Just outside of the Greater Toronto Area lies a hockey club with very deep roots, if its history is traced all the way back. Beginning as the legendary Toronto Marlboros (who have been reborn in the form of the AHL's Toronto Marlies), the club eventually moved to Hamilton to become the Dukes. Meanwhile, Guelph was home to the Ontario Hockey League's Platers, who then relocated to Owen Sound, Ontario to become the Attack. With the vacancy in the great city of Guelph, the Storm moved in and carved out a chunk of the OHL situated between hockey-rich Toronto and hockey-mad Kitchener-Waterloo just to the west.
The Storm play at Sleeman Centre in downtown Guelph. The arena is a fascinating example of successful redevelopment of a mall, located in the former Eaton's department store in the Old Quebec Street Mall. When Eaton's, a major Canadian retailer, shut down, malls were left without anchor tenants from coast to coast. Whilst some got new stores and some closed down, Quebec Street ended up getting an arena.
Indeed, the east end of the mall is now the unexpected Sleeman Centre which, since 2000, has been a quality venue with a solid atmosphere - home to a thriving team who are a big part of the soul of the city.
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The selection and, importantly, pricing of food and drink at Sleeman Centre at the very least rivals any junior arena in the province. Beer here is excellent, though that is unsurprising at an arena named after an iconic local brewery. Try a 14oz draught cup of Sleeman lager for just $5, almost absurdly cheap at a sporting venue. Although Sleeman produces excellent beer, local craft breweries are also represented here. Very reasonably priced local pours Wellington, F&M, or Royal City can be had either at the Draught Picks a la carte restaurant, or in the concourses.
Draught Picks, overlooking the ice, has an extensive and well-priced menu ranging across all kinds of favourites. For around $10 grab a Montreal smoked meat, pulled pork, or chicken sandwich, or a wrap, all with soup or side. To share, thin-crust pizzas are $25 and are delicious for three or more people.
Poutine and shephard's pie, those staples, are done to perfection, while the curry over rice is the perfect pairing for a pint.
For dessert, try the local item; a Chudleigh's Apple Blossom.
In the concourses, the barrage of choices and great prices continues. Onion rings for $6 are spicy and deliciously hot. Warmed beer nuts are a popular choice at the always-busy Candy Counter which has all kinds of sweets.
On top of all this, Sleeman Centre's location within a mall means it is one of the only sporting venues with in-and-out priveleges, so fans can always run to a restaurant downtown during the intermission or just pick up a snack from the Pharma Plus drugstore downstairs.
Sleeman Centre is a good place to catch a game from a design standpoint. The single bowl offers terrific sight lines, as do the horseshoe-configured suites above. The bowl is ringed by a smart open concourse that means fans are never far from the action on-ice. There are lots of places to purchase standing-room tickets, which is a popular way to watch junior hockey. The one caveat is that Draught Picks juts into the concourse, meaning to walk all the way round, fans must go through the busy restaurant.
Again, Sleeman Centre's most interesting aspect is the fact that it is in a mall. Old Quebec Street is a historic street that has been covered and is now a vibrant part of the city centre. The team box office and the main team shop are actually storefronts within the mall proper, outside the traditional confines of the arena. The arena makes up one end of the mall and if you approach from within, the Guelph Sport Hall of Fame and banners of the 20 OHL teams signal the arena entry.
Inside the rink, there are banners commemorating the 2014 OHL championship won by the Storm as well as commemorations of the 1952 Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and 1986 Platers squads. Other banners commemorate Storm graduates who went on to play for Team Canada and also for other national teams. Further, there is a neat banner celebrating Guelph-born NHL referees. Rounding it off, there is a banner commemorating Paul Fendley, a player who died after a tragic on-ice accident.
The scoreboard is modern, clear, and well-utilised. Finally, section 116 is a supporters' section and the most passionate fans sit here, behind the net.
An arena located in the midst of a vibrant downtown is as good as it gets and Sleeman Centre does not disappoint in this regard either. Along the banks of the Speed River, Guelph's centre is compact and historic. The fast-growing city of about 150,000 is clean and safe and within striking distance of Toronto.
Outside Quebec Street, options abound for dinner or drinks. McCabe's Pub is a popular option for a pint or two and Bin23 is a more upscale restaurant nearby. Macdonell Street runs through the core and is lined with places to try. At the top of the street is the towering Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate, whose twin spires are featured on the shoulder patches of the Guelph Storm sweaters.
