Friday, March 3, 2017

How to Go to a Hockey Game in New Brunswick, Canada

Next Friday, the most popular team in the Canadian Province of New Brunswick, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will host the Charlottetown Islanders.

Yes, the QMJHL may, and does, also include teams from Atlantic Canada, a.k.a. the Maritime Provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Yes, it's called New Brunswick. No, aside from the name, it has no connection with the New Jersey city that's home to Rutgers University.

I originally had this set for February 28, for their March 7 home game against their Provincial rivals, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. But the weather on that day was forecast to be nasty: "Snow of varying intensity" through the day and low 20s by night. So I moved it back.

Before You Go. New Brunswick is in Canada, so you will need a passport. And you will need to change your money. At last check, US$1.00 = C$1.32, and C$1.00 = US 76 cents. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.

The Maritime Provinces, a.k.a. Atlantic Canada, are 1 hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. So a game starting at 7:00 PM their time would by 6:00 our time. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Saint John -- usually spelled out, unlike the Newfoundland capital, which usually gets shortened to "St. John's" and has the apostrophe-S on the end -- is in Canada, and this is winter. It's also a seafront city, where wind can be an issue. On Friday, the temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s by day, and the mid-teens by night, but it's also expected to be the 3rd of 7 straight days with no new snow, so it's a big improvement over my original plan, for the Tuesday night game. Still, bundle up.

Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.

Tickets. Their arena seats 6,308 people. This is a minor-league game, and not against a Provincial rival, so they probably won't sell out. You should be able to get a ticket. Seats are C$29 between the goals and C$19 behind them.

Getting There. St. John, New Brunswick is 607 miles from Times Square, and 71 miles from the nearest border crossing, at Calais, Maine. Air Canada can fly you from New York to Montreal and then to Saint John International Airport, but it would cost over $1,000 round-trip, and your flight back would have to be at 5:15 AM. No good. VIA Rail goes there, but not on the day you'd need. On Greyhound, you'd first have to get to Montreal. There's 1 bus each day, each way, between Montreal and Saint John: Outbound, leaving 9:30 PM and arriving 2:40 PM; inbound, leaving 3:40 PM and arriving 12:05 AM; cost, C$273. That's nuts.

So it looks like you'll have to drive. Start out as if you're going to Boston: Take Interstate 95 North to New Haven. Take Exit 48, Interstate 91 North to Hartford. Take Exit 30, Interstate 84 East into Massachusetts. You'll merge with Interstate 90 East, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and take that until you reach Interstate 495, Boston's outer beltway.

But instead of continuing on the Mass Pike to Boston, take Exit 11A onto I-495 North, into Boston's northern suburbs, until you reunite with I-95 North at Salisbury, just before reaching the New Hampshire State Line. You'll cross New Hampshire and go into Maine. Take Exit 182A onto U.S. Route 1A, turn left on State Route 46, right on State Route 9, then follow this rural route all the way to Baring, where you'll meet up with U.S. Route 1. Turn left at International Avenue, and you'll reach the Border.

Don't get cute. Show your passport. If they ask for any other ID, show them that. If you have anything that could be considered a weapon, even a pair of nail clippers, it's probably best to mention that. Don't make any wiseass remarks about Canada. When they ask you your purpose for visiting Canada, tell them you' re visiting Halifax as a tourist. (That is the truth.) Presuming you don't do or say anything stupid, you should get across with no trouble.

International Avenue becomes New Brunswick Provincial Route 1. Take this to Exit 122, which will put you on Main Street. Almost immediately, turn right on Union Street, then right on Smythe Street, then right on Long Wharf, which becomes Station Street. The arena will be on your left.

If all goes well, you should be in New York State (not counting Manhattan) for half an hour, in Connecticut for 2 hours, in Massachusetts for an hour and 15 minutes, New Hampshire for 15 minutes, Maine for 4 hours and 45 minutes, Customs for 15 minutes or less, and New Brunswick for an hour and 15 minutes. Given rest stops in Connecticut and just after arriving in Maine, it should take about 12 hours.

Once In the City. Like the New Jersey city of the same name, which is home to Rutgers University, the Canadian Province of New Brunswick is named for the German city of Braunschweig. This was the hometown of Britain's King George I, who reigned from 1714 to 1727, and his House of Hanover, which continued under all 4 King Georges, King William IV, and Queen Victoria until her death in 1901.

Home to around 750,000 people, New Brunswick is about 22 percent Francophone, but only about 5,000 French-first people live in and around Saint John. The Province's license plates do say both "New Brunswick" and "Nouveau Brunswick." The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is 15 percent. All New Brunswick mailing addresses have a Postal Code that begins with E. The Area Code is 506.

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Saint John in 1604, naming it for John the Baptist. It is home to about 67,000. Just last year, Moncton surpassed Saint John to become the Province's largest city, with 71,000 people. (Like New Brunswick, New Jersey, Moncton is known as the "Hub City.")

Saint John is "Canada's Irish City," as a result of taking so many immigrants during the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. But Protestants (including Irish) still out number Catholics. 47 percent to 40.

The capital of New Brunswick is Fredericton, 68 miles northwest of Saint John, and home to 56,000 people. The drinking age in New Brunswick is 19. Its leading newspaper is the Saint John-based Telegraph-Journal.

