Centre Georges-Vezina – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
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L’eglise du Hockey
At one point in time, each member league of the Canadian Hockey League had their own identity. The QMJHL was known for being faster paced, with smaller players, more goal scoring and great goaltenders. No team can be identified with great goaltenders in junior more than the Chicoutimi Saguenéens (sag-nay-en). Chicoutimi would produce four goaltenders in a short period of time who would go on to play in the National Hockey League. Jimmy Waite, Eric Fichaud, Marc Denis and Felix Potvin would have various degrees of NHL success, but it is unprecedented for one junior team to produce so many NHL goaltenders. Chicoutimi has been one of the most stable franchises in the Q, having been around since 1973, and the link to the community is undeniable. The translation of Saguenéens is literally “people from the Saguenay.” Only the Gatineau (Hull) Olympiques and Shawinigan Cataractes have been in the same spot longer than the Saguenéens.
Home for the Sags is Centre Georges-Vézina. Named after local legend and legendary Montréal Canadiens goaltender Georges Vézina, the arena is a quintessential Québec hockey barn. Built in 1949 with some key renovations, Centre Georges-Vézina has a capacity of 4,724 and smells of history. The arena is owned by the city of Saguenay, which contains the borough of Chicoutimi. The team is owned by the city of Saguenay and run by an 11 person Board of Directors, who include former Sagueneen and NHL goaltender, Marc Denis. Saguenay is probably a significant drive for most, but definitely worth the trip. Fans who see the Saguenéens will have to enter “l’eglise du hockey” or church of hockey.
Concession options at Centre Georges-Vézina are decent but fairly unspectacular. There are concession stands at the top of the arena, behind the seating in each of the four corners as well as a few stands in the concourses underneath the seating. The expected items can be found at the main concession stands. Hot dogs ($2.75), fries, pogos, onion rings, burgers, grilled cheese and chicken soup can all be found on the menu at very affordable prices. The Québec staple poutine is also available. Combos are available, which is fairly unique for sports venues. For something a little more unique, fans should head beneath the seating area to La Crèmior, a specialty ice cream stand with a huge variety of options.
Soft drink options feature Coca-Cola products ($3) as well as hot chocolate, tea, coffee, water and juice. Cans of domestic beer are available at most stands, however fans who are interested in beer will want to head underneath to La Voie Maltée which features a number of local brews including La Sags. ($7.25)
There is something special about Centre Georges-Vézina. From the exterior, the arena does not look like it was built in 1949. Renovations have clearly taken place over the years, and the mix of red brick and light siding give the building a contemporary look.
After passing security, fans empty into the main concourses underneath the seating bowl. Not overly spacious, the concourse does feature the main merchandise store right at the entry point. There are a few pictures of current players and other items including a large growth chart, but nothing over the top. Entry to the seating bowl is at ice level. After entering the seating bowl, fans are immediately sent back in time. The attention is instantly brought to the high peaked ceiling with hardwood bringing the feelings of a hockey barn. The ice surface runs from north to south and the perfect shot of the centre ice logo will be on the west side of the stands. Above the logo is a four sided video board with a traditional scoreclock underneath. The Saguenéens have a number of banners which hang from the rafters. The retired numbers of Alain Côté, Normand Lêveillé, Sylvain Locas, Marc Fortier, Guy Carbonneau, Gilbert Delorme, Éric Fichaud and Félix Potvin all hang proudly. They are joined by coach Richard Martel and his 570 victories, Gervais Munger, a former owner who tragically drowned in Lac-Sainte-Jean and local hockey legend Rolland Héber, who actually discovered Jean Béliveau. They are side by side with the accomplishments of the Saguenéens highlighted by the 1991 Coupe du Président and Trophée Jean-Rougeau as well as the 1994 Coupe du Président. However, the pièce de résistance can be found at the south end of the arena. Above the south end video screen is a large crucifix. A nod to the very strong Catholic roots of the area, it is this crucifix that cements Centre Georges-Vézina as the church of hockey.
