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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Sleeman Centre - The Frosty Mug

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey.

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43

Sleeman Centre 50 Woolwich St Guelph, ON N1H 3V1

Year Opened: 2000

Capacity: 4,715

The Frosty Mug Runneth Over

The rivalry game. The mythical, much anticipated annual matchup which is only surpassed by a championship. It seems that the college atmosphere is the best place for the rivalry game. Too often in professional sports, the scarcity which made the rivalry game great has been abandoned for the lure of the dollar bill. The best rivalries seem to have long-standing, obscure trophies attached to them. The Little Brown Jug, Paul Bunyan’s Axe, The Wagon Wheel, the Old Oaken Bucket, the Old Oil Can and the Old Brass Spittoon come to mind. Canadian university sports have gotten into the act and now have some games which are taking the nation by storm. Led by the resurgent Panda Game, the annual football clash pitting Carleton University against the University of Ottawa, the rivalry game has stretched across university hockey as well. Calgary’s Crowchild Classic, St. Catharines Steelblade Classic and Kingston’s Carr-Harris Cup are drawing record breaking crowds for USports hockey. Among those relatively new rivalries is the amazingly named Frosty Mug.

In 2020, the University of Guelph held the 11th Frosty Mug. Although originally thought of as a one-off game played at the much larger Sleeman Centre, home of the Guelph Storm of the OHL, and featuring the Waterloo Warriors as the opponent, more than half of the games have pitted the Gryphons against nearby Waterloo, Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, including the most recent four games. The annual classic has consistently improved on the ice and at the turnstile and has become one of a handful of marquee USports hockey games.

Food & Beverage 4

Concession options are about what you would expect for an Ontario Hockey League venue. With a capacity crowd all concession stands are available, which is not always the case for a one off game like this. The beer selection is fantastic, with the focus being on Sleeman products, which are brewed in Guelph about 10 minutes from the arena. Draught Picks is the in-arena restaurant and offers a variety of food options on a first come first served basis for seating.

Atmosphere 4

The Sleeman Centre was built in 2000 on the site of a former Eaton’s department store. It is built within an indoor shopping mall and most of the entries into the facility are within the Old Quebec Street Shoppes mall. Inside the arena, there is a single concourse which wraps around and behind the seating bowl. The ice surface runs from east to west, with the best view of the centre ice logo (of the Guelph Storm) from the north side. Club seating and luxury boxes sit above the seating bowl on three sides of the arena. The south side of the arena also features Draught Picks, a full service, in-venue restaurant.

Above centre-ice is a state of the art video board, which is transformed with Guelph Gryphons content for the Frosty Mug. With the Sleeman Centre serving mainly as the home of the Guelph Storm, championship banners from the OHL team and previous iterations of junior hockey in Guelph dominate the rafters. Markings around the concourses follow suit. However, with the popularity of the annual Frosty Mug, it would be nice to see some recognition for the event, similar to the way the Beanpot has a permanent presence at TD Garden in Boston.

The game day production for the Frosty Mug is different from other OUA games or even OHL games. The event is billed as the party of the year for University of Guelph students and it is treated as such. The noise level is loud throughout the game and the music is carefully selected to encourage the sing-along, dance party which ensues when “Sweet Caroline” or “Mr. Brightside” are played. In an odd occurrence, the crowd belted out the lyrics to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” when played over the PA, a song traditionally associated with Wilfrid Laurier University. The Guelph Gryphons figure skating team performs during the first intermission and promotions are speckled throughout the game and during the intermissions. Gryph, the Gryphons mascot, has a significant role in the game, shooting t-shirts into the crowd, leading the team on the ice and interacting with fans, players and even the opposition.

Neighbourhood 5

The Sleeman Centre is located in the centre of Downtown Guelph. There are plenty of locations within walking distance of the arena for pre and post game fare: Bobby O’Brien’s, McCabe’s Irish Pub & Grill, The Ward Bar, Robusta Cafe & Lounge, Buon Gusto, Royal Electric Bar & Public Eatery, La Cucina, Bin 23. The Albion Hotel and Western Hotel Burgers & Steaks are some of the options that can be found around Macdonell Street and Wyndham Street North, an easy walk from the Sleeman Centre.

