Meridian Centre – Niagara Ice Dogs
Downtown Dog House
In 2007, Eugene Melnyk, most well known as the owner of the Ottawa Senators of the NHL and owner of the OHL’s Toronto St.Michael’s Majors purchased the Mississauga IceDogs of the OHL. The Majors played in a tiny, on campus arena at a private school in Toronto. Melnyk purchased the IceDogs to get access to the lease of the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, where he would move the Majors. However, it is not permitted to own two OHL franchises. The IceDogs were flipped and sold to Bill and Denise Burke and moved to the under represented Niagara Region. The Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines would be home to the new Niagara IceDogs. However, the move was far from a sure bet for success. The Niagara Region had lost plenty of previous OHL franchises and the Jack Gatecliff Arena was not a suitable home in the long run. It is believed that the hopes for the team were to partner with a casino in Niagara Falls for a new home for the IceDogs. Niagara Falls never materialized and the City of St. Catharines was forced to step up and come up with a long term plan to accommodate the IceDogs.
The doors to the Meridian Centre opened in 2014 and have provided a stability for OHL hockey that the Niagara Region has never previously known. Owned by the City of St.Catharines and armed with a naming rights deal with Meridian Credit Union, Meridian Centre brings the IceDogs back into the competitive throng when it comes to arenas in junior hockey.
Hockey fans will immediately notice the resemblance of the IceDogs to the Chicago Blackhawks. This is not by accident. St.Catharines has long had a connection with the Blackhawks, from their time as an affiliate with the team to their most honoured member of the St.Catharines hockey family, Stan Mikita, former Memorial Cup Champions with the St. Catharines Teepees in the fifties. The current Saginaw Spirit are formerly the St. Catharines Falcons/Teepees/Black Hawks as well as a few other stops along the way. Hockey in Niagara seems to be a much stronger connection and a good bet to be in St. Catharines for the long haul. A trip to see the Niagara IceDogs will leave fans satisfied that they have scratched their hockey itch.
Food & Beverage 5
The concessions at the Meridian Centre are better than expected and at the top end of the scale as compared to other venues in the Ontario Hockey League. There are four main concession stands. The regular arena fare can be found at Meridian Centre including hot dogs, popcorn, burgers, nachos and pizza. There are a few other options which help put the Meridian Centre over the top. Fans looking for something a little different should consider trying the cheese and bacon tater tots, mac and cheese pizza slices, buffalo chicken poutine or bacon mac and cheese poutine.
The beverage options are also a little better than most other OHL venues. Soda options feature Coca-Cola products. Water, coffee and hot chocolate are also available. The beer selection is not huge but does include some solid options. Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Heineken are all available. Creemore Springs, Ironwood Cider and local craft beer Silversmith are available and put the selection over the top. Being in wine country, the Meridian Centre offers very strong wine options. Local wines are actually on tap in the arena. A full bar selection is also there for adults who can’t find a beer or wine to their liking.
The location of Meridian Centre has a direct effect on the look of the building. The arena is located on IceDogs Way, which is a few stories below ground level of St. Paul St., the main downtown street in St. Catharines. The exterior of Meridian Centre is attractive enough with brick and siding. However, the arena lacks a main, grand entrance, probably due to its multiple entrance points at different levels of the building. Most will enter across the bridge from downtown, which is not overly exciting. The main entrance at ground level has a small lobby near the box office, which requires fans to head upstairs when entering the arena.
Entering the arena, fans will notice a single level seating bowl with the main concourse behind the seats. The ice surface in the Meridian Centre runs from north to south, with the best spot for the centre ice logo pic on the east side. A horseshoe ring of suites hang above the concourses.
The north side of the concourse will offer a treasure trove for local sports enthusiasts. The David S. Howes City of St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame enshrines all the members and offers some local artifacts for display. On the date reviewed, there were plenty of local baseball and softball artifacts on display. The first son of St. Catharines hockey is part of the first class enshrined in the hall. Stan Mikita cements the link between St. Catharines and the Chicago Blackhawks. Having played junior hockey in the fifties for the St. Catharines Teepees, Mikita led the local squad to a pair of Memorial Cups. Stan Mikita and the Teepees Memorial Cups are also enshrined on a trifecta of banners that hang above the ice on the south side of the arena. Three division and conference banners for the IceDogs also hang at the south end of the arena.
As far as IceDogs history found throughout the arena, there isn’t too much, probably due to the relatively short existence of the team. However, the IceDogs have done a good job of covering bare walls and columns with screened murals of current IceDogs players and key moments in Niagara IceDogs history, including conference championship victories. The steps also have murals with “Go Dogs Go” on the risers. Above centre ice a four-sided video board hangs. By today’s standards it is relatively simple, but is very clear and more than adequately does the job.