The gameday production in Chicoutimi is about what you would expect in a QMJHL hockey experience. Sago, the Saguenéens mascot, makes his way around the arena, interacting with fans and partaking in on ice promotions.
Chicoutimi in the winter is quite picturesque. Located on the Saguenay River, east of Lac-Ste-Jean, Chicoutimi offers nice views of the river and foothills. It is definitely a spot for winter sports as snowmobiling is pretty big in the area. Tourists also head to the area to see the Fjords. As far as pre and post game spots for fans to get a drink or bite to eat, there are a few. From Centre Georges-Vézina, fans should head to Boulevard Talbot where a number of recognizable chain restaurants reside. Checking out St. Hubert when in Québec is a pretty good idea. A couple of more unique spots to the area would include La Voie Maltée and Le Coq Rôti.
As far as other things to do of interest, there are a number of churches in the area that are both historic and offer unique architecture. Cathédrale Saint-François-Xavier would be one to check out. Also for those interested in what the area is most known for, head to Grande-Baie to Musee du Fjord. Chicoutimi does not offer a ton of other sporting options. UQAC is right in town and has a few athletic teams. Otherwise, fans will need to travel south to Québec City for other sporting options.
For fans who wish to stay in the area, there are a number of B&B spots along the river. However, the preponderance of French in the region may give fans reason to stay at a more traditional hotel. Le Montagnais Hotel and Convention Center and Comfort Inn Chicoutimi are good selections.
The Chicoutimi Saguenéens have been on a bit of a rough road in the last number of years. Given the relative isolation of the team and community attachment the Saguenéens have, greater attendance figures were expected. However, Chicoutimi routinely fills approximately half of the building, averaging around 2,300 fans in the three seasons up to 2018. This ranks the Saguenéens in the middle of the QMJHL. Amid ownership issues, the City has taken the team back, but fans will need to be more supportive at the rink to ensure the long term viability of the team.
Saguenay has a population of 144,000 and is made up of the boroughs of Chicoutimi, Jonquière La Baie and Laterrière. Getting into the borough is not difficult at all. Centre Georges-Vézina is located between the Saguenay River and highways. The size of the borough does not make for terrible traffic. There is free parking around the arena for those who are willing to get there a little early. For fans who are interested in public transit, there are buses that run on Begin. Check out the Société de Transport du Saguenay website for fares, maps and schedules.
The entrance to the north of the building is the main one and houses the ticketing windows. Getting around the arena, especially beneath the seats, can be a challenge. Washrooms are not huge and the seats in the building are on the narrow side.
Return on Investment 5
It is hard to say there is a better value for the sporting dollar than the QMJHL. Tickets for the Saguenéens are an affordable $17 or $16. There are discounts for students, seniors and children. Kids are only $5 to get into the arena. Combine that with free parking and very affordable concessions and the investment for hockey in Chicoutimi is not very large. The QMJHL also provides a top notch hockey experience and getting into the Centre Georges-Vézina is a great experience in and of itself.
An extra mark for the Saguenéens sporting the “barbershop pole” design which is a throwback to old school hockey jerseys. The double blue stripes are incorporated smartly on their jerseys.
An extra mark for the community link the Saguenéens have in Saguenay.
An extra mark for Chicoutimi and the geographic beauty of the Fjords.
An extra mark for the longevity of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.
A trip to see Centre Georges-Vézina and the Chicoutimi Saguenéens is truly a trip to see the church of hockey. An old school hockey barn that bleeds history and is a throwback to days of old, a trip through the Q is not complete without Georges-Vézina.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
La Voie Maltee
777 Boulevard Talbot
Chicoutimi, QC G7H 4B3
Musee du Fjord
3346 Boul. de la Grande-Baie-Sud
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514 rue Racine Est
Saguenay, QC G7H 1T9
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Le Montagnais Hotel and Convention Center
1080 Boulevard Talbot
Chicoutimi, QC G7H 4B6
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