CAA Arena – Belleville Senators
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From Bulls to Sens
The best word to describe the city of Belleville, Ontario in 2015 was shocked. From 1981 to 2015 the residents supported the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Always a bit of an underdog situation with a modest population of just over 50,000, it never seemed that the Bulls were in too much danger. However, it was the changing landscape of the American Hockey League that would really make huge changes in Belleville. The affiliate for the Montreal Canadiens had been in Hamilton, Ontario for a number of years. However, the Canadiens had intentions of bringing their affiliate back to Quebec, in a brand new building to be built in Laval. The long-term survival of the Hamilton franchise was in doubt without the draw of the Canadiens affiliation. It was at that point that Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer made a quick move to simultaneously sell the Bulldogs and purchase the Belleville Bulls and move them to Hamilton to become the Bulldogs of the OHL. Belleville was left without hockey.
After two years, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk would purchase the Binghamton Senators and move them to Belleville. Hockey would return in 2017. The franchise was originally christened in New Haven as the Nighthawks. In 1992 they would become the Senators, move to Prince Edward Island in 1993 and then Binghamton in 2002.
Home for the Senators is the CAA Arena. Formerly known as the Yardmen Arena, it was originally built in 1978 by the Belleville Yardmen, a group of railroaders who would raise more than $3 million. It is part of the larger Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. With the arrival of the American Hockey League, Yardmen would undergo significant renovations to the tune of over $20 million. The most significant renovations would be to increase the arena capacity and change the size of the ice rink from international dimensions to NHL dimensions. To help placate the costs of the renovations, the city owned arena would sell the naming rights to the arena in 2018 to the Canadian Automobile Association in a seven year deal.
Food & Beverage 4
The concessions selection at CAA Arena is strong. Three main concession stands offer different features at each. The Sidney Slice offers pepperoni and cheese pizza slices as well as deluxe nachos, which include beef brisket. The Front Street Grill offers hot dogs, sausage, burgers, chicken burgers, chicken tenders, fries and poutine. The Cannifton Carvery offers beef brisket sandwiches, chili cheese dogs and chili served in a bread bowl. Most stands also offer arena staples like popcorn and candy.
Coca-Cola products are the soft drink of choice at the CAA Arena. Coffee, water and iced tea are also available. Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Strongbow Cider and Bacardi Breezer are available for fans who wish an alcoholic alternative. Prices are about what one would expect for concessions at minor league hockey.
CAA Arena is part of the larger Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. The exterior of the arena itself is not overly spectacular; a dark upper portion with non-descript entrances. The better view of the building is probably from the back side, where fans must enter through Quinte. CAA Arena is not huge or intimidating from the exterior and could probably pass for an industrial building on the exterior.
On the inside, the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre brings all of the pieces together. The CAA Arena as well as swimming facilities and other hockey arenas are all joined together with a bright and vibrant concourse. The upper level of the back side of the building will give fans the opportunity to meander through the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame. The local sports halls of fame are always fun to explore just to see who can be found. The highlights in Belleville are new inductee Andrew Raycroft and Bobby and Dennis Hull. The arrival of the AHL and Senators in Belleville has brought an updated colour scheme to the CAA Arena. Bright red, white and black entrances into the arena are new and welcoming, even proclaiming to welcome fans home.
Inside, the concourses are fairly open giving a consistent view of the ice. The numerous levels featured at CAA Arena offer plenty of little corners and odd spots to view the game which are perfect for the standing room only fan. The south end of the arena offers bar seating and a social area as well as club seating. Upgrades to the arena are noticeable when entering the seating bowl. Lower and upper levels still remain, but the north end of the building has been opened up and numerous seats have been added to increase capacity. Also, fans can see how the ice surface has shrunk down to an NHL size rink. Ice level is fairly wide open now and moving around at the bottom is easy. Older seating is immediately identifiable as the lighter green seats are older than the darker ones. There is nothing wrong with the older seats, but it does give fans a unique perspective on the different iterations of the arena. The brand new video board is above centre ice and at the south end of the arena hangs a simple score clock. The sound system is also new and crystal clear. Unfortunately, remnants of the old Belleville Bulls days are gone. There are no banners hanging to commemorate the old days. The only banner hanging is in the north end and signifies the inaugural 2017-2018 season in the AHL.
