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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The St. John’s IceCaps are the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens and are the easternmost pro team in North America. The IceCaps were born in 2011 when the NHL returned to Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Moose moved east. The Jets immediately signed a deal to make the IceCaps their farm club, giving the reigns of the organization to former Newfoundland premier and avid hockey fan Danny Williams. During the 2015 offseason, the Jets moved the IceCaps back to the MTS Centre to become the Moose all over again, so Montreal relocated their AHL team from Hamilton, keeping the IceCaps name while making minor modifications to the logo to match the Canadiens colors.
The IceCaps play out of the Mile One Centre, so named because it is considered the starting point of the Trans-Canada Highway. Cynics might point out that the actual highway is just north of downtown, and Canada uses kilometers, but that is just nitpicking; the name is better than any corporate sponsored moniker.
As it is such a pain for road teams to travel here, they always play at least two back-to-back games, which makes a trip there a bit more reasonable for the travelling fan. Most of these are on the weekend, but sometimes they play a Tuesday/Wednesday doubleheader, and on occasion you might be able to see four games in five or six nights. Given St. John’s remote location, a journey here is not likely to be a spontaneous decision, but one that takes a bit of planning. There is much more to see here than just hockey, so take your time to research other attractions such as Cape Spear and Signal Hill, but leave your evenings free to enjoy some pro hockey in a place that few hockey fans will get to see.
Note: all prices are in Canadian dollars, which is valued at 77 US cents at the time of writing this review in March 2016.
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".
There are a few concessions stands along the single concourse offering your typical arena fare such as hot dogs ($4.50), a slice of pizza ($5), onion rings ($3.50), fries ($5), boneless wings ($7), and nachos ($6.50). However, there are some other choices that are more palatable, including Canadian standby poutine ($6.50) and chicken taquitos ($6.75). One stand has healthy offerings such as a chicken ranch wrap at $5 and chicken quesadillas for $6. Sweet treats include popcorn and cotton candy at $4 while packaged candy and chocolate bars are $2.25.
There is a sushi spot with vegetable rolls at $7.75 and California rolls at $8.75. Other smaller carts offer cookies and ice cream sandwiches for $2-$4.
Pepsi products are the soft drink option here, with a 16-oz fountain soda running $2.75 while an extra quarter will get you 20 ounces. Bottled water is $2.50, while juice and milk is $2.75 and Gatorade $3.75.
Beer is available at most concessions, though many fans spend the pregame and intermissions at the Molson Canadian Hockey House, a small bar along one side of the rink.
Nite Cap's Sports Bar is on site and has a decent but rather overpriced menu, and you can watch the game from there as well.
There is a single seating bowl with 20 rows of maroon seats around the entire rink. Legroom is adequate, helped by the lack of cup holders. There are suites above the seating bowl and the Bob Cole Media Centre is on the third floor. A single four-sided scoreboard is above center ice and shows replays after goals and other key plays.
Before the game, music plays while the teams warm up. A brief appearance by the in-game host tells fans "What's On Tap" (a quick game preview and not a beer listing). During the game, there are brief musical interludes while players line up for face-offs, and the occasional "Make Some Noise" exhortation appears on the scoreboard but otherwise the rink is quiet during play.
There are the usual promotions held during ice scrapes and intermissions, with the unique touch being the toque toss instead of the usual t-shirt toss, which makes perfect sense as t-shirts aren't much use in a St. John's winter.
The arena is in the heart of downtown and just a couple of minutes from George Street, which is lined on both sides by dozens of bars, many offering live music. Weekdays are much quieter, but on weekends the area turns into a great big party. Stay downtown to make the most of your time here.
A few of the many, many, options are detailed below:
The Sundance is a nice bar with friendly staff and pretty good food too, directly across the street from the rink. Very popular in St. John's, it has been open forever. This is a good place to go with a group, there's something for everyone. Wednesday is trivia night, while Friday's see a karaoke contest.
Bridie Molloy's is a classic Irish bar with really underrated food. They have a great atmosphere, usually have live Celtic music, and have a host of drink options.
Jungle Jim's is a local branch of a chain of family restaurants that also offers bar service. The place has a jungle theme and kind of a wacky, light-hearted feel, more suited to a family than those looking for a few pints.
Yellow Belly Brewery is a bit swankier and more "adult," but still pretty standard pub fare. Food is good and very unique, and the building contains a microbrewery that produces four distinct Yellow Belly beers that are quite nice. Trivia nights on Tuesday draw a huge crowd upstairs.
Pizzeria Piatto is a small chain based in the Maritimes that offers excellent pizza just a few minutes from the arena.
Again, these are just some of the restaurants and bars within minutes of the rink; suffice to say you will not have trouble finding a place that suits you before or after the game.
