outside of Toronto. They were eventually purchased by Toronto St. Michael's Majors owner Eugene Melnyk with the intention of moving the Majors to Mississauga and selling the IceDogs. The risk for the league came in staying in the Niagara Region.
The OHL has a chequered history in the Niagara Region with the former Niagara Falls Thunder and Niagara Falls Flyers having both left as well as the St. Catharines Black Hawks and Teepees also leaving in the seventies. The IceDogs would play in the Jack Gateclffe Arena, which is substandard for the OHL. The hope was that this would be a pit stop for the team and that a new arena would be built, preferably in nearby Niagara Falls with as association to a casino.
After the Niagara Falls arena never materialized, the IceDogs were in a tough position. The OHL would not allow the Dogs to continue in St. Catharines without a new arena. Owners Bill and Denise Burke, along with the City of St. Catharines would step up and ensure the IceDogs would remain in the Niagara Region with the building of a brand new arena.
The Meridian Centre opened in downtown St. Catharines in time for the 2014-2015 season and has been a boon for the team. With the naming rights being sold to Meridian Credit Union, the arena has brought increased revenue and stability to the franchise. The opportunity for St. Catharines to host more major events has also been grasped. Although the Jack housed IceDog greats, and future NHL greats Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome, the new doghouse is now home for current IceDogs stars like Brendan Perlini and future IceDogs for years to come.
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".
Concessions at the Meridian Centre are what you would expect for junior hockey. Prices are fairly consistent with what you would find in other arenas around the league. Hot dogs ($4.50), and popcorn ($5.50) are available.
Tallboy, domestic beer ($8.50), and bottled soda ($3.50) are available. The soda of choice at the Meridian Centre is Coca-Cola and associated products. Domestic beer available is Coors Light and Molson Canadian. Premium beers include Creemore and Heineken. There are a few more unique or premium options that are available at Meridian Centre.
You may want to consider trying the poutine or pulled pork poutine, or perhaps the cheddar jalapeńo sausage. The beverages that are available include a variety of Niagara Region wines, including Canadian golf legend Mike Weir's brand. There are also a few meal combo options including a kids meal and a family meal.
The Meridian Centre is located just on the edge of downtown St. Catharines. It is fairly non-descript from the exterior. With red brick featured with silver and blue accents, Meridian Centre is neither an architectural achievement nor an eye-sore. The best view you will get of the arena from the outside is from Highway 406.
Upon entering the arena, you may need to take the stairs down to the main floor to access the ticket office and then head back up to enter the seating bowl. The arena design is very similar to RBC Centre in Sarnia which features a seating bowl with an open concept concourse behind the last row of seats at the top. The second level above the seating bowl features the luxury boxes and club section. There is plenty of standing room behind the seating bowl which remains very popular among patrons.
The seating bowl features excellent sightlines all the way around. The west end seats are retractable for other events and is also where the IceDogs host the family, no-alcohol section. The concourse in the west end also has the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame which features some neat artifacts including a St. Catharines Black Hawks blazer that once belonged to Marcel Dionne.
Above the ice level hangs the brand new, state-of-the-art four-sided videoboard. It is crystal clear and used well by the promotional staff. On either end of the arena there are also simple scoreboards which show the time and shots on goal for the game. You will also find two banners above the ice honouring the 2012 Niagara IceDogs and their divisional and conference championships.
The game day production is fairly simple and what you would expect for junior hockey. The mascot, Bones, entertains the crowd. The IceDogs are one of the very few hockey teams that also employs cheerleaders. At the beginning of the game, before the opening face-off, the Hockey Night in Canada theme song is prominently featured.
The Meridian Centre is located between downtown St. Catharines and highway 406. One of the very unique features of this area is that the highway is approximately four stories lower than downtown. With the arena being built on the lower elevation, the City of St. Catharines did a great job of building pedestrian bridges which link St. Paul Street with the Meridian Centre. This physical connection to downtown is a huge advantage over the previous location of the Jack Gatecliffe Arena.
There are numerous options available for pre and post game meals downtown. Some options you might consider include The Office Tap and Grille, The Merchant Ale House, Patrick Sheehan's Irish Pub, and PowWow. There are also a host of franchise restaurants located downtown. The gem of the area might just be The Bull BBQ Pit. The Bull offers a very casual atmosphere and was featured on the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here.
