IceDog

Niagara IceDogs

Arena Name: Meridian Centre
Capacity: 5,300
Built: 2014
Address: 55 McGuire Street, St. Catharines, ON, L2R 0B3
Telephone No: (905) 687-3641
Franchise Date: 2007-08
OHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Red, Black & White
Official Web Site: niagaraicedogs.net
Unofficial Sites: Local Sports Report, IceDog Fans, IceDogs Message Board
Ice Surface Size: 190 X 85
Google Satellite: Click Here
Former Arena: Jack Gatecliff Arena

OHL
Meridian Centre
Meridian Centre
What's the Arena Like?
In retrospect, it's hard to believe it took this long. The Niagara Region of Ontario has a long history with junior hockey, with producing quality players for professional careers, and for supporting hockey at the grass roots. In addition, the region also has nearly half a million people, rising to well over a million when nearby Hamilton and region is included. Yet up until 2007, the region had been without an OHL team for a decade. The reasons were complicated, but the biggest one was the fact that Niagara Region doesn't have one defining city, but rather two rival ones. Back in those crazy days when the IceDogs were a new team and I was still pretending to update this website semi-regularly, I wrote in my 2007 review of the old Garden City Arena that in the dying days of the Niagara Falls Thunder, "no St. Catharines newspaper would cover a Niagara Falls team, and very few fans from the Garden City made the short trip to watch hockey in the Falls. And vice versa. This indirectly contributed to the last failure of the OHL in the region, as the Thunder refused to advertise to St. Catharines until their last, desperate season, and St. Catharines fans largely refused to attend games. But all that is in the past now. In 2007, for the first time in history, the two cities are working together under a common regional name, and the results so far look promising for the future of the OHL on the peninsula."

Well, not to toot my own horn too much, but it worked spectacularly. On New Year's Eve 2014 I took in a game at the sold-out new Meridian Centre, a new building as spotless, bright and airy as the old pre-war arena was... well, none of those things. The Niagara Region finally has a team and a building and a future, and has properly re-joined the 21st century of the OHL in a way that they really never should have left. (And, it's also worth noting, the IceDogs franchise finally has put its dysfuncional history behind it and, for the first time in its nearly twenty-year existence, has stable ownership, a nice arena, and fans who care.)

Anyway, the cranks who still read this Web 1.0 relic are probably interested in the building itself. Allow me not to disappoint. The arena sits in a valley between downtown St. Catharines and the 406 expressway. The setting of the arena is striking - passing by on the 406, it feels tall and handsome, but as you exit, circle around, and try to find the front side, it's hidden up the hill behind the facades of downtown buildings. In fact, because of the valley layout of the land, the two downtown entrances to the arena are from concrete footbridges that transverse high above the valley and into building entrances on the top floor. It is the only arena I've ever been to where you enter from the very top and have to walk down to get to the concourse, let alone the arena floor which is five storeys below downtown street level. Parking on gameday is just as challenging as it was in the days of the Jack Gatecliff Arena, but the new arena's downtown location at least opens up the downtown surface lots as options.

The team still seems to be working out kinks in the new building's daily operations. We entered from the the "Rankin Gateway" bridge and immediately found ourselves in a long line - the concourse entry is on level three, with building entrances at valley street (1) and downtown street (5), but rather than scanning tickets at both doors, the stairs were backed up royally from the scanners at level three - three people for two entrances' worth of people. In addition, there's no box office on level five, so if you need to access will-call, you need to somehow fight through the lined-up crowds from 5 down to three, and then against the tide down to level one to get your tickets. The arena set-up is cool, but it needs a re-think on the ticket scanning operations.

But no matter. Once you're finally in, the Meridian Centre, at least on the surface, is pretty similar to all of the other new arenas built since the mid 1990's - one top-level concourse, 5,000 seats on one level, suites above, local sports hall of fame; if you've been to Guelph, Mississauga, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Oshawa, or anywhere else built since the Grapes of Wrath were Canada's hottest band, you've got the idea. But there are definite nice touches. I loved the colour in the Meridian Centre - blue seats complimented with orange, lime green wayfinding signs, lemon yellow, teal, and blue walls. If I'm making the Meridian Centre sound tacky, I don't intend it - the colour works and gives the place a sparkle and life that duller new arenas lack.

