Saturday, January 3, 2015

Revisiting the Niagara Ice Dogs at their new home at the Meridian Centre

A couple of years ago in this space I wrote of my first-ever visit to a Niagara Ice Dogs game over at the old Jack Gatecliff Arena, their home until this year when the 'Dogs moved into their snazzy new home at the Meridian Centre.

Back then I was invited (okay, cajoled is more like it) by colleague and Ice Dogs arena announcer Rod Mawhood.  I crawled through the labyrinth up to the announcer's booth, a rather, uh, quaint space overlook the ice surface at The Jack for the duration of the game, watching as the home team won a hard-fought battle that night.  I commented afterwards - only half jokingly - they won on account of my being there for the game that night.

Fast-forward to this week and an opportunity arose to spend New Year's Eve at the new Meridian Centre helping out my esteemed colleagues at Meridian Credit Union as we worked the crowd for a very worthwhile cause.  The game was an early one, starting at 6 pm, so we all gathered in the lobby area at about 4:45 to prepare for the evening's events.

The past couple of months, all the Meridian branches in Niagara have been selling tickets on a couple of stress-free office chairs worth about $3200 apiece, donated by Critelli's in downtown St. Catharines.  The money raised - every penny of it, in fact - would go to Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold and the Alzheimer's Society of Niagara Region.  The draw would be held during the second intermission of the game against the Peterborough Petes on New Year's Eve at the Meridian Centre.

Ticket sales were very good, and a final push was made at the game as we were all stationed around the facility and fanned out during the first intermission in order to gather ticket orders from hockey fans.  I was lucky enough to be able to work the suites on the upper level, which meant more people with money might be inclined to buy tickets, and that certainly proved to be the case.

I finally had a chance to sit in one of the chairs at the game, and it was nothing short of heavenly.  Oh, to be able to buy a ticket on one of these babies myself!  Alas, it was not to be...

Since we were at the game, I had a chance to see part of the action from my upper-level perch and draw some comparisons between the new facility and the old.  Without question, the Meridian Centre is light-years ahead of anything we've had in Niagara before, and the parties involved with the approval, design and construction of the Meridian Centre are to be commended for their efforts.

The fact we finished this thing on time and on budget, while still maintaining a significant wow factor for the fans, is nothing short of miraculous in this day and age.

I like the design overall and the little touches such as cup holders in some of the seats, and the wonderful smell of food available for purchase throughout the facility.  I also appreciated nice clean washrooms, compared to what we had at The Jack for so many years.

What didn't I like?  Well, the noise for one thing.  I appreciate this is a spectator facility and that involves a lot of fan interaction in this day and age of digital everything.  But after awhile, I found the  whole affair to be aural overload for this old guy.  Remember, this is from someone who has been to literally hundreds of public events of every description over a very long career.

Noise aside, I like the way Rod and his audio/visual team keep things moving and keep fans involved in the action.  It's all very professional and never over the top.  Just a bit too noisy for my liking...

The Niagara Ice Dogs are here to stay and know how to put on a good show for the fans.  I am certain  the team along with owners Bill & Denise Burke will provide fans with quality sports entertainment for a long time as the City of St. Catharines and taxpayers put their money where their collective mouths were a couple of years ago and invested in the future.

It's also nice to see the downtown core come alive on game nights with fans heading to the game, perhaps spending money at some of the downtown eating and drinking establishments either before or after the game.  Parking is always going to be an issue with some not wanting to pay for parking in the two parking garages downtown,  but hey, you can't have everything, right?

So my first impressions are very positive indeed.  We have a great facility here in the Meridian Centre, and this is just a taste of what's to come when the new Performing Arts Centre and Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts open up later this year.  Fasten your seat belts, St. Catharines, we're about to embark on a fun ride downtown in the very near future.

Oh, about the game score?  Niagara Ice Dogs lost 3-2 on New Year's Eve.  I'll take the blame for that, I guess, as we packed up and left after the draw prior to the final period.  Should have stuck around and maintained my good karma for the good of the team, I guess.

Sorry about that, Rod...

Happy New Year!

January 3rd, 2015.

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