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.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Sleeman Centre offers a selection that at the very least rivals the best arenas in Ontario. Beer selection here is excellent, with brewed-in-Guelph Sleeman providing draught at very reasonable prices. A small 14 oz draught beer will run you just $5. Although Sleeman is delicious for a big brewer and although they maintain naming rights, Guelph is also home to a number of craft breweries that are delightfully available at Sleeman Centre as well. For under $6, cups of local favourites Wellington and F&M beers are poured and make a nice addition to dinner either at Draught Picks restaurant in the arena or at concessions.
Aside from an appropriate pun, Draught Picks restaurant provides a very good selection of surprisingly affordable dishes in a nice atmosphere with a good view of the ice. Sandwiches like Montreal Smoked Meat, pulled pork, wraps, and more come with soup or sides and cost under $10. Sixteen-inch gourmet thin-crust pizzas to feed a group are under $25. They do a nice Canadian Pizza (pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, mozzarella), while the Philly Cheese Steak Pizza is delightfully indulgent.
There are many wing flavours available alongside a good menu of kids meals. Try the Chudleigh's Apple Blossom for dessert for a delicious local treat.
If you won't be visiting Draught Picks and prefer to enjoy the concessions, the onion rings for $6 are very interestingly flavoured and a nice hot choice. The warm beer nuts are also a popular choice and the Candy Counter has all kinds of sweets from gumdrops to chocolate almonds.
What makes this section interesting is the fact that Sleeman Centre is located within a mall, and fans are welcome to leave the arena proper to visit the food court during the match. The mall offers all the chains and some interesting independent restaurants that can be a nice place to grab a bite or a meal and then go back to the game.
Sleeman Centre is well-designed as a very stimulating hockey environment. 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 away from the action on the ice. There is plenty of standing room, a popular option across junior hockey.
Of course, the most interesting aspect of Sleeman Centre is the fact that it is in a mall. Old Quebec Street is a beautiful old street that has been covered and is a vibrant shopping centre in the heart of the city. The Storm box office and the main outlet of the team shop are actually outside the arena proper and are in the mall, operating out of regular storefronts. When you reach one end of the mall, there is the Guelph Sport Hall of Fame and banners of all OHL clubs as well as an arena entrance, with the concourse and then the seating bowl right there.
Banners are very well done here, with a new banner commemorating the Storm as 2014 OHL champions most recently raised. Banners also honour the 1952 Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and 1986 Platers squads. There are great banners commemorating Storm grads who played for Team Canada and even other international squads. On top of these are banners celebrating Guelph-born NHL referees and one commemorating Paul Fendley, a Storm player who was killed after an on-ice accident.
The scoreboard is modern, clear, and well-used. Also cool is the Storm entrance, when the arena is flooded with smoke and the atmosphere is augmented by the designated Storm Trackers supporters section in 116, where the most passionate fans sit.
Sleeman Centre is perfectly located in the heart of downtown Guelph, along the banks of the Speed River. The compact and historic city of 150,000 is among the safest in Canada, and maintains its old feel as a centre of the surrounding agricultural regions. However, it is also a major student town, home to a university whose students patronise establishments throughout the core.
The city is growing too, with new condominiums sprouting at either end of the arena.
Outside the mall, which is a beautiful covered old street in the heart of Guelph, there are plenty of pubs and restaurant options. McCabe's Pub is a popular option for a pint a couple blocks away. Guelph is generally an affordable city with many restaurants costing less than one may expect to pay in other cities.
Storm fans pack the building when the team is doing well, and are noisier than their counterparts in many other Ontario cities. The often-cyclical nature of junior teams' success means that there can be some lean years and the last time round, Guelph's attendance did drop off a bit, which is not uncommon. However, the building is generally close to sold out most of the time, and the atmosphere created is a good one.
Fans are close to the action and do a good job of making noise. Fans bring flags and chant a fair bit. Interestingly, the involvement seems to tend more to generally constant noise as opposed to the deeply-focused, momentary cheering and applause at many other OHL rinks. Fans here seem less likely to applaud a good play, but more likely to start a chant at any given time.
The atmosphere is lifted considerably when the hated Kitchener Rangers make the short trip to town. If you get the chance to see this passionate derby played, you will see Storm fans at their best.
Sleeman Centre is well-located for drivers, with a large parkade attached to the shopping centre. Nearby surface options have mostly been converted into condos now, but there are certainly on-street spots. Guelph's well-served train station and transit hub is around the corner. Frequent buses to Toronto mean an evening or day trip is possible if that is the preferred option. Guelph Transit is a good way to get around town and taxis are relatively inexpensive.
Washrooms and concourses can get crowded during intermissions so it is recommended to use them during the action. This is not too bad as the open concourses mean you won't miss anything.
Storm tickets are a little on the high side for the OHL, though not out of whack by any means. Standing room for adults is $19, with average seats going for $21. To their credit, ushers seem to be very reasonable in allowing people to move into better seats if they remain empty after a certain point in the game.
Concessions are very well-priced to make up for the tickets, and Draught Picks is great value. Parking is just $5 if you choose to use that.
The Storm do a very good deal on weekends, where for just $10 extra, you can add seats to the Sunday afternoon match to go with your Friday night tickets.
Extra marks for the extensive and interesting display of banners.
Extra point for the creative reuse of the Eaton's store and the innovative arena location, taking advantage of Old Quebec Street mall.
Extra point for the buses in Guelph that say Go Storm Go during games.
Extra points for the availability of local craft beer. It is unusual that an arena with a name-sponsor that has pouring rights would allow for craft breweries to operate in its arena but sure enough, the local options are there and are well-priced.
Guelph is a delightful city to visit and is well-located near Toronto, Kitchener, Hamilton, and all other centres along the busy Windsor-Quebec Corridor. The Storm are a big part of the community and visiting the Sleeman Centre is an easy way to see an excellent junior hockey atmosphere and a great on-ice product. Guelph is a great option for OHL hockey and Sleeman Centre is one of the nicer arenas in the league.
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.
9 Wyndham St. North
Guelph, ON N1H 4E2
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Guelph, ON N1H 4E5
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Guelph, ON N1H 2Z6
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