The place is professionally-run, with a good-quality sound system and HD video board and all the other toys the modern, expensive OHL requires. I only noticed a few things that seemed more in line with the OHL's amateur league status - the team store, for example, resembles a Soviet-era department store with acres of empty space - but overall it's a good place to see a game. My single biggest complaint was with some of the seats. Because I am a cheap son of a bitch and OHL tickets now average more than double what they were when I first had Knights season tickets, we elected to sit in the "family zone" behind one net that's $5 cheaper than the tickets everywhere else. And we quickly found out why they were so cheap. Most arenas these days have temporary seating in one end, to accommodate trade shows, concerts, and other functions. It comes with the territory, and most hockey fans are used to sitting on metal risers in some buildings instead of concrete. But the riser the Meridian Centre bought is the cheapest, worst, most unsafe-feeling I've ever been on. An average adult walking down the aisle was enough to shake and sway an entire section's worth of people, and my poor, motion sickness-prone wife finally had to give up midway through the third period. We spent the rest of the game in standing room to get away from the rocking and shaking. I'm no engineer, so I can't speak to whether the end sections are actually unsafe or just feel like it, but suffice to say there are no other seats in the OHL where I'd rather sit less. Don't buy tickets there.

Overall, though, the new arena is lovely. I can't imagine I'll need to come back annually, but I'm thrilled for the people of Niagara region that the future of their team is secure, that they have a new arena to be proud of, and that the biggest obvious hole in the OHL's league footprint is permanently filled.

Future Developments

There are no plans to renovate or replace the Meridian Centre.
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
In spite of the fact that fans in St. Catharines have been without junior hockey for thirty years, they were surprisingly hardcore. They're not old Windsor-grade or anything, but there was enough of an edge on the crowd to count for something.
Inside the Meridian Centre
Meridian Centre

How To Get There

From QEW Eastbound: Go east on QEW to Hwy-406 South. South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. Go west (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. Go north (right) on Geneva to Race St., turn left and follow to the Meridian Centre parking lot.
From QEW Westbound: Go west on QEW to Lake St. exit. South (right) on Lake until it dead-ends at Ontario St. Turn left on Ontario, then left on St. Paul, and you'll pass the bridges to the arena on the right. To get to the arena parking lot, carry on to Carlisle St., turn right, then right again on McGuire and straight to the lot.
From Hwy-406 Northbound: North on Hwy-406 to Geneva St. exit. North (right) on Geneva to Race St., turn left and follow to the Meridian Centre parking lot.
From Hwy-406 Southbound: South on Hwy-406 to the Westchester/Eastchester exit. West (right) on Westchester Cr. to Geneva St. North (right) on Geneva to Race St., turn left and follow to the Meridian Centre parking lot.

As for parking - good luck! The Arena's location on city streets in the heart of downtown means there isn't a lot of options, so your best bet is either one of the small pay lots nearby, or parking on a side street and walking.
Franchise History
The IceDogs were originally founded in 1998-99 as an expansion team under the ownership of Don Cherry. They had a mostly terrible decade in Mississauga, with a conference championship in 2003-04 being the only bright spot during a decade of losing. In 2006-07, St. Michael's Majors owner Eugene Melnyk bought the Dogs so that he could take over their lease at the Hershey Centre; the IceDogs were moved out of town the following year to St. Catharines.
Retired Numbers
None
Local Rivals
Mainly Mississauga and Erie, the latter of whom play the IceDogs six times per year in spite of being in different conferences.
Another Look Inside the Meridian Centre
Meridian Centre
About the City
By St. Catharinian Adam Pike:
St. Catharines is an average-sized city of just over 130,000 sitting on the South Shore of Lake Ontario, halfway between Toronto and Buffalo. Settled in the late 1700's, it was mainly used as a stopover for travellers on their way to larger towns in Upper Canada.

It is home to the Lake Ontario entrance/exit of the Welland Canal part of the St. Lawrence Seaway system, and the building of the canal made St. Catharines the commerce hub of the Niagara Region. St. Catharines was also the terminus of the Underground Railroad and because of this some older buildings have secret rooms and there are tunnels underneath the downtown core as well.

Currently, St. Catharines is taking on the task many cities its size are attempting: revitalizing downtown. City Council has made it a priority to redevelop downtown, returning all streets to two way traffic in a bid to have the "Niagara Wine Route" run through the main downtown street (St. Paul St.) A new campus for Brock University's arts program will be moving downtown as well, occuping a former maunfacturing building on the bed of the original Welland Canal, and a new Arts Centre will be built on St. Paul St.. containing 4 venues, with one 900 seat performance hall and 3 other 200-300 seat halls, and a boutique hotel is set to open up i nthe site of the former Leonard Hotel.

A push for a new OHL standard arena has been going for many years, to replace the aging Jack Gatecliff Arena, with little success. Now that the OHL has taken up residence in St. Catharines once again, talk has increased and the City is currently completing a feasability study (paid for by local Ice Dogs boosters) with bids to come in 2010 about a new $40 million dollar 5-6,000 seat arena to sit on a parking lot downtown, next to the new Brock U. Campus, which will also house a Niagara Sports Hall of Fame.

For tourist info, visit St. Catharines Tourism and Tourism Niagara.

Feedback

If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.


 

 


Copyright Kevin Jordan 2002-15.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: January 1, 2015