April 3, 2011 - Guelph, Ontario
When my wife asks "Hey honey- do you want to go to the mall?", my answer is not normally a resounding yes, but if we lived in Guelph the answer would almost always be "definitely", as the Sleeman Centre is actually the anchor tenant of a small mall in downtown Guelph. Opened in 2000, and attached to the mall where a department store once stood, this is one of the most unique and unlikely arena setups in all of hockey. As I had a couple hours to kill between taking in a Sunday afternoon Junior B playoff game in nearby Elmira, and this evening's 7pm OHL playoff tilt against Saginaw I had a chance to stroll around the area, and the small mall quite a bit before game time. Catching 2 good playoff games made this a memorable day. The navy blue and tan exterior of the arena sits prominently on a sloping section of Woolwich Street, and a large glass facade with a red Sleeman Centre sign actually opens up into a small lobby and hallway below the arena entrance, and you have to walk into the mall itself, and up to the upper level of the mall, to where the fan entrance and box office area are. The arena bears the name of hometown brewery Sleeman. The box office is apparently a former store, and across the hall is a nicely outfitted team store, which is open during regular mall hours. As this was a Sunday evening, most of the activity in the mall was winding down just before game time. Entering the Sleeman Centre and the box office area is a unique experience, and it is also hard to get an overall exterior look at the arena as it seems to be somewhat crowded into its city block, and flanked by an attached parking deck. This makes it hard to know where the mall starts and the arena and parking deck end from the outside.
As I was hungry before game time, and there were not a whole lot of food options in the mall itself, I decided to hit up the food court Chinese restaurant, which was actually inside the turnstiles of the arena and I had to have my ticket ripped just to eat some lo-mein and an eggroll. In a even more surreal and truly Canadian experience I overheard the conversation between the young Oriental server in the restaurant and the patron behind me in line at the counter. They were discussing the Storm's chances to beat Saginaw, the likelihood of getting a couple players back from injury for tonight's game, and the season in general. The young worker ended the conversation with "even if we win we will eventually have to play Mississauga and they are unstoppable". Where else but in Canada would a worker at a Chinese food court restaurant have such and interest and knowledge of not only hockey, but Junior hockey at that. That's why we make to road trips to Canada whenever possible folks. Also inside the turnstiles, but still accessible from the mall, is a very nice brew pub, which also overlooks the concourse and ice of the arena itself. Although apparently the arena just started charging $5 to park in the attached parking deck the $11 playoff tickets were certainly a bargain. Once inside and onto the concourse you see a modern, 21st century arena, and you would never know you were inside a mall at all.
The concourse is fairly wide, and runs all the way around the top of the main seating bowl, but the ceiling for the concourse is rather low as above that is a luxury suite level. The arena, although having navy blue plastic seats, seems bright and very modern, and there is a good video board at center ice with a message ribbon as well. The capacity is listed at 5100, and just about every seat is a good one with good sight lines throughout. The concessions are all along the upper concourse, so you can catch a hotdog and a drink without missing the action. There is also a standing rail along much of the concourse, except for in front of the restaurant seating. The ceiling has exposed steel rafters, and the place looks very modern. That being said there is not a whole lot to differentiate the Sleeman Centre from many of the other similar sized arenas built within the last dozen years or so. I did find it odd that along with some retired player numbers there were banners playing tribute to 2 well known officials- Ray Scapinello, and Bill McCreary, both Guelph natives.
The game experience in Guelph is decent, although the crowd for this Sunday evening playoff game was only around 3100, due to the start time, the fact that the Storm faced elimination, and the early spring snow storm which blew in around game time. The pregame intro features a fog cloud from dry ice which takes a couple minutes to dissipate before the game can start, there are the usual intermission contests, and a weird looking mascot who roams the concourse and seating area. The video board is used, but could be better utilized for more frequent replays. The crowd seems into the game and vocal, just not overly rowdy or raucous like in a place like Kitchener or even Windsor. The game itself was a little dull as Saginaw was up 6-2 in the third, but the Storm had a late rally to make things very close and exciting, ultimately falling 6-5 and being knocked out of the playoffs by the Spirit. Catching a game in Guelph is unique and fun and certainly my kind of trip to the mall. Even though I am not overly crazy about most of the newer style arenas the odd and unique features surrounding the Sleeman Centre make it a very good place to catch a game.
Other information about the Guelph Storm is available at: Storm Home
Other information about the Sleeman Centre is available at: Arena Home
More photos of the Sleeman Centre are available Here