Blizzard hockey in Ottawa

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Canadian Tire Centre on March 14, 2017, right before a blizzard would batter the arena and region.

Last week, I marked off my first visit to a Canadian NHL arena, and why not do it during Canada’s 150th anniversary, during the week of the Stanley Cup’s 125th birthday, in the country’s capital?

I was a bit brave decided to go to a Ottawa Senators vs Tampa Bay Lightning game alone as a Bolts fan … on the glass. I figured it would be harmless because there would probably 10 people wearing Bolts jerseys in the Canadian Tire Centre (or the CTC as the locals call it).

I was right there’d be no harm, but I didn’t expect people to not engage with me. In any fashion. More on that in a few minutes.

The CTC is nearing the end of its life with the organization eyeing construction of a downtown arena in the LeBreton Flats neighborhood, hoping it to open in 2021. So, it was good for once to see an arena on its way out before it’s gone. I’ve been able to do so with Joe Louis Arena eight years ago, Mellon Arena around the same time frame but haven’t been so lucky with Nassau Coliseum, Rexall Place, Meadowlands and if you’re being picky include Philips Arena  (RIP Atlanta Thrashers).

Cosmetically, it looks fine. Large seating bowl, good sight lines, interesting choices for restaurants and smart construction of said restaurants considering the layout of the narrow concourse. The five-year-old HD scoreboard looked great when it worked (it crashed during the game intro) but that’s where the compliments stop.

Let’s start with getting to the arena. I’ve heard and read that the parking lot can be a nightmare to get into and out of with the game-day traffic, so get there early. I decided on a fantastic option instead, of going to Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata. You buy a meal, you get a ticket for a free shuttle to and from the game. That eliminates the headache of parking, paying for parking and battling traffic. The food and atmosphere is fantastic and feels authentically “Grapes.” Note that because of Grapes’ history with Budweiser, he only offers those beers on draft but you can get just about anything in a bottle.

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Inside Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata, Ontario.

I should note that on this day of the game, March 14, a nor’easter was blowing in dumping a foot of snow on the region. Just another reason to take the shuttle. Despite missing the warm-ups for the game, the shuttle’s advantages of avoiding traffic and the parking lots outweigh your desire to settle in to the arena early.

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A view from my seat in Section 102 Row A

(It still took me over an hour to get back to my hotel in Gatineau after the game. That’s after the bus dropped us off at the bar. Walls of snow blowed across the slushy, snowy highway. It’s normally a 20-minute drive but you had no option than to take it slow if you wanted to live.)

Walking toward the arena, a covered walkway partially exposed to the elements provided protection from the wind, but with all the snow blowing in, it felt like walking across a beach trying to see a hockey game. The final 10 meters when the walkway ended was a gauntlet as the wind pushed against you, really testing your strength to see a game. However, kudos to those people I saw make a 2 kilometer walk from the Fairfield Inn to the arena in that brutal storm to watch the Senators.

Getting through security and the line for the ticket to be scanned was a breeze. However, it looked like that once you enter your concourse, you can’t leave and go elsewhere in the arena to explore. I should have asked during intermission but didn’t want to risk it. Unlike other arenas, there aren’t connections past the gate to the upper concourses from the lower concourse.

Instead, the escalators are in the lobby area. The design makes the lower concourse feel claustrophobic before the game when a lot of people pack into a tight area–you don’t have much room wall-to-wall. Want to walk the whole way around? Not unless you’re a member of Club Bell. The arena has a 100-level club section that prevents access. I’ve been in other arenas like Consol Energy Center and BB&T Center (which is only two years younger and also seen renovations) that’s designed its 100-level club sections in a way where you can still walk a full circle around the arena but has the club section pushed back where the seats are. I imagine wider concourses and a better club area solution will be in the offering for the new arena.

When I made it to my seat, I settled in for the game. Right on the glass where the Bolts shoot twice. Say, a fellow wearing a white Lightning jersey should get some ribbing, right?

Nope. While nobody poured beer down my back, nobody gave me a hard time, or even joked. Actually, nobody spoke to me at all. It was very, very weird not to be engaged. Even attending as  Bolts fan at a Pittsburgh game people talked to me and asked questions. I just got weird stares.

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Sitting in the first row in the corner means the ref gets in the way.

To my left, a teenager was there with his dad. Clearly the kid was embarrassed by his dad, who was on his cell phone for a good portion of the game. Then come the third period, did the unspeakable. He was one of those guys who while talking on his phone, waved his hand frantically  as play came to our end, just for his friend to see him–or his arm–on TV. This went on for half the period until his son finally told him to stop. I’m sure the guys behind him were pissed. It was distracting for me and he was to my left. See, there are people in Canada who can’t act like they’ve been there before.

Despite the silence toward me, it was neat eavesdropping on people speaking both French and English in this bi-lingual capital as well as the in-game announcements being made in both languages. Yet the presentation lacked in engagement. No chants to get the crowd going or anything. The fans finally took to themselves to get a small chant going in the third but it was too little too late.

The game itself was a sleeper for the most part with Mike Condon making some terrific and lucky saves for the Sens. It wasn’t until halfway through the third when the pace and hitting really picked up in the 1-1 game, then heading into overtime when Victor Hedman sealed the win for the Bolts.

If I would go again, I would definitely sit in a higher row. Do not buy seats on the glass at the CTC, at least in the corners. I decided to grab one because they are a tremendous deal compared to other arenas on the resale market. A front-row seat was only $30 more than what I’d pay in the upper bowl at Verizon Center. But the inconvenience got to be a little much. The first row sets back about a foot from the glass, so in between each whistle people walk in front of you to go in between sections. That got old when this family who was split up across two sections kept swapping seats and any other person wanting to cut across to this cut-out section in 101 for drinks. Plus, the distance from the glass didn’t make being in the front row as special. The best arenas have your knees pressed against the boards and your face can kiss the glass at your own risk.

Would I return to the CTC? Yes, but I’d sit in a different section and row plus choose a game with an opponent people would get riled up over. I would still take in a pre-game meal and take the Don Cherry shuttle. Plus, I’d convince friends to come with me to make it a social affair.

IMG_2371Whether it’s the CTC or the new arena, I definitely need to get back to Ottawa for a game. The city is beautiful and I couldn’t fit everything in during my stay. Part of that I blame on my back that gave out right before vacation. That didn’t make it fun or easy to walk around the city or during the tour of Parliament. It also prevented me from finding an outdoor rink to skate around. The weather from the previous weeks also thawed out the Rideau Canal and a nearby skating trail, melting my vacation plans.

Basically, I have to schedule for the dead of winter at the end of January/beginning of February to try to avoid a freak thaw like this year’s. See you next year, Ottawa?


NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

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