Photos by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Scotiabank Saddledome 555 Saddledome Rise SE Calgary, AB T2G 2W1
Year Opened: 1983
Hitmen, Take Two
The Calgary Hitmen entered the Western Hockey League in 1995, filling the junior hockey gap in Calgary caused by the departure of the Calgary Wranglers in 1987. Named after wrestling legend and team co-founder Brett “The Hitman” Hart, the Hitmen have gone on to enjoy a great deal of success, earning the best record in the WHL four times, and going all the way to the Memorial Cup twice.
The Hitmen’s success has extended all the way to the NHL. They’ve had more than three dozen players make it to the pro ranks, including stars Ryan Getzlaf, Brad Stuart and Andrew Ladd.
Although the Wranglers played in the old Stampede Corral, the Hitmen play next door in the much larger Scotiabank Saddledome.
At almost 30 years of age, the Saddledome is starting to show some signs of age, but it has seen a number of renovations along the way to keep things fresh.
Food & Beverage 3
There is a decent variety of choices around the Scotiabank Saddledome. All the typical fare is available at the main concessions at pretty typical prices, whether you’re looking for a hot dog, fries, nachos or popcorn.
You will also find Pizza 73, Good Earth Coffee and a Jugo Juice for fans who want something a little different. The Jugo Juice station also has some healthy options, such as the chicken wrap, for the more health conscious among us.
The atmosphere at the game I attended was fairly laid back and relaxed; no big energy, no loud cheering. This perhaps can be partly attributed to spreading 7,000 fans around a stadium built to accommodate 19,000. The Avison Young section of the lower bowl (the premium seats) was about half empty and there were very few people above about the 10th row of the upper bowl. With large spaces left largely unoccupied, building a bunch of excitement and intensity in the stands seemed like a challenge.
To be fair, Calgary crowds in general tend to be fairly subdued. Also, the Hitmen historically have drawn even bigger crowds to the ‘Dome, which would typically bring up the crowd noise. And overall, although the Saddledome never did rock during the game, it looked like the audience was engaged and enjoying things just fine.
The Scotiabank Saddledome is located in the northeast corner of the Stampede Grounds, just south and east of the downtown core. The immediate vicinity, known as Victoria Park, isn’t the best neighborhood in town by a long shot. However, there has been a substantial amount of gentrification in the area in the last few years and things are starting to perk up, with skyscraping condo complexes growing up in a couple locations to the immediate north as well as across the street to the west. And most of those complexes have some kind of restaurant or bar on the ground floor.
Just a few blocks due west of the Stampede Grounds on 17th Ave you’ll find a string of clubs and bars that have come to be known as “The Red Mile.” Among the most popular is Melrose Place, right in the heart of things. You’ll also find the Ship and Anchor Pub, which has been repeatedly named Best Neighbourhood Pub in Calgary by local publication “Fast Forward Weekly.” You’ll also find my favorite local Mexican restaurant, El Sombrero, on the east end of the Red Mile.
Historically, the Hitmen have drawn some of the biggest crowds ever in the WHL. According to their Wikipedia page in 2004-05 they were the first Canadian Hockey League team to average 10,000 fans per game.
This year (2012-2013) the Hitmen average attendance of just over 8,600 is a little more modest than that record-breaking season, but that’s still more than the capacity of every other Alberta WHL rink except Rexall Place in Edmonton. In fact, they have been over the 10,000 mark three times in the 2012-2013 season.
As noted above, the crowd is generally low-key but attentive to the game. They know their hockey and they respond appropriately to the hits, the goals and the referees’ calls.
Calgary has the second highest downtown parking rates in North America, behind only New York City . So if you drive down to the Stampede Grounds, expect to pay for the privilege-parking on the grounds which will run you $13 and, depending on what other events might be going on around the area, might fill up quickly.
There are also choices off-site for slightly less expensive parking options. A few local residents rent out yard space for parking and there is some metered street parking in the vicinity for people willing to do a little walking.
The good news is that being centrally located means the Saddledome is fairly easy to get to from all directions. Expect the usual stop-and-go delays that go hand-in-hand with traveling downtown in a city of more than a million people.
Another good option is taking Calgary’s Light Rail Transit system to the game. The “C-Train” has two stops on the west side of the Stampede Grounds, one to the south and one on the north end which has a connecting walkway that will take you directly to the Saddledome. The LRT tracks cover a significant amount of the city running north and south, so it can be a more convenient option for fans not wanting the hassle of driving downtown, although the trains can get crowded after events.
An adult fare for Calgary Transit is $2.75, youths are $1.75.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to see the Calgary Hitmen run anywhere from $16 to $36 while students and children can get into the cheap seats for $12 each. Compared to the price of a Flames game to see NHL hockey this is a real bargain.
For the great price, you can count on seeing a quality hockey game in a good location.
There are a number of added extras when you come see the Hitmen at the ‘Dome. The walls of the building are lined with memorabilia, photos and trophies commemorating great teams and events from years past in the Calgary area. For example, there is a substantial exhibit remembering the excitement of the 1988 Winter Olympics, which were held, in large part, at the Saddledome. You could probably spend the entire game in the concourse looking at and reading all the displays, so there’s lots to check out.
You’ll also find a couple locations of Flames Fan Attic for all your souvenir needs, including clothing and knick-knacks for all three of the ‘Dome’s regular residents: the Hitmen, the Flames, and the Calgary Roughnecks.
Roaming the stands during the game, and taking part in activities between periods, team mascot Farley the Fox keeps the kids entertained throughout the event.
Looking up into the rafters, you’ll see the large row of championship banners amassed during the Hitmen’s history, along with the Flames’ and Roughnecks’ banners.
Overall, the Hitmen do a nice job of keeping the fans entertained. Taking in a game is well worth it.