Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
While it can't match the old Sault Gardens for character, quirkiness, or atmosphere, the new Essar Centre more than exceeds it in terms of facilities, convenience and the other things that usually cause cities to demolish their old buildings. While laid out like a standard clone rink, the Essar Centre is run with a refreshingly laid-back atmosphere and has its history on display, and while it's not a top-of-the-pile building in any respects, it is a worthy successor to the Gardens and one of the better arenas in the OHL.
Architecture: Grade A
While it's not as architecturally interesting as the art moderne Gardens was - few buildings anywhere are - the Essar Centre is still a terrifically designed building, with the brown brick, numerous windows, and silver accents contributing to another winning new arena design.
Interior Layout and Design: Grade A
The lack of a restaurant means that the wide concourse extends 360 degrees around the building, and the lobby, team souvenir stand and other facilities are pretty much where they should be.
Seating: Grade B
Pretty standard-grade plastic seats with decent views, and the best thing about them is their colour. No new Greyhounds arena should feature anything less than total red saturation, and the Essar Centre seats fulfill this admirably.
Scoreboard: Grade B
It's a monster, with enough room to hold all the information and a clear, precise sound system complimenting it. A video board has been installed since my visit as well.
Arena Employees: Grade B
City-employed concessionaires and ushers run the place with a certain amateurish charm. There aren't any power-mad security guards here, just a bunch of friendly people who haven't been over-trained so ridiculously that they can't exercise their own judgment.
Facilities: Grade A
A whole load of on-site parking both at the arena and across the street at the Station Mall combines with perfectly adequate and clean washrooms and a fully-stocked team store-booth to result in a building with facilities as good as any in the league.
Atmosphere: Grade B
The best parts of the old Gardens - the sculptures, stained-glass, tower and war memorials - have been saved, and used as the basis for the new arena. While it's not as loud as the Gardens was, the laid-back but still electric northern atmosphere is still there. The Greyhounds saved everything that was worth saving about the old arena while building something new and excellent, and now can call their rink one of the OHL's better ones.