The greater region of Niagara also has much to offer. If you are looking for more sports at a very affordable price, you might consider heading to Brock University to see some Brock Badger hockey or basketball. St. Catharines is also in the heart of the Niagara winery country where you can find numerous wine tasting tours. Finally, St. Catharines is just minutes from Niagara Falls, which hosts a plethora of tourist options.
The fans of the Niagara IceDogs have responded to their new building accordingly. In the 2013 season the IceDogs averaged almost 3,000 fans, which is pretty close to capacity at the Jack Gatecliffe Arena. In the 2014 season, with a poor team on the ice, the IceDogs have averaged more than 4,200 fans per game. This is good for 8th in the entire OHL. It will be interesting to see how the IceDogs fans continue to support their team in the future. At some point the lustre of the new arena will wear off and at some point the IceDogs will have a better team on the ice. These two factors make predicting future attendance at Meridian Centre very difficult.
The fans in attendance are knowledgeable and respectful. They are typical Southern Ontario fans as they are fairly quiet until something big happens.
Meridian Centre is located just south of downtown St. Catharines and St. Paul Street. It is close to major highways in highway 406 and just south of the Queen Elizabeth Way which links Niagara Falls to Toronto. Getting to the Meridian Centre is not too difficult, but the different elevations from downtown to the highway make it important to know where you are going if you have parking picked out before hand.
If you need public transit then you are in good shape with various city buses meeting at the St. Paul/St. James Street Station. There is plenty of parking downtown as well as at the lower elevation right by the arena. The bridge to the arena makes getting to the arena easy from downtown. On the date of this review parking was free downtown.
Inside the Meridian Centre the concourses are a bit of an issue as they are in Sarnia. The concourses are very narrow and it can be a challenge manoeuvring around especially during intermission. The advantage of having an open concourse is that you can see how bad the traffic is before leaving your seat. The washroom facilities are adequate for the facility.
Junior hockey continues to be a sound investment with great value for sports fans and families. Tickets are heading towards the expensive side with most seats going for $25. The retractable seats are a little cheaper at $20. Concession prices are pretty good and with free parking you have a recipe for a good time that won't cost you a mortgage payment. However, if ticket prices continue to rise then this mark could change.
An extra mark for the Hometown Hockey event which was held in St. Catharines on review day. Rogers Sportsnet puts on the new community event each weekend during the NHL season and a television program before the Sunday Night NHL game is broadcast across Canada. The game that was reviewed also featured the Teddy Bear Toss, a staple in arenas all around the OHL.
An extra mark for the live Bull Terrier that was in attendance at the Home Depot tent. The IceDogs were originally named after Don Cherry's infamous pet dog Blue. Although there have been numerous Blues over the years, all of them have been Bull Terriers.
The City of St. Catharines, the Burke Family and the fans of the Niagara IceDogs have put their money where their mouths are and came together to build the Meridian Centre. It was essential for the stability of the franchise in the region. Hopefully, the IceDogs fans will continue to flock to the new doghouse and maintain the viability of the IceDogs in the Niagara Region for a long time to come.
Member Review by sabresfan3383 on Jul 01, 2015
So I made my first trip to Meridian Centre for the 2015 CHL Top Prospects game. Now I knew where the Jack was, but didn't know exactly where the new barn was, as I'm from the other side of the border just north of Buffalo. I'm about to the pass the street the new arena is on, when I see it on my right hand side. I was in the left hand lane, but no one was coming, so I made a right from the lane...only to cut off an OPP officer. I see the lights flash, so I pull down the next side street, but the officer keeps driving. I now see in my mirror, behind him is a limousine with 2 Canadian flags on it, followed by some more black SUV unmarked police cars. Yeah, I cut off the Prime Ministers' motorcade. So if you ever read this Honourable Mr. Harper, my sincere apologies from a semi-lost American.
Member Review by POLITZ12 on Oct 02, 2015
The Meridian is only a year and a bit old, and what an upgrade it has been! A great place to watch an IceDogs game, good atmosphere, food is a little pricey.
22 James St
St Catharines, ON L2R 5B8
98 Saint Paul St
St Catharines, ON L2R 3M2
165 Saint Paul St
St Catharines, ON L2R 3M5
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