Erie Insurance Arena – Erie Otters
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When the Ontario Hockey League, one of the top junior hockey leagues that feeds the NHL, expanded its reach to enter the United States, one of its earliest stops was in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Otters had a fairly tumultuous existence before landing in Erie with 10 incarnations. Including numerous stops in Hamilton, most recently as the Steelhawks, as well as a stint at the Brantford Alexanders and the most recent as the Niagara Falls Thunder, the Otters found their most significant home in Erie since the sixties. Owner Sherwood “Sherry” Bassin brought the team to Pennsylvania, which also secured draft rights for all players in the state to the OHL. Currently, they are for sale again and their long term future in Erie is in doubt.
The Otters formerly played in the city owned, Louis J. Tullio Arena, which was named after their 8 term mayor, and first Italian-American to hold the post. From 2012-2014 the arena received a significant renovation which included the selling of naming rights to the Erie Insurance Group. The arena is adjacent to Jerry Uht Park, which is home to the Double-A, Erie Seawolves. Both the park and arena are now part of the Louis J. Tullio Plaza, which maintains the honouring of their former mayor.
The last few seasons have seen great excitement in Erie despite the cloud of new ownership hovering over the franchise. The culmination has been the 2014-2015 season which is the draft year for future hockey superstar and Otter Connor McDavid. The Otters have ridden the leadership of McDavid and are making a strong push for their best season yet and a birth in the Memorial Cup.
Food & Beverage 5
The food selection at Erie Insurance Arena is very impressive. You will find all of the expected food items including soda, popcorn, hot dogs and pizza. Beer is available and the expected brews are to be found including Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue Light. There are a number of interesting items available also. Although the concession stands look all the same, make sure that you have a good look at the menus as different stands offer different items. Watch for cheeseburgers, sausage with peppers and onions, pepperoni balls, philly cheesesteaks and cajun chicken sandwiches. The fries are very good with an overflowing portion being given. For something truly unique, try the Otter Fries, which is french fries with cheese sauce and greek sauce.
Erie Insurance Arena has received a significant renovation between 2012 and 2014. The first part of that renovation that you notice is the building of a significant entranceway with a glassed in atrium which gives the building a much more modern look than its 1983 roots. Coupled with the ballpark right there, the Tullio Plaza is a tremendous meeting spot for fans before the game.
Upon entering the arena you will immediately notice the facelift that the concourses have received. Fresh decor and of course a fresh coat of paint have continued to give the arena that more modern look that was badly needed. Where many other arenas will use their concourses to display great moments in team history or artifacts from events held at the arena, the concourses in the Erie Insurance Arena are distinctly bland and lack much to capture the attention of the patron. A few randomly hung jerseys from both the Otters and NBDL’s Erie Bayhawks are all that you will find hanging from the ceilings. There are also a couple of advertising posters that can be found also touting the presence of Connor McDavid. One curious item that you will find in the concourse is a dedication plaque for the Louis J. Tullio Arena, which is the arena’s former name. One of the reasons for the lack of decor could be the numerous temporary merchandise stands which take up a bit of space.
Inside the arena you will find that the Erie Insurance Arena has an east-west configuration and a capacity that is perfect for junior hockey. The main seating is on the north and south sides of the arena with a bit of seating in the east end. Above the north and south grandstands are the luxury boxes and there are some enclosed luxury boxes along the west wall. Seats are padded and the sightlines are decent throughout, although some may have difficulty with the gradual slope that the arena offers. In the southwest corner, on the west wall you will find the 5 championship banners for the Otters, specifically the 2002 J. Ross Robertson Championship for OHL champions. Also the honoured numbers 16 and 18 hang for Brad Boyes and Vince Scott respectively. Scott was killed in an automobile accident. Above centre ice hangs the brand new, 4-sided, HD videoboard. Also on the western wall you fill find a bit of a unique feature which is a traditional simple scoreboard surrounded by video board.
