October 5, 2013 - Gatineau, Quebec
Having opened in 1957 as Hull Arena, named for the section of Gatineau in which the arena sits, the Centre Robert-Guertin has been a mainstay of the western front of the Q since joining the league in 1973. With the city of Hull being absorbed by Gatineau the team is now known as the Gatineau Olympiques. Despite being among the most populated cities in Quebec the city is often lumped in with the Ottawa metro area as Ottawa sits a mere 1/2 mile river crossing away. Despite that proximity to Canada's capital, this is very much a Francophone city, although most of its inhabitants speak English as well. Centre Robert-Guertin is located in a rather worn out neighborhood, with a mix of residential apartment buildings, modest city houses, and small businesses nearby. A high school sits immediately adjacent to the arena, and shares not only the architectural stylings of the arena, but the same color scheme as well. Despite being a mid-sized arena the building features that "large arena profile" and can clearly be identified as a sports venue. The arena is flanked by large parking lots, and the grounds in general look rather worn and lacking in some upkeep. The nearby school and buildings also display quite a bit of graffiti. Nonetheless, if you look past all of the shortcomings and don't judge the book by its cover, you will realize that the Olympiques play in this classic barn that is true to hockey's roots. The arena is built into a small hill, and features red brick on the bottom of the exterior. Tan, red and gray metal siding making up the exterior walls. The arching roof line is accented by pale blue siding on the upper ends of the building. Despite having a couple of entrance on the ends, the main entrance is surprisingly modest, with a simple red metal door signifying the box office and event entrance area in the middle of one side of the arena. With Centre Robert-Guertin reaching nearly 60 years of age a new facility has been approved on the same site, with a slightly larger, more modern arena to be built in the parking lot and this facility to be torn down. We always want to see the classic arenas while we can so attending a game here was certainly a priority.
A ticket for this matchup against the Quebec Remparts cost $18. Immediately inside the small main entrance is a lower lobby which is a few steps down a short stairway from the doorway. This lobby houses a box office window. All signage is in French. After obtaining your ticket you pass into the other half of the lobby, which features a small souvenir window as well as a beer stand (we are in Quebec afterall). To enter the seating bowl you walk through an opening in the corner of the seating. Once inside you find a magnificent example of a 1950's era arena. The seats extend 10 rows high around the entire ice surface and are wooden folding seats with metal frames. The seats on the sides are red, with end seats being blue, save the one corner section which is sponsored by Desjardins Bank, and has an entire section of bright green seats. The pitch of the seats provides for nearly prefect sight lines. One can travel around the arena either by passing in front of the seats along an aisleway which stops at the team benches, or by walking up the steps to the top of the seating bowl, where a rather narrow concourse runs along the top of the seating area. There is also standing room along the top of the arena, but much of the standing area on the sides in obstructed by the support beams which hold the old-style loge boxes and the pressbox in place. Oddly enough the ceiling and rafters are actually made of wood, with the rafters being painted black. Centre Robert-Guertin is certainly a no-frills arena, but it oozes with not only history, but with character which can only come with the decades of hockey that have been played within the arena walls. Hockey is the main attraction, and the lack of a video board and other fan amenities is certainly not noticed, and is offset by the classic atmosphere that you experience here. The lighting is rather dim, and you certainly could not describe this arena as "comfortable", but a place like this is not meant to have that adjective attached to its reputation. The seating is a little crowded, with as many as 42 seats in one row. The overall capacity is listed at 4000 including standees, and we imagine that with a full house the narrow concourse and minimal room to move around would make for quite a bottleneck. Food and beer concessions are in the corners of the upper concourse, and seemed to clog the concourse aisles with only a crowd of 2300 on hand for this Saturday night contest.
The fan experience at Centre Robert-Guertin is "as Q as the Q gets". If you have attended any QMJHL games you will understand what we mean. Very loud techno music is blasted over the more than sufficient PA system from warmups to the final buzzer. The goal horn is very loud, and the fans are passionate, although we did not encounter too many air horns or noisemakers like you find in other Q cities. The steep wooden seats and classic stylings of the arena provide for a classic hockey experience, and the inside of the arena, although dated, is very nicely maintained. Despite being less than a mile from the Ontario border the game is presented in French, with only the in game announcements being made bilingually. Crowd announcements and intermission contests occur exclusively in French. The crowd seems to identify themselves as Quebecers rather than Canadians as the usual Quebec tradition of essentially ignoring the playing of "O Canada" happens here too. The fact that you can still attend a game with the atmosphere that Centre Robert-Guertin captures is a great thing is this day and age of cookie-cutter newer arenas. Little has changed here is years, and that is a good thing. The benches are across the ice from each other like many Q arenas, and the concourse has some photos and tributes to past Olympiques teams. Players such as Luc Robitaille, and Claude Giroux have skated for the Olympiques, and coaching greats Par Burns and Claude Julien have stood behind the bench in Gatineau. The crowd was certainly into the game and behind the team as they skated to a 3-1 victory over the Remparts on this night. As Centre Robert-Guertin's days are numbered due to the inevitable modernization of hockey facilities across North America we suggest you take in a game here while you can. For those living in Ontario or the states this is also a great opportunity to experience the Q without traveling too far into the heart of Quebec. The new arena in Gatineau will surely provide the comforts and amenities that this old barn lacks, but it will not amass the history or classic feel of Centre-Robert Guertin for decades to come.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Gatineau Olympiques can be found at: Olympiques Home
Other information about Centre Robert-Guertin can be found at: Arena Info Page
More photos of Centre Robert-Guertin can be found Here