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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 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 Sleeman Centre features all of those concessions you would expect at a hockey game. Soda, pizza, hot dogs, popcorn are all present. Pizza Pizza provides the pizza and Coke provides the soda. If you are interested in suds, then you are in luck because Sleeman makes great beer. You can get a draft for just over $5. They also offer a hot dog / fries / soda combo for $8. Concessions are decent quality at a pretty good price. What bumps this grade up a bit is the Candy Counter. There are a couple of stands in the Sleeman Centre that provide a HUGE variety of candies and confections. Ju-Jubes; gumdrops; chocolate covered almonds or pretzels; caramel corn; specialty fresh lemonades and milkshakes are all available and fantastic. The Candy Counter is a must stop and the wares are delicious.
As mentioned above, the Sleeman Centre is built in what was formerly an Eaton's department store. The arena is attached to what is remaining of the Eaton Centre mall and is now referred to as Old Quebec Street.
Inside, the Sleeman Centre offers a single bowl of seating with a horseshoe of suites and club seating above. Around 3/4 of the seating bowl, the councourses are open, allowing for patrons to still catch the action and sounds of the game. There is also ample standing room behind the top row of seats, if that is your cup of tea. The open concourses actually give the building a cozy feel to it, and you never really feel disjointed from the game. The final quarter of the concourse is taken up by the Sleeman Lounge, which offers a sports bar location, and allows patrons to see the game live.
At the open end of the upper deck is where the Storm hang all of their championship banners including the 1952 Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and the 1986 Guelph Platers Memorial Cup Championship banners. There is also a platform where Spikes, the Storm's rather scary looking mascot, does his act.
The ceilings in the Sleeman Centre are fairly low, which aids in the cozy feel of the arena. At centre ice is a small video board with double ribbon, which the Storm use well. The Storm have one lone banner hanging over the ice, which commemorates the retiring of number 18, which belonged to Paul Fendley. Fendley was a junior player in Guelph, who died in an on-ice accident at the Guelph Memorial Gardens in 1972. No Guelph team has used the number 18 since.
Being in the heart of downtown Guelph, I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous eating options. Centred at the corner of McDonnell and Wyndham you can find Wimpey's Diner, Smokes Poutinerie, Pierre's Poutine, Bobby O'Briens, and the NV Lounge. We went with McCabe's Irish Pub, which was of fair size, and a popular spot to hit before a Storm game.
Old Quebec Street Mall offers a few shops and a couple more restaurants. The bottom floor is designed to look like an old European Street and gives it some extra character.
The game that we were at was the home opener for the Storm. I was very surprised to see pockets of empty seats around the building. The announced attendance was around 4,000. The opening weeks of the OHL season can be a bit of a tough sell as the top players who have been drafted by NHL teams are usually still in NHL camps, however I don't feel that a sellout on opening night in a small venue is over stretching it as far as expectations. Attendance has been gradually dropping in Guelph where they have averaged less than 4,000 the last couple of years. When the arch-rival, Kitchener Rangers are in town, sell-outs are common, and the noise level is really loud.
The fans that were in attendance were loud, especially during the Tim Horton's race. There were also a couple of characters in attendance, including the dancing kid in section 101. When goals are scored, the Sleeman Centre is VERY loud!
Downtown Guelph is easily accessible by highways 24, 6, or 7. This close proximity makes the Sleeman Centre easy to get to from just about anywhere. There are two large parking garages that offer plenty of parking for events. Parking is currently $5 for events, which is not great. OHL patrons are used to free parking at many venues, and Guelph used to be one of those venues until recently. Needless to say, this recent change in policy drops the Sleeman Centre just a touch.
The washrooms are just fine and travelling through the concourses is not too much of a problem, even during intermission.
Ticket prices in Guelph are about average to high for the OHL. At $21 a ticket, with discounts for kids and seniors, the opportunity to bring your family and catch a game is a very viable possibility. Concession prices are decent and pricing for parking is okay, if not on the high side. Overall, you can't go wrong with a night's entertainment with the Guelph Storm.
An extra point for the interesting use of a former department store.
An extra point for the referee banners that are in the rafters at the end. Bill McCreary and Ray Scampinello are products of Guelph, and are officials in the NHL. They are honoured at the Sleeman Centre with banners.
An extra point goes for the elementary school choir that sings the national anthem "¦ with a live microphone (unlike in Kitchener).
A final extra point goes to the Guelph Storm Alumni Association who were collecting money for the wife of a former player who was injured in the Indiana stage collapse this past summer.
With a few unique attributes, and a decent following, the Guelph Storm are definitely a worthwhile experience. With the opportunity to see the future of the NHL, with a hometown feel to it, a trip to the Sleeman Centre should be on your hockey menu. If at all possible, try and make it for the rivalry game against the Rangers, and it will be really worth your trip!
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.
9 Wyndham St. North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E2
20 Wyndham St North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E5
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