- Dave Cottenie
Sleeman Centre - Guelph Storm
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Sleeman Centre 50 Woolwich St Guelph, ON N1H 3V1
Year Opened: 2000
At one point, the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, Ontario was a retail hub downtown. Guelph had a large Eaton’s department store, much like many other Ontario cities. With the downfall of the Canadian retail giant, the Eaton Centre in Guelph was empty. An opportunity for another downtown draw resulted in the building of what is now the Sleeman Centre in 2000. This plan was accelerated with the news that the local OHL team, the Guelph Platers, would be moving to Owen Sound. In 1991, with plans to replace the Guelph Memorial Gardens underway, the Dukes of Hamilton, who were formerly the iconic Toronto Marlboros, would be moving to Guelph to become the Guelph Storm.
Although not normally considered a cornerstone franchise of the OHL, the Storm have been among the most consistent both on the ice and at the turnstile. The Storm have participated in the Memorial Cup tournament on six occasions and won the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions four times. There have also been a number of NHL players who have donned the Storm jersey over the years.
Food & Beverage 4
Concession options at the Sleeman Centre are not over the top. All of the expected items are present including popcorn, pizza, nachos and pretzel bites. Stopping in at the Candy Counter to choose one of many different confection options is a unique experience to the Sleeman Centre. Coca-Cola products are the soft drinks of choice and coffee, tea and hot chocolate headline the hot drinks available. Of course there are numerous Sleeman beer options for consumers, which is a welcome change to the typical beer choices found at most arenas. Fans may want to check out Draught Picks, the in arena restaurant with some views of the ice, may be an option fans could take advantage of.
Being built in essentially a former department store, and attached to the remnants of a major shopping mall, offers the Sleeman Centre a degree of uniqueness. The front of the building on Woolwich, which fans actually rarely see, is fairly non-descript. Some windows to allow natural light are the highlight, and the contrast of dark and light on the exterior is attractive but will not command attention. Gate 1 is found here, but the majority of fans will enter through the Old Quebec Street Mall. Entering through the mall will give fans the opportunity to pursue the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, which is a series of framed entries for those specific individuals who have been enshrined over the years. Some hunting may lead to the discovery of former NHL referees Bill McCreary and Ray Scapinelo, who both hail from Guelph. Ascending the staircase to the main entrance is pretty non-descript.
Entry into the Sleeman Centre brings fans past the entry to the Draught Picks, the arena restaurant on the south side of the seating bowl. The seating bowl is one level with an open concourse behind the seats and club seats and luxury boxes on a level above. The ice surface is oriented in an east-west direction and fans who want that perfect centre-ice logo photo opportunity will want to be on the north side. Championship banners for the division and conference championships the Storm have enjoyed hang on the east side. This also includes the J. Ross Robertson Cup banners from 1998, 2004, 2014 and 2019. The Storm also commemorate hosting the Memorial Cup in 2002 with a banner, as well as the 1952 Memorial Cup Champion Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and the 1988 Memorial Cup Champion Guelph Platers. To the north of those banners hang the retired and honoured numbers. These include the honoured numbers of Todd Bertuzzi and Jeff O’Neil and the retired number 18 of Paul Fendley. Fendley was a member of a former Guelph junior team, the CMCs, who died in an on-ice incident at the Guelph Memorial Gardens in 1972. There is also a framed jersey and commemorative plaque for Fendley that can be found in the concourse. On the club level at the east end, where there are no boxes or seats, there are murals on the north and south sides listing all of the players who have played in the World Junior Hockey Championships and those who have played in the National Hockey League as well. The four-sided video board at centre ice also has an upper and lower ribbon ring as well as a simple score clock above the rectangular screens. However, it is missing a spot for listing penalties, which are ineffectively superimposed on the videoscreen.
The open concourse offers fans the opportunity for standing room or to be able to see the action on the ice while heading to the concessions. There are a number of interesting items that can be found in the concourse, including team pictures from the duration of the Storm’s existence and other framed memorabilia. Interestingly, all the Section numbers feature names of Storm alumni who have worn that number over the years. A unique item in the OHL.
The gameday production in Guelph is on par with other experiences in the Ontario Hockey League. A variety of modern music is played throughout the stoppages and warm ups. The mascot Spyke can be found on the ice or around the arena. Traditionally, during the third period, Spyke would dance in the club level at the east end, to Cotton Eye Joe, however, the team has decided to continue the tradition to a different song.
There are a number of places within walking distance of the Sleeman Centre to grab some food or a drink. The Sip Club, La Reina and McCabes are all good options. There are also a number of fast food chains that can be found within a walking radius of the arena.
Fans looking for more sports in the area may want to consider the Guelph Nighthawks of the CEBL, who also play in the Sleeman Centre during the summer months. Heading to the University of Guelph may also be of interest where the Gryphons play football at Alumni Stadium, hockey at Gryphon Centre Arena and basketball at the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre. Non sporting options may include seeing something at the River Run Centre, on the opposite side of Woolwich Street, or taking a tour at the Sleeman Brewery in Guelph.
For fans wishing to stay in Downtown Guelph, the Royal Inn and Suites and Western Hotel, may be of interest.
The Guelph Storm have found themselves in the top third in OHL attendance for many years. In the Covid affected 2021-2022 season, the Storm averaged over 2,900 fans per game, seventh in the OHL. They typically attract just over 4,000 fans per game and are one of the most consistent franchises in the league. Storm fans are fairly laid back and not overly rambunctious. However, games against the hated Kitchener Rangers are a different story. Overall, the fans do not detract from the experience, and often enhance it.
Getting to the Sleeman Centre is not terribly difficult. The confluence of Highways 6 and 7 is less than four kilometers from the arena. Most fans are heading to the parking garages off of McDonnell Street, so the intersection of Woolwich and MacDonnell can be a challenge closer to puck drop. There are a few parking garages downtown, so finding a spot should not be an issue. For fans wishing to take public transit, the Guelph Transit Station is less than a block away. Fans should check out the Guelph Transit website for fares, maps and schedules. Security and Covid restrictions are constantly changing in Ontario. Stadium Journey encourages all fans to check with the Guelph Storm and Sleeman Centre websites for up to date security information.
Getting around the Sleeman Centre can be a bit of a challenge as the concourses are not huge. Intermission times are particularly bad and lines for the washrooms then can be long. The stairs from the Old Quebec Street Mall may present a problem for those with mobility issues.
Return on Investment 5
OHL hockey continues to be one of the best sporting investments for the dollar. Tickets for the Storm are heading towards the expensive side with seats going for $29, with student and senior discounts available. VIP tickets and Club seats are for $45 and $35 respectively, but are not necessary due to the terrific sightlines at the Sleeman Centre. The Storm do offer ticket packages and other incentives that are not normally available in other OHL markets. Parking will go for $5 and concession prices are decent. The return for the investment remains excellent, with a solid gameday presentation in a solid facility and excellent product on the ice. However, the ROI score will probably drop if ticket prices continue to rise.
An extra mark for the Storm Chasers Booster Club.
An extra mark for the City of Guelph and their excellent use of a downtown structure to incorporate OHL hockey.
An extra mark for the Guelph tradition of honouring players who score a hat trick with a Biltmore hat.
An extra mark for the intense rivalry with the Kitchener Rangers.
The Guelph Storm are probably not the first team thought of when regaling others with tales of the Ontario Hockey League, however, the Storm have been a solid franchise throughout their duration and their home, the Sleeman Centre, is a solid hockey venue. Storm City is worth checking out and fans should definitely consider a trip to Guelph for some OHL hockey.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.