Conveniently, the train station is located just off Macdonell as well, allowing for quick trips into and out of town.
The city is home to the University of Guelph, which also offers sporting options for interested fans to check out, largely at their Alumni Field. The student-oriented nature of the town means that on a weekend, downtown is rollicking until sunup and there are plenty of cheap and tasty food options open 24/7.
Storm fans pack the building when the team is doing well and even when they struggle, attendance is still decent. Generally, the barn is near sold-out and the atmosphere created is a boisterous one, led by section 116.
Many fans bring flags, adding a nice visual element to support. When hated local rivals Kitchener Rangers come to town, the atmosphere is elevated substantially. When this derby comes up, fans should make a point of heading to Guelph to see Storm support at its best.
Sleeman Centre is perfectly located for anyone coming to a game. Although nearby surface lots are quickly disappearing for condo towers, large parkades abut the mall and offer $5 event parking. Driving in from Toronto is easy, with the city located just north on Highway 6 from the province-spanning Highway 401. Drivers should be forewarned that rush hour traffic on weekdays heading out of the city can be horrendous, though, and public transport is often the better option.
Good thing getting to Guelph is easy in that sense as well. GO Transit provides train services direct to Macdonell Street from Toronto's Union Station as well as frequent buses from points around the Greater Toronto Area. In town, Guelph Transit is reliable and will get you quickly downtown from all corners of the small city. Taxis are not overly expensive, though if you find yourself downtown late when the students are out, good luck finding one.
Washrooms and concourses do get relatively crowded during intermissions, so it is best to use them during play if possible. This is not too bad anyway, since the open concourses mean you can follow the action the whole time.
The proximity of Guelph to Toronto means that it is pretty doable for visiting fans to head out of the city for a game and make it back without having to book a hotel night in Guelph. Though further afield than Mississauga, Oshawa, or Barrie, Guelph is still decently close and easy to get to.
Storm tickets are pretty average for the OHL these days at an average of $24 for adults with discounts for seniors, children, and students. A cool feature is the ability to add the second game of a 2-game weekend for just $10 extra. Tickets can be purchased online, in the Quebec Street Mall box office, or at a kiosk in the suburban Stone Road Mall.
Concessions are very reasonable. Parking, at $5 is also reasonable. All told, Guelph is a great place to go for a hockey game without breaking the bank.
Extra mark for the extensive banner display.
Extra mark for the adaptive reuse of the Eaton's space within the mall.
Extra point for Guelph Transit buses, which always say Go Storm Go during matchdays.
Extra points for the availability of craft beer at decent prices, especially in an arena where the title sponsor is a big brewery. Other sporting venues could certainly stand to take notice of how this situation works harmoniously in Guelph.
Guelph is a delightful city to visit just outside of Toronto, and a ticket to the Storm should be a part of any sporting enthusiast's trip. Sleeman Centre is easily one of the better arenas in the league, providing something for everyone and, of course, great hockey.
What to do when economic downturn occurs?
When the T. Eaton Co. shut its doors in Canada, many sites were left with the question of what to do with the large spaces in shopping malls that suddenly became vacant. Eaton's was actually purchased by Sears, which was logical as they were similar department stores. Sears decided to close many locations, including the Guelph Eaton Centre location. Downtown Guelph was left with its main shopping mall without an anchor store. Enter the Guelph Storm.
The Storm has a very long tradition in the OHL, having originated as the legendary Toronto Marlboros. At one time owned by Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard, the team that was established in 1903 was sold and relocated to Hamilton. The Dukes of Hamilton had a couple of terrible years and were sold again in 1990. This time the Dukes were relocated to Guelph, Ontario. Guelph is a mere 20 km from Kitchener and the newly christened Storm became a natural rival for the Rangers and became successful both on and off the ice.
The Storm played in the aging Guelph Memorial Gardens, and were making noises about a new arena. The City of Guelph entered in a partnership to build a new arena downtown, at the location of the Eaton Centre. The arena was dubbed the Guelph Centre for Sports and Entertainment and is currently owned by the City of Guelph. In 2007, Sleeman Breweries purchased the naming rights of the current Sleeman Centre, which injected some much-needed capital in the arena.
