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 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 offers a decent selection of stadium fare that, at the very least, rivals other arenas in junior hockey. You have to start with the beer selection. As to be expected, you can find a variety of Sleeman products, which are all local to Guelph. The regular items that you would expect are all available at decent prices. Popcorn is $4, hot dogs are $4, pizza is $4, soda is $3, and beer is $8. The beer is a bit on the expensive side, but definitely better than the usual brews that you would find in stadiums. What makes the Sleeman Centre just a bit better than other arenas, is the presence of the Candy Counter. The Candy Counter offers a huge variety of confection goodies for a pretty good price. Everything from gumdrops to chocolate covered almonds, the Candy Counter has it.
The Sleeman Centre was built out of what used to be an Eaton's department store. When Eaton's was bought out by Sears, numerous stores were closed across Canada, including the magnet store in the downtown mall in Guelph. Some snappy timing and creative thinking brought the idea of the Sleeman Centre together to keep the downtown in Guelph alive. Entry into the Sleeman Centre can be found through the remnants of the Old Quebec Street Mall, which is large and offers sanctuary from the elements. Entry into the arena itself brings you past the large Guelph Storm team store as well as the box office. Banners from each OHL team are displayed in the stairwell leading to the arena entry.
The single bowl seating inside the Sleeman Centre offers terrific sight lines for pretty much every seat. Above the seating bowl, in a horseshoe configuration, you will find the corporate boxes as well as the VIP section at the west end. The concourse is open, so even if you are in need of refreshment you will be able to catch the majority of action while you are away from your seat. The open concourses also offer plenty of standing room behind the main seating area, which remains popular and a staple in most junior hockey arenas. Behind the seats along the south wall, you will find "The Draught Pick" which is the in-house restaurant/bar which offers a different perspective on the game.
Above the seating on the east end of the arena you will find the banners honouring Storm teams of the past. The 1952 Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and 1986 Guelph Platers have banners among the Storm banners honouring their Memorial Cup Championships. Joining those banners will be the 2014 Hamilton Spectator Trophy banner honouring the Storm for finishing with the best record in the OHL for the regular season. There is one banner that hangs in the rafters, which is on the low side, retiring the number 18. Paul Fendley was a junior player in Guelph who died in an on-ice accident.
The Storm enter the ice surface to the smoke machine and some heavy music. It is a simple, yet effective entrance that helps get the crowd in the mood for some hockey.
Downtown Guelph offers numerous options for eats before the game. Some of the better options include Wimpy's Diner, Smoke's Poutinerie, Bobby O'Brien's and McCabe's Irish Pub.
A newer spot that is definitely worth a try is Buon Gusto located in St. George's Square. They offer real Italian food at a reasonable price and is right around the corner from the Sleeman Centre. Right downtown is also the River Run Centre which offers theatre options.
The Guelph Storm continue to struggle with the proximity to the Kitchener Rangers. The Storm's attendance will fluctuate with their success, which is not uncommon in junior hockey. However, there is no real explanation for there being rows of empty seats during a season in which the Storm are one of the top teams in the country. It is even more baffling that on a Friday night to open up the playoffs, every seat in the building is not filled. In 2013-14, the Storm averaged 4,300 fans, which is in the top third of the league. The fans that are in attendance are not overly loud, but they know their hockey and they support their team. The fans of the Storm need to be more committed, especially during the playoffs.
Getting to the Sleeman Centre is not too difficult. Highway 7 follows the Speed River which takes the traveler right into downtown Guelph. Downtown is also just east of Highway 6. There is a large parking garage that is attached to the mall, so finding parking is usually pretty easy. There are also some surface options that are downtown. Once inside the Sleeman Centre you will find that the concourses can get extremely crowded, especially during intermission times. The washrooms are functional, but lineups get big during intermissions as well.
Ticket prices for the Storm are on the average to high side. Generally, tickets are around $21 with discounts for kids. You will probably have to pay for parking, which is becoming more common for junior hockey games. Parking will run you $5. Concession prices are average and to be expected for the league. You will be treated to some of the best hockey action that you could possibly find, in a decent atmosphere.
Extra marks are awarded for the two banners that hang in the east end honouring legendary NHL referees Bill McCreary and Ray Scampinello. Both are from the Guelph area.
An extra mark is awarded to the City of Guelph for their unique plan to keep their department store space useful and to keep their downtown vibrant.
An extra mark for the display of the uniform and gold medal of Team Canada defenseman and former Guelph Storm, Drew Doughty. A great Kodak moment for all involved!
The Guelph Storm have continued to entrench themselves as a solid franchise in the OHL. They have achieved success both on and off of the ice. A trip to Storm City is well worth the time and money, and a good time is to be expected. For an even better experience, make sure you are in attendance for the Storm to take on their arch-rivals from Kitchener.
You can follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on twitter @profan9.
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.
9 Wyndham St. North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E2
20 Wyndham St North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E5
90 MacDonell St West
Guelph, ON N1H 2Z6
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