The game day presentation in Erie is solidly what you would expect for junior hockey. Chuck-a-puck competition, 50/50 draw, and jersey raffles are all mainstays in Erie. The Otters’ mascot Shooter plays a significant role in keeping the crowd energy up and music during the game is a mix of classic hockey organ anthems and louder, more modern music.
Erie Insurance Arena is located on French Street in Erie, which is pretty much downtown. There are a few local establishments that you may be interested in for pre or post game meals. The Erie Arena Sportsbar, Sluggers Sports Bar, Jekyll & Hyde’s Gastropub and Peccadillo’s are all worthy establishments you may consider. You are also not too far from the Mill Creek Mall, which is a frequent stop for shopping, especially by cross-border shopping Canadians.
If you are looking for some other sporting options, depending on the season, you could be in luck. Erie Insurance Arena is also the home of the Erie Bayhawks of the NBDL and right next door at Jerry Uht Park you will find the Erie Seawolves. If the Otters are not enough hockey action for you then you should consider checking out Mercyhurst College, home of NCAA Division I hockey’s Mercyhurst Lakers.
The presence of future hockey star Connor McDavid and the completion of the Erie Insurance Arena have given the Otters a boost at the turnstile. In the 2012 season, the Otters averaged over 2,800 fans which ranked the Otters 14th in attendance in the 20 team OHL. The Otters have shown consecutive years of growth in attendance up to the 2015 season where they are averaging over 4,800 fans which is 5th in the OHL rankings. This is a good omen for those who wish the Otters to remain in Erie. The fans that are in attendance are knowledgeable and very loud; much louder than the average fans in the OHL. The fans definitely aid in a great hockey experience in Erie.
Erie Insurance Arena is located in downtown Erie. French Street is quite a significant distance from the main Erie artery, I-79. To get to the arena from out of town, you will have to do some considerable driving through the city streets. For this reason, getting there early would probably be a good idea. There are a few parking garages which are around the arena as well as considerable street parking, so parking should not be an issue.
Inside the arena the concourses have been widened during the renovation and moving around is not too difficult before the game or during intermissions. However, the lack of multiple significant entrances makes the arena VERY crowded upon exit. Washroom facilities are fairly small, but are not too much of an issue.
Return on Investment 5
OHL hockey is a terrific investment for your sporting dollar. Otters tickets will run normally $16 – $18. You should purchase tickets in advance as they are a few dollars cheaper than on the day of the game. Students can get tickets for $12 and there is a discount for seniors too. Parking in a garage downtown will probably run you $4 and the concession prices are what you would expect for this level of hockey. Overall, you will find that you have the opportunity for great family friendly entertainment that will cost you a fraction of what professional hockey, specifically NHL hockey will cost you.
Two extra marks for the owner Sherry Bassin and the face that he puts on the Erie franchise. It is all too often that sports owners hide in the background, especially during times of controversy. Sherry Bassin, with the cloud of new ownership for the Otters hanging over the situation, was very available and visual at the game that was reviewed. He participated in what seemed like a regular pre game interview broadcast on the video board and participated on the ice in what could be considered “Senior Night” presentations similar to what you would find at a college. He did a great job honouring the three overage players on the Otters who would be wrapping up their OHL careers in the current season.
An extra mark for the Otters bumping up the experience for the little guys. Like many other hockey presentations, the Otters have minor league hockey players put on a mini-game during intermission. What made the Otters experience stand out was that they went the extra mile to inflate the “doghouse” that the Otters skate out of during the pre game ceremonies, so that the little kids could also skate out, just like their OHL heroes.
Despite not knowing what the future holds for the Erie Otters, there are a ton of things that the Otters are doing right in Pennsylvania. Granted, the Otters’ faithful have the luxury of seeing hockey’s next great player and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the OHL team. With some luck, the Otters will remain at the northern tip of Pennsylvania and continue to be a stronghold for the American contingent of OHL teams. In the meantime, Erie is a hockey experience that you Otter see!
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The Avalon Hotel
16 W 10th St
Erie, PA 16501
Days Inn Erie
7415 Schultz Rd
Erie, PA 16509
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