Saint John Transit runs the bus service in town (no rail, either above or below ground, local or commuter), and fares, depeinding on distance, range from C$2.50 to C$3.50. Bay Ferries runs a ferry service across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John to Digby, Nova Scotia. There is no "centerpoint" (or "centrepoint") for street addresses, but address numbers go up heading north and east. Like many Canadian cities, Saint John has a climate-controlled walkway, in their case above-ground, known as the Inside Connection. The arena is connected to it.
Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, in Fredericton

Going In. Harbour Station bills itself as "Atlantic Canada's Enetertainment Centre!" With 6,308 seats for hockey, 7,305 for basketball, and 7,586 for concerts, it opened in 1993, at 99 Station Street, at the intersection of Sewell Street. Parking is only C$3.00. The Saint John Sea Dogs, of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, were founded in 2005, as the successors to the American Hockey League's Saint John Flames (1993-2003).
You're most likely going to enter from the west or south, since the north is bordered by Route 1 and a railroad. The rink is aligned southwest-to-northeast.
The Saint John Mill Rats were a founding franchise of the National Basketball League of Canada, in 2011, and they also set up shop at the Harbour Station, changing their name to the Saint John Riptide this season, renaming themselves for the nearby Bay of Fundy, famous for having the world's highest tides. The arena survived a small fire shortly before a Mill Rats game in 2014.

Food. The arena's website says only that, "Food services are available at 7 locations on the concourse, including TIM HORTON'S." (Emphasis theirs, not mine.) In other words, you may be better off eating before and after the game, rather than during.

Team History Displays. The Sea Dogs won the President's Cup, the QMJHL championship, and the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian junior hockey, in 2011. They won the President's Cup again in 2012. They have also won Division Championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. They have banners for all of these achievements.
They have no retired numbers. The former Sea Dog that Devils fans would most easily recognize is former New Jersey defenseman Eric Gelinas, now in the Colorado Avalanche's minor-league system.

Harbour Station also honors (or "honours") the Saint John Flames, for their 2001 AHL title, the Calder Cup; and its 1998 Division and Conference titles.
Stuff. Being a minor-league team, the Sea Dogs don't have a large team store, only a few souvenir stands. There are no books or videos about them.

During the Game. Your safety will not be an issue. The people of Saint John won't be bothered by a New Yorker showing up, especially if he's going to, as they say in another sport, root, root, root for the home team.

The Sea Dogs hold auditions for National Anthem singers, as opposed to having a regular. A "sea dog" is a seal, and the team's original mascot was a black seal named Splash.
Splash

However, in 2009, Fleaburn, the dog mascot of the departed Flames (his name a play on the fire theme), was brought back. Though why his hat resembles a basketball more than a hockey puck is a mystery.
Fleaburn

After the Game. As with your entry, your exit is most likely to be by the west or south entrances. But there aren't many places nearby to get a postgame meal, or even a pint. Vito's, at 2 Peel Plaza (Union Street and Chipman Hill), was the only place that even showed up on Google Maps. You may have to go further east on Union Street to find a place.

Rocky's Sports Bar, at 7 Market Square (corner of St. Patrick and King Streets), is 5 blocks from the arena, and is said to be the best sports bar in the Province.

Sidelights. There is one other pro hockey team in New Brunswick. The Moncton Wildcats play at the Moncton Coliseum, built in 1973, about 90 miles to the northeast. They won the QMJHL title in 2006 and 2010. The Coliseum is also the home of the Moncton Miracles, of the National Basketball League of Canada, arch-rivals of the Saint John Riptide.
Moncton Coliseum

Professional baseball and soccer are not particularly big in New Brunswick. Indeed, a website titled Canadian Soccer Blog couldn't find a single bar in the Province to add to its The Ultimate Guide to Canadian Soccer Pubs, although the aforementioned Rocky's was cited on another page.

However, Moncton Stadium, opened in 2010 on the campus of the Universite de Moncton hosted 7 matches of the 2015 Women's World Cup, including a Round of 16 match in which Australia eliminated Brazil. With 10,000 permanent seats, but expandable to up to 20,725, it's hosted 3 regular-season games in the Canadian Football League's "Touchdown Atlantic" series.
Moncton Stadium, with temporary end-zone bleachers
and the CFL's notorious 25-yards-deep end zones
taking out the curves of the running track

Other colleges in the Province include the University of New Brunswick, with campuses (campii?) in Saint John and Fredericton; and Mount Allison University, 120 miles to the northeast in Sackville,

Neither Elvis Presley nor The Beatles ever performed in the Province of New Brunswick. Harbour Station remains the Province's most significant concert venue.

The New Brunswick Museum, at 1 Market Square across from Rocky's, is the oldest continuously-open museum in Canada. Fort Howe was a site briefly taken over by the Continental Army during the War of the American Revolution in June 1777, until the British drove them out. Magazine Street at Webster Street. The Carleton Martello Tower is a historic site, dating to the War of 1812. 454 Whipple Street, across the Saint John River on the city's West Side, 3 miles south of downtown. Neither of these historic sites is reachable by public transit, but Fort Howe is a mile's walk, including over the Main Street overpass over Route 1. And New Brunswick's historic sites do not include any birthplaces or residences for Prime Ministers, as none has ever come from there.

Like East Brunswick, New Jersey, Saint John has an indoor shopping mall named Brunswick Square. It has a tower that is the tallest building in the city, 265 feet high. 39 King Street, corner of Germain Street. It is tied for the title of the tallest building in the Province, with Assumption Place in Moncton.

Any TV shows set in the Province would only be familiar to Canadians, not to Americans. The movie filmed there most likely to be familiar to Americans is Children of a Lesser God, for which deaf actress Marlee Matlin won an Oscar.

*

Saint John is not much like St. John's University in Queens; and New Brunswick, Canada is not much like New Brunswick, New Jersey. But it is worth a visit, especially for a hockey fan.

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