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Official Review by Matthew Ryder, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
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.
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".
For a minor league arena, Mile One Centre offers plenty of standard stadium fare for fans in the building. It includes several concession stands dispersed among the concourse, many concession carts, a full service bar area, a restaurant and bar upstairs that overlooks the ice surface, and even two small coffee shops.
Pricing is the main issue, as it's very easy to go north of $10 for a snack of hot dogs and fries or a slice of pizza with a drink, and beer is among the most expensive in the league. The restaurant is leading the charge, however, as an alcohol free meal for two with a tip is $70+. The food is okay, but the pricing is just plain unreasonable.
For selection and variety, Mile One offers lots for the hockey fan's distinguished palate. They're not shy about picking through that fan's wallet though.
While the fans themselves aren't exceptional, the actual atmosphere in the building is solid. A recently upgraded videoboard and sound system give the arena an NHL feel inside, while the concourse outside is buzzing with fans and concessionaires alike.
The IceCaps in-game material is pretty standard stuff, most of which is centered around getting the fans to make noise. It is, however, very sharp and well done. In particular, the pregame video does an excellent job of heightening the anticipation for that night's matchup.
The intermission games are also standard, however they're hosted by some fairly obnoxious individuals who lack the charisma to engage the crowd to any real degree. Several of the promotional games that interact with fans miss the mark as well, ranging from absurdly difficult to just plain absurd.
One of the more notable aspects of the game atmosphere is Buddy, the long-time mascot of both the St. John's Maple Leafs and now the IceCaps. Lauded for almost 20 years now as one of the best mascots in hockey, the lovable puffin is among the most popular characters ever to be seen in St. John's.
The building sits in the heart of downtown St. John's, a beautiful area that's rich with culture and nightlife. Very few arenas in the world, much less the AHL, can offer both a view of the Atlantic Ocean and the greatest party street outside of Las Vegas within walking distance of the building.
Mile One does.
The area is filled with music and people out enjoying the evening, offers plenty of restaurants, pubs, hotels, and activities, and is as scenic as any downtown core imaginable. Tourist destinations such as Signal Hill and Cape Spear are both within driving distance of the arena as well.
If making an IceCaps game part of a night out is the goal, the neighbourhood Mile One sits in has you covered. One simply could not ask for a better experience in that regard.
Some specific recommendations for food/drinks:
The Sundance - really nice bar with pretty good food too, directly across the street from the rink. Very popular in St. John's, has been open forever. Good place to go with a group, there's something there for everyone.
Bridie Molloy's - classic Irish bar with really underrated food. Great atmosphere, usually has live Celtic music, and has a host of drink options. Located in the heart of George Street, also about a 2-3 minute walk to Mile One.
Jungle Jim's - Just off George St., probably the best option for a meal. Offers bar service, but they're definitely a restaurant first. Has a jungle theme and kind of a whacky, light-hearted feel. Nice for a family going to the game, 2-3 minute walk from the rink.
Yellow Belly Brewery - 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. 5-6 minute walk from the rink.
Wing'n It - Wing specialists that offer 93 flavors a 4-5 minute walk from the arena. Hot, sweet, and other varieties you can't even conceive of, it's a great place to fill up before a game. Also, it sits in an old Colonial home converted to a restaurant, which is very cool.
The St. John's hockey fan is undeniably overrated, as people have long considered the city a "hockey town" but there's little indication of it once inside the arena. Yes, there is plenty of IceCaps paraphernalia on display walking the concourse, but during play there isn't much life in the building.
When the home team is trailing - be it by one or by 10 - you can hear a pin drop. When they're winning, it's only marginally better as there is the slight din of conversation broken up by the occasional attempt to start The Wave.
Fans are hot tempered and quick to get on the home side for too many powerplay passes or a couple of failed breakout attempts, but not nearly as hot to offer up a rallying chant or anything beyond a round of applause after a save or some sustained pressure (unless told otherwise by the videoboard, and even those instances are markedly short).
Definitely not the highlight of the Mile One experience.
The downside of placing the arena in the downtown sector is accessibility. Given the tight quarters of the oldest part of one of the oldest cities in North America, a 6,000+ seat arena may not have been the smartest addition.
There is very little parking available near the rink, and given the bitter cold and excessive precipitation of a St. John's winter, parking within walking distance may not always be a pleasurable experience.
City Hall, next door to Mile One, offers up its garage at a cost of $5 per car, and there is metered parking and a few free lots on the outskirts of the area, but overall accessing the arena is the biggest headache involved in taking in an IceCaps game.
The city does offer public transportation via Metrobus, which can get a fan downtown on any number of routes. There are also shuttle services to the rink from different points around the St. John's area, and cabs are easy to come by in the early evening.
Still, if keeping one's sanity long enough to get inside is the goal, arriving an hour or more before puck drop to secure a good parking space is an absolute must.
IceCaps tickets don't come cheap, as they sit on average in the upper part of the AHL with a lowest available price of $21 to get into the building. For a couple of people to head to Mile One and sit in decent seats, it's very easy to find oneself out $80 by the time surcharges and tax enters into the picture.
Given that the team itself doesn't play a particularly exciting or physical brand of hockey, this may be a sticking point for some fans. The franchise is still young and has had mixed results to this point in its history as well, which could also turn some people off from such an investment.
When other potential aspects of the IceCaps experience are factored in - concessions, merchandise, parking, a pregame meal - it could become an incredibly expensive night out. In terms of money paid for a given event, what one gets at Mile One may not be for everyone.
The team store, IceCaps Alley, is well-stocked and offers a variety of merchandise. There are also plenty of kiosks around the building from which to buy smaller items, meaning that lineups are often smaller if a fan is looking for a specific article.
There is a sizable 50/50 draw that takes place every game, with the winner usually taking home $15,000+, which is an astronomical amount for a minor league game. Game programs are also available on the concourse.
Other extras, such as the aforementioned restaurant, luxury suites, and party boxes at one end of the arena designed for large group sales, put Mile One near the top of the league in terms of extras.
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