December 18, 2014 - St. Catharines, Ontario
When OHL hockey returned to the Niagara Region in 2007, after a more than 10 year absence once the Niagara Falls Thunder left town, it did so in the intimate confines of St. Catharines' Jack Gatecliff Arena. "The Jack" was considered too small, too old and not a sufficient arena to host the OHL long term. The critics were right, it was too small and too old, but it was a place filled with character and charm, and its old wooden seats and cramped confines were the perfect place to watch junior hockey. Fast-forward nearly 7 years and the Meridian Centre was born, occupying much of the area that was used by fans as a parking lot a short walk away from Jack Gatecliff Arena. The Meridian Centre is a modern industrial looking facility which sits just below downtown, and is connected to the cities main streets via a concrete footbridge. The building's exterior features a red brick and gray metal exterior, with blue signage bearing the Meridian Credit Union name. The lobby area and end of the building feature gray concrete and several stories of windows. A small parking lot sits in front of the arena but is used by staff and players only, fans must find parking downtown and walk across the footbridge. Parking can be found nearby at $5 or less however. A simple metal awning marks the box office entrance on the lower level of the arena. A small concrete patio sits in front of the entrance with flag poles nearby. All seats are the same price at IceDogs contests this season, and we secured our $25 ticket a couple hours before gametime at the lower level lobby. The Meridian Centre has the exterior profile and look of many of the other 21st century mid-sized arenas, and is certainly a departure from the old school Jack Gatecliff Arena.
Entry for most fans is a little different than most venues as lots of folks take the footbridge from St. Paul Street, thus entering at the top of the arena. Head down a couple flights of stairs and your ticket will be scanned and you will enter at the upper concourse above the seating bowl. A single bowl of 17 rows of blue plastic seats circles the ice, and a fairly wide upper concourse extends all the way around the rink. At one end of the concourse is the St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame, honoring local athletes, and at the other is the IceDogs team store, which was fairly well stocked and was doing a steady business during this Thursday evening game the week before Christmas. The arena has a bit of a dark feel as the concourse floors are gray and the seats a dark blue. Some of the concourse walls are painted yellow but the dark feel is not overcome by that. The concourse extends underneath the luxury suites on 3 sides of the arena, with the end near the Wall of Fame being open to the ceiling of the building. The modern industrial look continues on the inside of the arena as the ceiling is rather flat and has open duct work and exposed metal rafters. One very noticeable feature is the odd lighting setup as all lights come from the sides of the arena above the suites, and are beamed downward at an angle, making for some glare depending on where you are sitting. The concessions are easy to access, and located in several spots along the concourse. With all seats being the same price the ends seem to stay less full than the center ice seats as one would expect. The arena floor is larger than the ice surface, and the seats on the end near the Wall of Fame are on temporary aluminum risers, but still offer a good view. There are 2 rows of orange seats on this end, and they appear to be a bit of an attempt at a small discounted family section. A modern video board sits above center ice and a crystal clear PA greets the fans as one would expect in a newly constructed building. It will take some time for the Meridian Centre to develop more of a homey feel as upon first glance it has the same homogenized feel as most other newly opened arenas, and has a bit of a cookie-cutter design to it. With a capacity of 5,300 the Meridian Centre is clearly able to handle crowds better than the cramped arena a block away.
The gameday presentation at an IceDogs game at the Meridian is modern and polished and very entertainment-based, yet has a couple of old school elements which we will get to in a minute. A decent crowd of 3700 was on hand for this Thursday night game against Owen Sound. We feel $25 bucks is a bit much for the cheapest tickets in the arena for OHL hockey, but fans in this region seem OK with it. The crowd, as are many crowds in Ontario, was rather reserved and quiet, but knew when to cheer and be loud. A female roaming announcer works the crowd during stoppages with giveaways, and after an IceDogs goal a Ric Flair "Woo" is yelled over the PA and echoed by the crowd. The sight lines are good, although standing is limited on the sides simply due to the fact that they added the last row of seats above the concourse floor, therefore if you stand behind the last row the person in the seat in front of you is actually elevated. There is decent standing room on the ends. Intermission entertainment consisted of peewee hockey as well as a fan shootout contest. The venue did make some attempts to carry over an old school feel though. The goal horn is very loud, and sits exposed on a pole above the end concourse. It can shake the building, and blew quite a few time during this 8-7 overtime win by the IceDogs. The 50/50 drawing is sponsored by the Junior B St. Catharines Falcons, and it is good to see both teams, who previously shared Jack Gatecliff Arena, cooperating. The coolest old school feature of the Meridian Centre is the fact that there is a live organist who plays often during stoppages, which is a pleasant change from the usual arena rock and dance music which is piped into most arenas. The organist is a younger dude who sits at his organ which is on the concourse and in plain view of all fans walking bay on the way to the concession stand. We appreciate this attempt to capture the feel of hockey in the past and give props to the IceDogs and the Meridian Centre for adding this element to the gameday experience. The game itself was a blast as there were 4 goals scored in the last 3 minutes of regulation, and the fans went away happy with the IceDogs victory. We came away from our visit to the Meridian Centre with the immediate realization that "This is not The Jack", and part of that statement saddens us, but, despite the sterile new arena feel of the building, we feel that over time the arena will build its own sense of history and character as the OHL continues to have a home in the Niagara Region.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Niagara IceDogs can be found at: IceDogs Home
Other information about the Meridian Centre can be found at: Arena Home
More photos of the Meridian Centre can be found Here