The game day presentation at an IceDogs game is relatively simple. The players are led to the ice by a basic video package, which is not overdone, and throughout the game there are various promotions being held. Promos are not over the top and fairly muted. The IceDogs do employ a group of cheerleaders who cheer from ice level, complete with pom-poms, and help with the promotions. Bones, the IceDogs mascot, who is a bull terrier, like Don Cherry’s famous dog, Blue, moves through the crowd interacting and taking pictures with fans. It is a simple presentation, but effective.
The Meridian Centre is located between downtown St. Catharines and highway 406. One of the very unique features of this area is that the highway is approximately four stories lower than downtown. With the arena being built on the lower elevation, the City of St. Catharines did a great job of building pedestrian bridges which link St. Paul Street with the Meridian Centre. This physical connection to downtown is a huge advantage over the previous location of the Jack Gatecliff Arena. There are numerous options available for pre and post game meals downtown. Some options you might consider include The Office Tap and Grille, The Merchant Ale House, Patrick Sheehan’s Irish Pub and Mansion House. There are also a host of franchise restaurants located downtown. The gem of the area might just be The Bull BBQ Pit. The Bull offers a very casual atmosphere and was featured on the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here.
The greater region of Niagara also has much to offer. For fans looking for more sporting options at a very affordable price, fans should consider heading to Brock University to see some Brock Badger hockey or basketball. St. Catharines is also in the heart of the Niagara wine country where fans can find numerous wine tasting tours. Finally, St. Catharines is just minutes from Niagara Falls which hosts a plethora of tourist options.
Since returning to the Niagara Region, junior hockey has been embraced in a way in which previous teams have never been before. The opening of the Meridian Centre has aided in that greatly. The IceDogs consistently attract 4,800 fans per game. In 2017 through 2019 seasons the IceDogs have been locked in the upper echelon of franchises in the Ontario Hockey League when it comes to attendance. They have ranked either fourth or fifth in each of those seasons. The Niagara fans are pretty quiet and reserved as far as hockey fans go. This is not unusual for Southern Ontario sports fans. They get loud when they need to, but are pretty much content to watch the game throughout.
Meridian Centre is located just south of downtown St. Catharines and St. Paul Street. It is close to major highways in highway 406 and just south of the Queen Elizabeth Way which links Niagara Falls to Toronto. Getting to the Meridian Centre is not too difficult, but the different elevations from downtown to the highway make it important for fans to know where they are going if parking has been picked out beforehand. Fans needing public transit are in good shape with various city buses meeting at the St. Paul/St. James Street Station. Check out the St. Catharines Transit Commission website for fares, maps and schedules. There is plenty of parking downtown as well as at the lower elevation right by the arena. The bridge to the arena makes getting to the arena easy from downtown.
Inside the Meridian Centre the concourses are a bit of an issue as they are in Sarnia. The concourses are very narrow and it can be a challenge manoeuvring around especially during intermission. The advantage of having an open concourse is that you can see how bad the traffic is before leaving your seat. Inside the Meridian Centre, there are plenty of stairs to manoeuvre due to the two main entry points from both downtown and the ground level. The washroom facilities are adequate for the facility.
Return on Investment 4
OHL hockey remains a very solid option which provides a solid return on investment. The IceDogs are no exception. Niagara IceDogs tickets can be purchased for $15, $20 or $25 depending on the desired location within the arena. Ticketing remains simple as opposed to the complicated mess which is often found in major league experiences. Concession prices are about what they should be compared to other junior hockey options. Parking is a little on the expensive side as many OHL facilities still have free parking, however, downtown parking can be found for $5 and $10. The experience at the Niagara IceDogs is great and fans will leave feeling satisfied and ready for another game.
An extra mark for the history of junior hockey in the Niagara Region and St. Catharines. The link to the Chicago Blackhawks and Stan Mikita remains strong in the Meridian Centre and adds to the experience.
An extra mark for the stability of the IceDogs franchise since returning to the Niagara Region and St. Catharines. The move of the IceDogs to St. Catharines was far from a slam dunk, but the fans have come out in droves and provide stability to a hockey region that has had a plethora of former teams.
The Niagara IceDogs continue to provide an excellent experience and fit well in the Ontario Hockey League. It is fantastic that junior hockey has finally found success and needed stability in the Niagara Region after so many other attempts. Fans should definitely catch an IceDogs game, especially when checking out Niagara Falls.
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Latest Crowd Reviews
The City of St. Catharines, the Burke Family and the fans of the Niagara IceDogs have put their money where their mouths are and came together to build the Meridian Centre. It was essential for the stability of the franchise in the region. Hopefully, the IceDogs fans will continue to flock to the new doghouse and maintain the viability of the IceDogs in the Niagara Region for a long time to come.