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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

GFL Memorial Gardens - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

GFL Memorial Gardens 269 Queen St. E Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 1Y9

Year Opened: 2006

Capacity: 4,928

The Great Red North

If there is one thing above all that the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are known for, it is their connection to the greatest hockey player ever, Wayne Gretzky. In 1977, the Greyhounds selected the slender, sixteen year old with the third pick in the midget draft. Gretzky would not disappoint by scoring a Greyhound record 182 points in his only season in the Soo. It would be the Soo where the legend of 99 was born. Upon arriving in the Soo, Wayne was distraught to find his coveted number nine, which belonged to his hockey hero, Gordie Howe, was taken by Brian Gulalazzi. After a few games wearing fourteen, Greyhounds coach Muzz MacPherson suggest that Gretzky just double the nines and the most legendary number in sports was born.

The Greyhound name has been linked to hockey teams in Sault Ste. Marie since 1919. The name was selected as a jab to their rivals, the Sudbury Wolves as a “greyhound is much faster than a wolf.” The Senior A Greyhounds would win the Allan Cup in 1924. The current iteration of the team began as an NOJHL expansion team in 1962 which would transition to the OHA in 1972. The OHA would eventually become the Ontario Hockey League. The team is currently owned by medical executive Tim Lukenda. The Greyhounds achieved ultimate success in 1995 when they won the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League Champions in front of a home crowd in Sault Ste Marie. The Greyhounds have also won the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL Champions in 1985, 1991 and 1992. The importance of the Greyhounds and the 1995 Memorial Cup is immortalized on the sign coming into town where it is emblazoned with the home of astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar.

The longtime home for the Hounds was Sault Memorial Gardens. The venerable arena was replaced in 2006 by the City of Sault Ste. Marie with what is now known as GFL Memorial Gardens. The naming rights to the arena changed in 2018 and the “Memorial Gardens” aspect of the arena name was brought back. The Gardens is a great spot for a game and a perfect OHL venue with some local flare.

Food & Beverage 4

The concession selections at GFL Memorial Gardens are pretty standard for the OHL. They will neither disappoint fans nor blow them out of the water. There are four main concession stands located in each of the four corners of the main concourse above and behind the seating bowl. Fries, pizza, hot dogs, sausage, nachos, popcorn, and onion rings are all available at reasonable prices. Some new items available include breaded cappelletti, breaded dill pickles, donut holes on a stick and potato twisters. Healthier options are also available on the menu and feature apple slices and Pepsi products are the main soda in the venue, while juice, bottled water, slushies, Gatorade, coffee, tea and cappuccinos are also available. Molson Canadian and Coors Light are available on tap and some other limited alcoholic beverages are also for sale.

The food score at the Gardens get a bit of a bump up with the two sitting areas which are a bit more unique. The southwest end of the arena is where the Coffee House can be found with a variety of coffee beverages. The Molson Canadian Hockey House is also a solid place to eat with a number of pub style dishes including club sandwiches, chicken wings and chicken parmigiana sandwiches.

Atmosphere 4

GFL Memorial Gardens is one of the best venues in a very venue-strong Ontario Hockey League. The exterior is attractive with red brick, siding and windows for natural light. The exterior of the main building is not terribly different from other modern OHL facilities. However, it is a throwback to years past with a remnant of the old Sault Gardens which distinguishes the Gardens exterior. The Memorial Tower is a tribute to Sault Ste. Marie veterans and remains from the Sault Gardens days. The tower shines a red beacon on Greyhound home game days.

The interior of the Gardens is similar to many other OHL venues including Guelph and Sarnia. Entry to the Gardens leads into the main concourse, which is behind the seating bowl. The ice surface runs from northeast to southwest with the best spot to get a picture of the centre ice logo, from the southeast side. There are a number of screens on the walls in the concourse including a collage from the Memorial Cup season, a Captain’s Wall and a number of other screens. Unfortunately the bustle of the concourse can take away from these sites. Above centre ice is the four-sided video board which has seen better days. It is in dire need of replacement as some parts of the video were not even functioning on the date of review. The video board is surrounded by a plethora of championship banners for various division and conference achievements. The highlight is the 1993 Memorial Cup Champions banner, which unfortunately, looks just like all of the others. Along the southwest side of the arena hang the banners of honoured Greyhounds including such hockey legends as John Vanbiesbrouck, Adam Foote, Craig Hartsburg, Ron Francis and Wayne Gretzky. One of the real highlights of the Gardens can be found in the southwest end of the arena. In a spot traditionally reserved for the portrait of Queen Elizabeth, Indigenous art is hung. The wooden and stained glass pieces bring the whole arena together and give it a sense of Northern Ontario and uniqueness that can’t be found in other arenas.

