In 1998, the Brampton Battalion played their inaugural game. Unfortunately, the OHL had begun the process of saturating the Greater Toronto Hockey market by reviving the Toronto St. Michael's Majors the previous season, and also expanding into Mississauga to form the IceDogs in 1998. It has been an uphill climb for the Battalion from the get-go. Limited TV exposure and virtually no radio or print exposure have proven to be huge obstacles for the team located just west of Canada's largest city. However, the Battalion have remained plucky, providing a consistent product on the ice, and a military spirit in their marketing.
The story of the Battalion begins with their owner, former sports journalist Scott Abbott, who made his fortune by co-inventing the wildly popular board game Trivial Pursuit. Throughout the years there has been wild speculation that the Battalion are on the move to a new city, however, it has been Abbott's steady ownership that has set the course for the Battalion, and kept them in Brampton. The Battalion operate against all odds. Still, the Battalion have put a relatively successful product on the ice, producing such NHL talent as Jay McClement, Wojtek Wolski, and budding superstar Matt Duchene. Their coach, Stan Butler, is becoming a junior hockey legend, coaching the Canadian National Junior Team on two separate occasions and being the only coach of record for the Battalion.
The home for the Battalion is the Powerade Centre. Formerly known as the Brampton Centre, and currently known to the locals as "The Bunker," the Powerade Centre has been the home of the Battalion since its inception, and was built by the City of Brampton. The Bunker, although not spectacular, shows the Battalion motif throughout the presentation of Battalion hockey, and makes for a fun evening out.
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".
The concession items in Brampton are the expected arena options. Pizza, beer, popcorn, hot dogs, fries, candy and soda can all be found. There is a Bacardi stand if you are looking for an alcoholic beverage that isn't beer. The prices at the Bunker are pretty decent with hot dogs going for $3.75, Coca-Cola products gong for $3, Pizza Pizza slices for $3.75 and Budweiser, Bud Light, and Bud Lime tall boys going for $7.50. Overall, there is nothing to get excited about on the menu, but you won't need a second mortgage to eat either.
There is no other team in the OHL that takes its theme to the limits the way the Battalion do. Everything has some sort of military motif to it. The arena is nicknamed the Bunker. The team store is named the Quartermaster. There is a small tank in the upper corner of the arena. The team skates out of an inflatable tank to begin the game. The team colours include army green, yellow and black with rank chevrons on the sleeve. At the beginning of the period the team enters to the sound of helicopters and cannon fire. The mascot, "Sarge" entertains the crowd. After a goal, a blaring air raid siren revs up the crowd followed by the old Edwin Starr song "War." The announcement for the last minute of play, announces one minute until ceasefire. Overall, the atmosphere that the Battalion have created is fun, and adds some much needed energy to the game.
The Powerade Centre is a horseshoe configuration that offers bleacher seats at the open end. The arena offers great sightlines, and is bright. Hanging above the rafters are various division championship banners for the Battalion, as well as several Mann Cup banners for the Canadian Senior Lacrosse juggernaut, the Brampton Excelsiors. The Powerade Centre features only a simple, numeric scoreboard.
The Powerade Centre is located at the junction of highways 410 and 407. Although it makes for easy access, there is very little in the immediate neighbourhood. Surrounded by local baseball fields, Brampton Golf Course and other recreation facilities, there is nothing in the way of bars or restaurants within walking distance.
However, a short drive up to Steeles Avenue will offer many choices including Boston Pizza, Applebee's and Casey's. If you are looking for something a little different, try Jake's Boathouse on First Gulf Blvd. If you are attending a Sunday afternoon game, then Jake's won't be your stop as it's closed, so try Vesta on Steeles. It doesn't look like much, but the food is great, and they offer a late Sunday breakfast that hits the spot before hitting the Bunker.
All of those stories about the Battalion moving to other communities are based on the turnout of the Battalion fans. Brampton is consistently in the bottom two franchises in the OHL in attendance. They have generally averaged just over 2,500 fans, which is far below capacity. The game that I was at had an announced attendance of 1,600, but it seemed like there were just a few hundred fans there. I will give those fans in attendance credit. They were much louder than I ever expected. For this, they get a bit higher mark than they really should. What is really a shame is that if there were a full house at the Bunker, they would blow the roof off the place!!
The Powerade Centre is super-easy to get to. At the junction of highways 410 and 407, travelers from outside Brampton can access the Powerade Centre easily. Travelers are warned to steer clear of the 407 if possible as it is a VERY expensive toll highway. This will not in anyway affect your ability to make it to the Powerade Centre. There is plenty of parking, and it is FREE! The washrooms and concourses are more than adequate for the number of people that attend the games. It's hard to see what it would be like for a capacity crowd, but at this point, they have more than enough space.
Tickets for the Battalion can be a real bargain. Club seats are under $20, and the majority of other seats are only $14. They also offer a Thursday night bargain with tickets going for only $10. Combine this with free parking and good concession prices, and you have a great day's entertainment for a great price. Combined with their gameday presentation and strong on-ice product, the Battalion are actually the best kept secret in the OHL. However, the secret needs to be out and they need to get more people in the seats.
An extra point is awarded for the presence of the Peel Regional Police and their Toys for Tots program, and their general friendliness to the kids in attendance.
An extra point for Scott Abbott and his never say die attitude in keeping the Battalion in Brampton.
The Battalion are a great day's entertainment, but they remain a "could be" franchise. They could be one of the loudest, most entertaining places to hit in the entire league if they could just capture the attention of the locals. Although I have no inside knowledge, I'm not sure how much longer the Battalion can sustain such low attendance numbers and still remain in operation. You may have to march down to the Bunker to catch the Battalion, while you still can!
As the original review notes, Brampton was always a could-be franchise and after the 2012-13 season, they will be moving to North Bay. A CHL team will be playing here from 2013, so it will be interesting to see if the arena gets some renovations.
59 First Gulf Blvd
Brampton, ON L6W 4P9
1315 Steeles Avenue East
Brampton, ON L6T 4N9
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