Jack Gatecliff Arena
St. Catharines, Ontario
An ancient building unexpectedly drafted back into service hosting the OHL instead of enjoying a quiet retirement, Jack Gatecliff Arena nonetheless is a quality place to watch a game, with the fun atmosphere of an older building mixing with some newer amenities. Still, the old building flaws show through in too many places to rate it more highly on the list, and a new arena is crucial for the long-term survival of the IceDogs on the Niagara peninsula.
Architecture: Grade C
The older parts of the building are pretty typical for a pre-war arena, with a concrete faux-stone design and the name of the building engraved into the former front side. Unfortunately, the 1960’s addition of the adjacent Rex Stimers Arena is merely an aluminum bunker next door, and the 1996 renovations destroyed most of the dignity that remained. When something dignified and old meets angular and new, the end results are seldom pretty.
Interior Layout and Design: Grade D
Cramped, crowded, and nearly impossible to move around in – that’s the Jack Gatecliff Arena’s interior in a nutshell. The new renovations make getting to the arena bowl easy enough, but one narrow top concourse is not enough with which to move traffic around, and the gameday closure of the tiny bottom concourses means that you may as well stay in your seat during intermissions.
Seating: Grade D
Hard wooden benches aren’t as uncomfortable as they look, and that’s saying something. They’re not the worst seats in the OHL – nothing could ever be as bad as Kingston’s slatted nightmares – but they’re still not great. 1938’s fire code means that there are as many as forty seats between aisles, which means if you’re on the end, people will be walking in front of you all game, and if you’re in the middle, you may as well not even try to get out. And avoid the back row at all costs – there isn’t even enough leg-room there for a child.
Scoreboard: Grade C
The clock is old but functional, the sound system tired but not as garbled as some. Four new video screens hanging in the four corners bring the grade up to a B.
Arena Employees: Grade A
Niagara's ushers are plentiful, helpful and cheerful.
Facilities: Grade D
An ancient hockey rink wedged onto a street corner in the heart of a downtown area is always going to have parking issues, but it takes some doing to be as bad as the parking situation at Jack Gatecliff Arena. There are no lots nearby at all, so you’re stuck cruising the side streets looking for a street spot, or paying to park in a faraway lot and hiking. There aren’t enough washrooms either, but at least they’re reasonably clean.
Atmosphere: Grade A
The thing that impressed me most about the fans in St. Catharines was how they truly hadn’t seemed to have missed a beat in thirty years of missing the OHL. The fans I spoke with were knowledgeable as any in the league – they knew their team, knew the opposing team, knew the league and knew their hockey. This is not a neophyte OHL market here – these are people who know and love the OHL and are thrilled to finally have it back again. The atmosphere inside the arena on gameday is great – loud and fun – and I will definitely be making the return trip again and again.