The game day production is about what you would expect at a junior hockey game. It is not over the top or too involved. The Hounds enter the ice through an inflatable dog house and the music played is a healthy mix of classic rock with a little country sprinkled in for good measure. The Greyhounds’ mascot, Dash, takes part in the opening ceremonies of the game and then can be found interacting with the crowd and participating in promotions throughout the game.

Neighbourhood 4

The GFL Memorial Gardens is located basically a block east of the waterfront, and across Bay Street from the Station Mall. There are a number of options for food or drink before or after the game. It is important to remember that it is very cold in the Sault and fans won’t want to stray too far from the car during an evening game. Some options in the immediate area include the Outspoken Brewing, Solo Trattoria, Johnny’s Chophouse and Embers Grill & Smokehouse. There are a ton of hotels that surround the arena as well, which may be your best bet for a place to stay. The Holiday Inn Express and Quality Inn & Suites are both within walking distance of the Gardens. For fans coming from the other side of town, a stop at North 82 Steakhouse would be a great choice for a place to eat.

There are not a ton of other sporting options in Sault Ste. Marie for fans. The Algoma Thunderbirds participate in USports basketball at the George Leach Centre. Otherwise, hopping the border to catch a Lake Superior State hockey game may be the best idea. For other entertainment options, the Sault Ste. Marie Museum or the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre are worth checking out or Gateway Casinos Sault Ste. Marie for the gambler.

Fans 4

Greyhound fans are a loyal and hearty bunch. With the Greyhounds occupying the top rung for sporting options in a city of over 78,000, the GFL Memorial Gardens is a great place to catch a game. For the 2019 season, the Greyhounds have drawn over 4,000 fans per game. They typically rank right in the middle of the OHL for average fan attendance, usually ranking between eighth and tenth. Considering the capacity of the Gardens is just under 5,000, the fan support in the Sault is solid. There is some concern that the fan base trends on the older side and the team may need to find ways to entice younger fans to come out for some hockey. The fans are fairly intense with conversations generally being relegated to stoppages in play. When the time is right, the fans do get loud, however there is not a ton of extra noise. Fans also like to get on the officials in Sault Ste. Marie.

Access 4

The GFL Memorial Gardens is located between Queen and Bay Streets, not far from the waterfront, and the bridge to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Both Queen and Bay are one-way streets as are most of the streets in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. It’s not hard to get to, but it is not exceedingly close to the Trans-Canada Highway. There is a decent sized parking lot on site, which is reserved for subscribers. Many local patrons park at the Station Mall for game night, which also avoids parking charges.

Inside, the concourses are decent size, and the bathroom facilities are good as well. However, community tables and dining areas take up valuable real estate in the concourses and make it kind of crowded. For fans wishing to take public transit to the Gardens, buses run along Queen, Bay and Dennis Streets. Fans should check out the Sault Ste. Marie Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.

Return on Investment 5

As with nearly all OHL franchises, there is great value in Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds hockey for the sporting dollar. Tickets for the Hounds will go for $21, $18, or $11 based on the age of the fan. Parking can easily be found in the Sault for free and concession prices are decent. The product on the ice is fast paced and exciting. The Greyhounds have also consistently put a competitive team on the ice. All in all this equals a fantastic return on investment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for former Greyhounds coach Muzz MacPherson and his place in hockey history. It was Coach MacPherson that convinced a young Wayne Gretzky that two nines were better than one when Wayne could not get his traditional number 9. It was with the Greyhounds, that Gretzky’s now iconic number 99 was born.

An extra mark for the Dog-Fight rivalry that the Greyhounds have with the neighbouring Sudbury Wolves.

An extra mark for the “Memorial” returning to the name of the arena, a nod back to the old Sault Memorial Gardens and honouring the local veterans.

Final Thoughts

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are most definitely a competitive experience that can be compared to most any Ontario Hockey League experience. The GFL Memorial Gardens is one of the best venues in the league and the Hounds are a consistently competitive team. When in the Sault, it is a great idea to check out some Hound Power.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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