The Sleeman Centre is also home to the Guelph Storm of the OHL and the Guelph Nighthawks of the CEBL. The University of Guelph campus is just four kilometres away and other athletic teams play on campus. The remainder of the hockey team’s games are played at the Gryphon Centre Arena, the football team plays at Alumni Stadium and the basketball teams play at the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre. As far as other entertainment options, the River Run Centre is on the opposite side of Woolwich Street from Sleeman Centre. The Old Quebec Street Shoppes offer some shopping options and The Guelph Concert Theatre offers some musical acts. The Guelph Civic Museum may also be of interest.

For fans needing a place to stay near the Sleeman Centre, Western Hotel & Executive Suites is right there and the Holiday Inn is a very short drive away.

Fans 5

Simply put, the Frosty Mug is now the annual highlight to the OUA hockey schedule. From the 2016 edition to the 2020 edition, the Frosty Mug has eclipsed the previous year’s attendance record, culminating in an attendance in 2020 of over 4,900. Of the seven highest attended OUA hockey games, the Frosty Mug holds down places three through seven. The Frosty Mug also holds attendance records in the top 15 USports hockey games in Canada. The Frosty Mug is billed as the party of the year and the fans have brought the game to the point where it is doubtful that the attendance records can be pushed even more, with the game attracting more than the Sleeman Centre’s capacity.

Although there are some visiting fans that make the journey to Guelph, make no mistake that the Frosty Mug is a Guelph Gryphons game and the fans are loud and proud, even to the point of being reminded to keep cheers within the confines of the OUA Code of Conduct.

Access 4

The Sleeman Centre is located in Downtown Guelph, south of the Eramosa River. It is basically enclosed by Woolwich Street, Macdonell Street and Wyndham Street North. It is about 3 kilometres from the junction of highways 6 and 7, the major arteries into the city of Guelph. If timed correctly, getting to the arena by car is not overly difficult, however some downtown turns will take some time the closer fans get to puck drop. An added bonus of the Frosty Mug is that there are so many students that go to the game, parking is not an issue at all. In fact, parking in can be found for free in one of the parking garages adjacent to Sleeman Centre. Public transit can be found immediately across Macdonell Street as the hub of Guelph Transit. Fans should check out the Guelph Transit website for fares, schedules and maps.

The past few years, the Frosty Mug has been a complete sell-out, so the necessity of visiting a ticket window is not necessary. Getting around the concourses can be a real challenge with all of the people at this game. Concession lines are seriously long, especially for beer. Washrooms can also be busy, but it is not terrible.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets for the Frosty Mug go for $15. Although it is more than a regular Gryphons hockey game, $15 is an excellent price for an event of this magnitude. Concessions are what one would expect for an OHL game, but not too expensive. Parking can be found for free also. The atmosphere at the Frosty Mug is nearly beyond description and at the very least, exciting. In the end, the Frosty Mug offers a tremendous value and an unbelievable return for the investment.

Extras 4

An extra mark for the annual incorporation of the Guelph Gryphons figure skating team into the Frosty Mug, who perform to a rousing ovation during the first intermission.

An extra mark for the building of the Frosty Mug game, which began with a modest attendance of over 1,100 to a game that eclipsed its own attendance record each year since.

An extra mark for the Frosty Mug settling into a rivalry game format with the Laurier Golden Hawks playing in over half of the matchups, including the most recent four.

An extra mark for the Frosty Mug itself. Both teams play for a glass mug. Like the best rivalry trophies, nothing too fancy.

Final Thoughts

Among the rivalry games found in USports, the Frosty Mug is taking its place among the elite matchups annually. The University of Guelph has done a fantastic job marketing the game to the point where the fans are regularly selling out the game. With more spirit and atmosphere than just about all other USports hockey games, the Frosty Mug is a spectacle to be seen for sure. Hopefully, the future of the game remains strong and other teams are able to recreate the magic that has been found in Guelph and continue to grow the game.

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

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