The game day experience in Belleville is not atypical. A fairly decent selection of music is played during down moments in the game. The Senators employ an in-game host who leads the promotions. Theme nights are also part of the experience. The game that was reviewed featured Super Hero Night and Spider-Man, Iron Man and Deadpool were in attendance and ready for photo ops.
Belleville is not a huge city, but there are a few options for pre and post game fare. CAA Arena is located in a fairly residential area, immediately east of the Moira River. There is not much within walking distance of the arena, so hopping in the car is the best idea. Some of the restaurants fans should consider include the Slapshot Bar & Grill, Quinte Restaurante, Linguine’s, Burger Revolution, Northway Family Restaurant and the Boathouse.
In Belleville, the Senators are basically the only game in town. There is not much in the way of other sports in Belleville. As for other activities, heading south toward the lake early in the season will bring fans to a number of different parks. Also, fans may consider the Glanmore National Historic Site.
For fans wishing to stay in the Belleville area, there are a number of options. Comfort Inn Belleville and Best Western Belleville are both options to consider.
It’s hard to fully get a grasp on the situation in Belleville. All were shocked when the Bulls were sold and moved to Hamilton, but closer analysis sees that the Bulls were consistently near the bottom of the OHL in attendance. The upgrades to the arena have surely helped, but it is hard to say that the situation in Belleville has changed much. Truth be told, AHL hockey is much different than OHL hockey and only time will tell if Belleville truly embraces the AHL experience. In their inaugural season, the Senators averaged just over 3,600 fans per game which ranked them last in the AHL in attendance. In their second season, attendance has fallen off a bit. Although it would seem that the Senators affiliation with Belleville would be a positive, the Senators have been pretty bad in Ottawa in recent years and the fans have been not-so-subtly revolting against owner Eugene Melnyk. It is too early to say that the Senators in Belleville are a failure, but they still have a ways to go to be proven a success. Fans in the stands are pretty reserved and quiet, but do get loud for the big play or goal.
Getting to the CAA Arena is not difficult at all. For those coming from out of town, CAA Arena is located immediately south of the Macdonald-Cartier Expressway or Highway 401. Fans will not have to travel too much through the city to get there. There is plenty of free parking at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. For those looking for the public transit option, there is a bus stop right in front of the arena. There is also a shuttle bus which runs from the Quinte Mall. Fans are encouraged to check out the Belleville Conventional Transit website for fares, schedules and maps. Getting around the CAA Arena is not terrible, but the concourses can be on the narrow side and there are plenty of stairs to get around to the different levels of the arena. The washroom facilities are also more than adequate.
Return on Investment 4
Going to a Belleville Senators game will not break the bank. Tickets for the Sens will run between $23 and $27. There is a surcharge of $2 for premium games. Parking is free and concession prices are what one would expect. The product on the ice is decent and the game day production is good as well.
Two extra marks for the City of Belleville not giving up on hockey after the shock of losing the OHL’s Belleville Bulls.
An extra mark for Belleville’s own superfan who dresses up and celebrates each goal with cymbals. He also travels the arena to different sections to share the joy.
The return of hockey to Belleville was absolutely necessary. What the future holds for the Senators will be interesting. The residents of Belleville need to fully embrace the Senators and AHL and get out to the arena to make the Senators at CAA Arena an even better experience. When near Belleville, it is a great plan to check out the CAA Arena and the Belleville Senators.
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Best Western Belleville
387 N Front St
Belleville, ON K8P 3C8
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