Also in 2007, the Storm were purchased by a group that included TSN broadcaster Chris Cuthbert. The Storm have produced great professional hockey players including Drew Doughty, Craig Anderson, Daniel Paille, and Todd Bertuzzi. With solid ownership, a solid building, and a solid fan-base, the future for the Storm seems to be on solid ground for many years.
The Sleeman Centre is a great place to catch a game! It is highly unique in that it is located inside a mall, with convenient food court access! The seating bowl itself feels fairly standard but the concourses can be quite tight. Upstairs, on the suite level is a gorgeous lounge with a bar and comfortable seating overlooking the ice from behind one end. Suites are nice if standard, but the catered food is very, very good (same can be said for Guelph University nearby).
The Candy Counter is the most interesting concession and freshly-squeezed lemonade is also very good. It gets very crowded in the tight concourses, so during intermission either hit the Tap House or go into the mall and find something in the food court (kind of awesome.)
Also in the mall is Spyke's which sells lots of Storm gear. There are also smaller kiosks in the arena concourse.
Sleeman's beer is locally-brewed and is the preferred libation, as it should be.
The scoreboard here is very good and he sound system is loud and clear.
Speaking of loud, Storm fans are vocal and exciting. Down by a goal with a few minutes to go, I really wanted the home side to score just so I could hear the place explode. The fans I spoke with were very knowledgeable and were generally welcoming and hospitable.
There is a lot of parking in two parkades attached to the mall but $15 parking in the car wash next door is the most convenient option.
Overall, the Sleeman Centre is an intimate and exciting place to watch a game, and Guelph makes a nice day trip city just an hour west of Toronto.
Nestled neatly between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo is the city of Guelph. It seems to be surrounded by hockey hotbeds. To the east is Leafs Nation, the juggernaut (from a marketing standpoint) Toronto Maple Leafs. To the west may be the comparable (from a junior hockey perspective) Kitchener Rangers. Both programs are huge and dominating and demand a great deal of attention. In between, the Guelph Storm have created quite a nice niche for themselves.
The Storm were brought to Guelph from Hamilton, where they spent a couple of years as the Dukes. Before their years in Hamilton, what is now the Storm had deep roots in the OHL as the legendary Toronto Marlboros, which were owned by infamous Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard. With a few shuffles in ownership groups, the Storm are currently owned by businessmen Rick Gaetz, Rick Hoyle, John Heeley and current head coach Scott Walker.
The Storm call the city-owned Sleeman Centre home. The Sleeman Centre is located in downtown Guelph and is a model of redevelopment as it was once an Eaton's department store. With some refurbishing and a smart sponsorship agreement with the locally established Sleeman Breweries, the Storm and the City of Guelph have made a home that rivals any OHL arena. Storm City has become one of the most stable franchises in the league on and off the ice.
The interior of the Sleeman Centre is very familiar to the rinks in both Sault Ste. Marie and Sarnia, but its location is not. The home of the Guelph Storm is connected to the downtown mall, which makes entering the arena kinda strange.
The sight-lines at the Sleeman Centre are great, and you can see the play from the concession stand, but its just another cookie cutter arena. Despite it seeming very similar to other inks in the OHL, it is still a great place to catch a game.
The Guelph Storm have incredibly deep roots in junior hockey, beginning as the legendary Toronto Marlboros (who have had their legacy continued by the Marlies) before moving to Hamilton as the Dukes. Meanwhile, the Platers, who had played in Guelph moved to Owen Sound to become the Attack. Now in Guelph, the Storm have carved out a nice niche for themselves between the hockey hotbeds of the Greater Toronto Area an hour east and Kitchener-Waterloo just a quick jaunt west.
The Storm play out of Sleeman Centre in downtown Guelph. The arena is a fascinating example of successful redevelopment, located in the former Eaton's department store in a bustling shopping centre. When Eaton's, a Canadian chain similar to Sears, shut down, malls across Canada were left without anchor tenants. Guelph's central Old Quebec Street mall is home to the arena, which unexpectedly appears at one end of the covered shopping street. Since 2000, Sleeman Centre has been a quality arena with a fun atmosphere, and the Storm are a stable and thriving club which is very important to the people of Guelph.
9 Wyndham St. North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E2
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Guelph, ON N1H 4E5
90 MacDonell St West
Guelph, ON N1H 2Z6
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