October 11, 2015 - Sarnia, Ontario
Just across the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron, Michigan, Sarnia has hosted the OHL for 20 seasons, with the first couple campaigns being played at Sarnia Arena, which currently hosts the Sarnia Legionnaires Junior B team. The RBC Centre was originally known as the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre, and was opened in 1998. The arena sits in a park-like suburban setting on the campus of Lambton College. The venue is surrounded by parking lots and grassy soccer fields as well as other campus buildings. Despite being on the campus it is very close to the shopping district as while purchasing your tickets from the outside box office window you can see the Lambton Mall over our shoulder. A 2pm Sunday game found the Sting taking on the Sudbury Wolves in this Thanksgiving Weekend matchup. The arena has a rather modern look from the outside, and features red and tan brick along its lower siding, with blue metal siding being the most noticeable feature as you approach the building. An elevated entrance finds a large patio area at the main entrance, and the box office windows, which are serviced with customers outside the building only. This setup surely makes for some cold patrons on a frigid February night. A ticket for today's game cost $21 for a seat high up in the corner. The building is nestled in among trees and landscaping, and this makes for a welcoming feel. Signage is minimal as there are small signs leading to the arena from the main roads and a very small sign above the box office area. The design and exterior of the RBC Centre seem similar to other arenas constructed in the late 1990's, and the arena is visually appealing yet simple. The location on the east end of town is fairly easy to access and not far at all off of the highway. The Sting have had limited success over the years, and their future in Sarnia was in question a couple years ago, but with the team being recently purchased by former NHL defenseman Derian Hatcher, who also serves as the bench boss now, the future looks a bit brighter for Sting fans.
Once inside the main entrance of the RBC Centre you find yourself on the main concourse which runs around the arena above the seating bowl. The building floor is dug below ground level a bit, making for a small appearance from the outside. The arena has a seating capacity of 4118, with standees increasing the total to 5500 if needed. The seating bowl is made up of 13 rows of maroon plastic seats which circle the ice. The seats feature cup holders and offer a decent view with good sight lines. Above the concourse are a number of luxury suites which run from center ice near the main entrance around one end to the goal line on the other side, making for a "J" shape for the upper level. The suites appear to be perched above the ice somewhat. There is a restaurant section at center ice on the far side, but unlike some arenas fans can navigate the upper concourse all the way around the rink as a narrow aisle allows passage between the restaurant above and the top of the seating bowl below. The ceiling is rather flat and carries out the modern industrial look with open beams and cooling ducts. An older 8-sided video board sits above center ice, and overall the arena is simple but certainly modern enough to house the OHL level of hockey. The concessions are located in the corners of the concourse, and are made up of primarily chain eateries, including Smokes Poutine, Pizza Pizza, and a joint selling $8 jumbo gourmet hotdogs. There is a team store in one corner which was decently stocked but did not have any Sting pucks on hand at all. The concourse is plenty wide enough, and allows for easy travel around the arena, except for just inside the box office entrance as that area gets congested not only from fans entering, but also because they stuck the program kiosk directly in front of the main entrance. The walls of the concourse are painted in the bee colors of white, yellow, and black in keeping with the Sting theme, and the arena is clean and well kept. There is a second ice pad on site as well as the rink gets plenty of community use in addition to Sting games. The facilities at the RBC Centre are neither cutting edge, nor do they have a historic feel to them. Nonetheless, this is a good example of late 1990's arena that is still sufficient enough to please the fans of today.
The gameday atmosphere at the RBC Centre for a Sting game is rather laid back, yet presented in a fun manner. The fans are not very boisterous, but they are supportive, know when to cheer, and have seemingly mastered the use of the cowbell. There is not fancy pregame intro, and aside from the buzzing sound of bees as the team enters the ice the Sting theme is not overly hyped. A small crowd of 2100 was on hand for the game, but with Thanksgiving Weekend activities and unseasonably warm temperatures we suspect that the walkup crowd was light. Nonetheless the fans on hand enjoyed themselves. Entertainment seems to play a large part in the game presentation, as it does at many arenas, and fan giveaways during stoppages and a toboggan race at intermission caught the attention of the casual fan, as did the mascot. The fans and PA announcer also have a fun give and take after each goal as once a goal is scored the announcer yells "Yup" to which the fans eagerly yell "Yup" back. It is different and fun and unique to the Sting fanbase. The RBC Centre also does a good job honoring the history of past teams as well as locals who have gone on to much success. It is fun watching players on the ice which include a current top 5 NHL draft pick and a projected top 5 pick who both currently play for the Sting, and watch them ply their trade on the same ice where Steve Stamkos racked up goals for the Sting. The arena has banners paying tribute to past Sting players who were on World Junior squads, as well as past team record holders. Sting history does not consist of a huge time frame as they have only been around for a couple decades, but the effort to honor the past is there. There is also a large banner honoring longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser, known by most for his flowing hair and helmetless service to the NHL. The RBC Centre may seem to blend in with lots of other mid 90's early 2000's venues when it comes to appearance, and may not be the most memorable stop on a fan's quest to get to all 20 OHL arenas, but it is a fun place to watch a game, is laid out in a manner where you can see the action well, and has enough history contained within its walls to add some character. Oh, and the fans and traditions which take place at a Sting game will also help you enjoy your visit. If you are thinking about taking in a game here go ahead and do it. Just say "Yup".
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Sarnia Sting can be found at: Sting Home
Other information about the RBC Centre can be found at: RBC Centre Home
More photos of the RBC Centre can be found Here