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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Nestled along the 401, between Toronto and Kingston you will find the city of Belleville. Home of the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, it is one of the smallest cities with a club in the Ontario Hockey League with a population of just 48,000. Constantly plagued by rumours of relocation, the Bulls have plugged along, and tapped into a strong spirit of community housed in Belleville.
In the late 1970's a group of Belleville railroaders known as "The Belleville Yardmen" raised more than $3 million towards the construction of the arena. The result was the aptly named, and city owned, Yardmen Arena, which is part of the larger Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. Yardmen Arena houses the Belleville Bulls who are currently owned by Gord Simmonds.
One of the unique features of the Yard is that it boasts an Olympic sized ice surface, which is bigger than a traditional NHL or OHL ice surface. This gives the Bulls a bit of a home ice advantage, and is another factor that makes the Bulls just a little bit different than the rest. The seating area is not very large, however, with a capacity of just over 3,000. This gives Yardmen Arena the distinction of being one of the biggest, yet smallest arenas in the OHL.
The Bulls have produced many NHL players including Al Iafrate, Craig Billington, Daniel Cleary, Marty McSorely, Jonathan Cheechoo, Darren McCarty and P.K. Subban. Subban's two younger brothers are currently members of the Bulls in the 2011-2012 campaign. Belleville can also claim to have produced Gretzky ... Brent Gretzky.
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 food selection at Yardmen Arena is extremely limited. You can find the normal arena fare including popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, candy, soda and beer. You can't find much more than that however. Prices are fair with hot dogs going for $3.25, nachos going for $3.75 and various sizes of fresh popcorn beginning at $2.75. Coca-Cola products are available in 591 mL bottles and also run $2.75.
There are only five concession stands, with one at ice level, so you may experience some line-ups. There are a couple of stands that sell alcohol, featuring Molson Canadian on tap for $7.25.
Yardmen Arena is part of a larger community centre. The decor is dated, and still has an early 80's feel to it outside of the arena, and in the concourse. Bulls black, red, and yellow are prominently displayed everywhere. While waiting for entry into the arena, you should make sure that you check out the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame. The entrants are on plaques throughout the concourse. If you look closely you will find recent NHL coach Marc Crawford, and a couple of NHL legends by the name of Dennis and Bobby Hull. All grew up in the Belleville area.
Once inside, the red, yellow and black colour scheme continues, with the curious exception of the seats, which are green. The Yardmen Arena is one of the few that has a balcony on each side, which adds 3 rows of seats per side. Sightlines are fantastic throughout the arena, and the incline is quite steep, so each seat makes you feel close to the action. There is also a cozy feel to the arena that is created with the small capacity.
On one goal end, the Bulls display their banners of various division winners, including the 1999 OHL Champion banner. The only number that is retired is the number 15 of Dunc McIntyre, who was a great player with the Bulls, and a local product. In the concourse, there are also banners honouring the NHL Alumni who were former Bulls.
The in-game product is fairly simple, with an emcee who hosts a couple of promotions. The public address announcer is quite good and at times has the enthusiasm, and raspy voice of an announcer for a monster truck rally commercial. There is an abundance of country music played, specifically before the action starts, which contributes to the small town feel of the rink.
The immediate area surrounding Yardmen Arena offers little in the way of eating establishments. There are some neat places, but you are going to have to hit them before, or take the car after. You could try the Slapshot Bar & Grill, or the Quinte Restaurant, right on Cannifton, or cross the river and try Smokehouse Blues. I would recommend the Prime Time Steakhouse on North Front Street.
The Bulls are averaging just over 2,300 fans per game for the 2011-2012 season. That is well below capacity. The Bulls regularly find themselves in the bottom third of the league in attendance, but have averaged almost 3,000 fans in strong years, to put them in the middle of the pack.
The fans that are there are passionate about their team, and are very friendly and accommodating to outsiders. The game had a strong sense of community about it, where it seemed that almost all of the fans knew each other. Bulls fans love their cow bells and they can be heard throughout the game. When the Bulls score, the roar is huge, and they could be considered louder than your average Ontario crowd.
Yardmen Arena is located on Cannifton Road, just south of Highway 401. This gives the traveler easy access to the arena. There is plenty of parking if you get there early enough, and it's free. The ends of the arena, where the concessions are can clog up the works a bit, but over all it's not difficult to maneuver yourself around the arena. The washroom facilities are merely adequate.
A trip to see the Belleville Bulls is extremely affordable. Tickets go for $17 a piece and the parking is free. Concession prices are decent even though the menu is unspectacular, and the quality of hockey is what you would expect for the OHL. This equation adds up to great value for your sporting dollar and a great opportunity to have some fun with the family and not have to dip into the kids' college fund.
An extra point for Belleville's own super fan, John.
John has been a regular at Bulls games for decades and comes to each game in a different costume. After Bulls goals he stands and dances and bangs on his cymbals. On the date of this review he was sporting a shiny black jump suit and bore the likeness of the King, Elvis Presley!
An extra point for the strong sense of community that you feel at the Bulls games. You may not be one of them, but they make you feel welcome.
A trip to Belleville to see the Bulls is money well spent. Although not splashy or fancy on the outside, Yardmen Arena provides a big ice surface for lots of action, and a cozy, small-town, community atmosphere which makes you feel at home. Bulls supporters are loyal and proud, and happy to share their team with you. It can be your yard too!
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151 Cannifton Rd
Belleville, ON K8N 4V4
135 Cannifton Rd
Belleville, ON K8N 4V4
260 N Front St
Belleville, ON K8P 3C4
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