If you don't mind a short drive, Quidi Vidi Brewery is ten minutes away and is worth the trip if you want to buy a few bottles to take back to the hotel. This microbrewery is celebrating its 20th anniversary and receives rave reviews.
On the attractions side, both Cape Spear (the easternmost point in North America) and Signal Hill (where the first radio transmission was received in 1901) must not be missed, not only for their historical significance but also their spectacular views.
The Rooms is a museum and art gallery combination that sits atop a hill north of the city and also offers wonderful views of the harbor along with world-class exhibitions. St. John's is truly a beautiful town, so make sure to take a few days to see everything.
Capacity is 6,287 for hockey and they regularly draw over 5,000, a good crowd for a city with a population of about 100,000. Fans are attentive and don't make much noise so you can hear the sounds of the game quite clearly. Some complain that this is a problem, but I think it is because the fans are watching the game intently. I don't know when being a good fan became equated with making a lot of noise, but a quiet crowd doesn't mean bad fans necessarily, and that is the case here. Fans are friendly and well behaved. They also participate heavily in the 50/50 draw; the total pool exceeded $18,000 at one of the games I attended.
St. John's is not the easiest place to get to from the United States. Your best is a connecting flight in Toronto, which offers six flights a day on Air Canada and WestJet (Montreal and Halifax are other cities with regular flights). Driving in the winter is not recommended as the weather can be unpredictable and you would also need to take a ferry from Nova Scotia. If you plan to drive outside of downtown, you will need to rent a car at the airport, which is only about 15 minutes from downtown.
The rink is on Gower Street, right next to city hall. Street parking can be difficult to find, but there are metered spots on Casey Street at Barters Hill, about two minutes away. Meters are not enforced in the evening, so this is your best option. There is also a parking garage right next door to the rink (entrance on Barters Hill), but it is a bit much at $12. Again, if possible, stay downtown and walk; this also allows you to enjoy the nightlife to its fullest after the game.
The single concourse is very narrow and to minimize the number of bottlenecks during intermission, they have placed lines on the floor that instruct customers on how to stand without blocking the way. This works quite well and is something that should be adopted by other arenas with small footprints.
Washrooms are small, and there can be lineups during intermissions. Use the ice scrape breaks to save time, though remember that you cannot return to your seat until there is a stoppage in play.
Tickets range from $26 to $32 plus a host of service charges, even at the box office. Note that alcohol is not permitted in sections 114-116, which leaves those sections quite underpopulated and a good place to sit if you like space and don't drink during the game.
A night here will cost about $75 for two, which is a bit high for AHL hockey. I'd like to see ticket specials, such as one section for $15 or something similar to what other rinks offer. Of course, with the club averaging 85% capacity, maybe they really don't need to change anything at all.
Inside the main entrance is a tribute to veterans of the many wars in which Canada has participated.
Inside the Hockey House are some bits of memorabilia, such as jerseys of Darryl Sittler and Guy Lafleur. The Maple Leafs were the first NHL team to use St. John's as their AHL home, so it is fitting that one of their greatest players is remembered here.
During the national anthems, a large Canadian flag is passed from section to section. As well, a small picture of Queen Elizabeth can be spotted at one end of the rink.
There are AHL decals at the top of each section, though they need to be updated as defunct teams such as the Worcester Sharks are still on display.
Earplugs are on sale from a vending machine along the concourse, rather ironic as the rink is so quiet (they are really for use during the many concerts that are held here).
I strongly recommend a visit to Mile One Centre because you probably aren't going to get to Newfoundland otherwise as a sports fan. Although the rink itself is fairly average in all respects, the city itself provides a memorable destination and the surrounding neighborhood is fantastic, as is the scenery along the rugged Atlantic Coast.
Visiting Newfoundland in the winter is not something that most Canadians would even consider, but that shouldn't dissuade you. Naturally, going in October/November or March/April will minimize the risk of travel disruptions, but the city is accessible throughout the winter, though it can get quite cold with the wind coming in off the ocean. If you love hockey and travel, you should make all efforts to see a couple of games in St. John's, one of the most unique sporting destinations in North America.
Member Review by mryder on Jan 09, 2013
The St. John’s IceCaps brought AHL hockey back to the easternmost point of North America in 2011, playing out of Mile One Centre in downtown St. John’s. The arena, opened in 2001, once housed the farm club for the Toronto Maple Leafs (1991-2005) and also the St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL (2005-2008).
The IceCaps were born when the NHL returned to Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Moose left MTS Centre and moved east. The Jets immediately signed a deal to make the newly-minted Caps their farm club, giving the reigns of the organization to former premier of Newfoundland and avid hockey fan Danny Williams.
5 George St
St. John's, NL A1C 1B8
2 Holdsworth Ct
St. John's, NL A1C 4J7
288 Water St
St. John's, NL A1C 5J9
377 Duckworth St
St John's, NL A1C 1H8
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