Essar Centre – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
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Worth the Long Drive
Unlike the rest of the Canadian Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League has it the easiest when it comes to travel, but try telling that the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The Hounds are the most remote OHL team, with their closest rival being the Sudbury Wolves, who are 307 kilometers away. Being a Northern Ontario team, visiting fans are a rare sight at the Essar Centre, but are appreciated by the home town crowd.
The home of the Greyhounds is located downtown Sault Ste. Marie, not far from hotels, restaurants, shopping and the American border. The Essar Centre opened in 2006, replacing the old Sault Memorial Gardens. The arena is very similar to most newer rinks around the OHL, but with some Soo flare. Once you arrive at the rink, you’ll notice the Memorial Tower, which lights up red on game nights. The tower was connected to the former arena, and is meant to commemorate the dead from past wars. Another nice touch is having the old stained glass and angel brought over, and placed at the far end of the rink. You will also notice the giant windows that allow natural light.
The Greyhounds history is also on full display at the Essar Centre. They proudly showcase their past success, while honoring former greats like Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Craig Hartsburg, John Vanbiesbrouck and Adam Foote. Despite their success, the team has had some difficulties filling the 5,000 seat arena of late. It’s not due to the lack of support from community, but rather tough economic times. The company that purchased the naming rights of the arena in 2008 has been under insolvency protection for the last two years, and has owed the city millions of dollars. The naming rights contract expires in 2018, and Sault Ste. Marie council wants the arena renamed Memorial Gardens, to build up community pride.
Food and Beverage 2
When attending a game in Sault Ste. Marie, don’t expect anything too fancy from the concession stands. There are few and drink items available at stands around the lower bowl, and includes the usual popcorn, fries, pizza slices and hot dogs. The drink selection is also basic for an OHL game include water, pop and beer. Despite the simplicity of the concession stands, the items are at a reasonable price.
When it’s the middle of winter in Sault Ste. Marie, there is no better place to be than inside the Essar Centre to escape the bitter cold. The walk from the car into the arena lobby is one of the coldest in the OHL in the middle of January or February. With that in mind, the rink has a cozy feel to it. The seats are red, matching the colour of the hometown team, giving it a warm feel. When it’s a close game, or the Hounds are on top, the crowd gives the Essar Centre an electric feeling, which brings you to the edge of your seat.
Being in the downtown core, you are within walking distance of whatever you may need before and after the game. Across Bay Street is the Station Mall, which is used as extra parking on game nights, and has plenty of shopping options and a cinema if you have some spare time. There are also several restaurants and pubs in the area like the Break Away Bar and Grill, Café Natura, Reggies Place Tavern and the locally famous Italian eatery Muio’s on Queen Street. If you are looking for more of the chain restaurants they can be found along Trunk Road, which is about a ten minute drive from the arena.
There are also plenty of hotel option nearby like the Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn and Suites and Delta Hotel all within a five minute walk on Bay Street.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound fans are probably THE friendliest in the Ontario Hockey League. Being such a remote team, seeing fans from opposing teams is a rare sight, unless their playing the Sudbury Wolves, but even that’s not a guarantee. Fans in the Soo go out of their way when they see a visiting fan, to chat about the game they love, and to offer suggestions about things to see and do while visiting the city. The Soo faithful are very knowledgeable, and support the hometown club no matter how the team is doing, and often travel great distances to see the Greyhounds on the road.
The Essar Centre is one of the best arena’s to check out in the OHL. There is free parking, but the lot right next the arena is limited, and most fans park across the street at the Station Mall. As long as you have your tickets ahead of time, there are multiple entrances to access the rink, with very little hassle. If you are picking up your tickets just before puck drop, there are several ticket counters to choose from in the main lobby, but can get a little cramped. Once you reach the main bowl, you can walk around the entire rink, but there are some parts that get a little congested due to concession stands and the team store, which is located behind the player benches.
Return on Investment 4
With ticket and concession stand prices being fairly average for an Ontario Hockey League team, attending the Soo Greyhounds game is fairly good for a family outing. The OHL offers great hockey, and the Sault Ste. Marie charm is on full display. The only issue to deal with for visiting fans is the long drive to the Soo.
The residents of Sault Ste. Marie love the Greyhounds, and you get that sense when you attend a game at the Essar Centre. The staff at the Essar Centre do a really good job incorporating that in the game day presentation, as they have a recording of one of their long time fans who yells “Let’s GOOOO Hounds!”, and it gets the crowd going every time, no matter what the score may be.
Getting to a game in Sault Ste. Marie is not the easiest thing to do for most fans in the Ontario Hockey League. The drive itself to the Soo can be pretty intimidating. But when you reach the Essar Centre, it is more than worth it, as the rinks location is perfect. Going to Muio’s for some pasta before the game or picking up a pint at Break Away Bar and Grill, really gives you a sense of what life is like in Sault Ste. Marie, and how much the community loves their Greyhounds. If you are a fan of the OHL, you should try and make it to the Soo at least once, and try and do it in the fall or spring to avoid the extreme cold and winter driving conditions.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
Sault Ste. Marie, MI
531 Ashmun St.
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
Holiday Inn Express Sault Ste. Marie
320 Bay St.
Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 1X1
Delta Hotels by Marriott Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront
208 St. Mary’s River Dr.
Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 5V4
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