One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Arena Salaberry - Home of the Valleyfield Braves
February 9, 2017 - Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec
Arena Salaberry is one of the oldest remaining hockey arenas in Quebec, having opened in 1936. Arena Salaberry is a modern arena that opened in 2011. Both of these seemingly contradictory statements are true. Thanks to some information we gathered from Kevin Jordan's QMJHL Arena Guide website we learned that this venue has one of the most interesting stories in all of hockey, and is indeed both old and new. The aging Arena Salaberry was a tiny barn with 4 rows of wooden seats around its ice pad, and had played host to hockey since its inception, including 1950's Senior versions of the Braves which were managed by Toe Blake. With the arena's structure on its last legs a plan which called for completely tearing down the walls and roof and rebuilding around the original ice pad and small seating bowl was hatched. A new arena was constructed around the old ice and seating, leaving what is today known as Arena Salaberry. What currently stands is an excellently appointed and modern arena which suits the city quite well. The arena's current modern look features wooden accents and a lot of metal and glass work on the exterior. A high-rise entrance sits at one corner of the building, and the squared off corners have small, flat roof areas. The rest of the building has the familiar curved vaulted roof of a typical small arena, yet the entire project comes together to be quite appealing to the eye and has a modern industrial look. Gray metal siding is mixed in with windows on the modern side wall that is next to the small parking lot which is on site. The ends of the arena are covered in a white metal siding. Arena Salaberry sits on one of the narrow, crowded streets of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which is a medium-sized city about an hour west of Montreal that sits on an island in the St. Lawrence River known as Grand-Ile. The Braves have built up a good following over the years, and Thursday night is hockey night in Valleyfield. The Braves draws good crowds compared to many other teams in the LHJQ. Despite the venue's modern look, the 4 rows of aging wooden seats at ice level give a bit of a clue to the arena's past and interesting history. Arena Salaberry is a classic example of an older venue transformed into a nearly new arena, and given a new life to serve the community which has had such a strong hockey tradition.
Arena Salaberry is a busy place on game night. A small box office window sits just inside the main entry doors in the lobby. A ticket for this Thursday matchup against the St. Jerome Pantheres cost $11. The lobby is bustling with activity, including the team mascot greeting every fan who enters, and a giveaway tent from the local Giant Tiger which was handing out thunder sticks as the night's sponsor. The modern lobby has a high ceiling and glass walls, and has some interesting modern sculptures hanging from the ceiling. A projector is used on game night to show images on one of the lobby walls welcoming fans. Photos of the players on the current Braves roster are also displayed in the lobby. Once inside the arena itself you see where the old and new come together to make what is now a modern arena with old bones and a classic feel. A small seating bowl comprised of 4 rows of decades-old wooden seats runs in a U-shape around the ice. A Concourse runs above those seats, with a standing rail above the seats on one side of the ice. A new upper deck of seating sits high above the ice, and features 7 steeply pitched rows of blue plastic seats. We were not able to find the seating capacity of Arena Salaberry listed anywhere, but would guess you could easily fit 2500 fans here without too much difficulty. The concourse also houses a team store and pro shop underneath the upper level seating, and a large restaurant area which serves as the arena's only food concession, and is complete with a large seating section where fans can dine at tables. The cinder block walls are painted gray and red giving a modern look, and there is suite seating on an upper level across from the new upper deck seating grandstand. The juxtaposition of old and new continues throughout the arena as the boards along the ice surface are ancient wooden boards, and the center ice scoreclock is also a bit of a throwback. The ceiling features open duct-work, and the place is kept rather dark inside, with the black ceiling beams and dark ceiling making things seem a bit more dim than they actually are. The layout of the arena is a unique one, with the upper level providing an excellent view and great sightlines, and the lower seating being very close to the ice. What they have done here with combining classic bones and a modern skin has made Arena Salaberry an excellent place to watch a game.
The game day atmosphere and presentation is typical of what you normally find in Quebec. Despite being only 10 miles from the Ontario border the experience is authentically French-Canadian. Fans provide great support for the Braves and are loud and animated. The player introductions feature a professional looking presentation. As is the norm in most of Quebec 20% of the fans sit down during the National Anthem and another 20% talk through it, but the fans are passionate and provide a level of excitement which can be felt immediately once the action starts. The arena has a classic feel to it despite having most of its construction being less than 10 years old. The quirks in the building design make for a decided advantage to the home team as the benches are on opposite sides of the ice which is very common in Quebec, but are offset toward the same end of the ice, thus making for long changes for the visiting team for 2 periods. Teams head down a set of stairs to the dressing rooms on the lower level, making for an interesting dynamic as the teams head back to the benches to start each period. The teams mascot, know as Tipi, is very active in interacting with the fans throughout the game, and the atmosphere is kept fun during intermission with fan shootout contests during both breaks between periods. The arena has quite a few banners hung from the rafters commemorating the success of past Braves teams and players. The crowd is loud and raucous through the game, and the intensity of the level of support form the fans helped shape the best atmosphere we have ever experienced at a regular season Junior A level game. The crowd all seem to sit on the side behind the Braves bench, which also is the side featuring the upper level, and you get the sense that this is a very old school crowd that likes their hockey to be physical and their team to play hard. The Braves took a 6-3 win over the Pantheres so the crowd went home happy on this Thursday night. Arena Salaberry is just the right size to house a large crowd for a Junior A game, and with its modern look and great sight lines is an excellent place to watch a game. Having extremely passionate and vocal fans is an added plus to enjoying a game here. Once you learn of the history of the arena, the rebuilding of its structure, and the nostalgic feel that you get once you realize how the whole package of old and new that makes up this arena comes together you can really appreciate how unique Arena Salaberry is in current age of modern, lifeless, cookie-cutter arenas. A trip here to see a Braves games certainly makes for a memorable stop in anyone's hockey travels.