Itinerant Fan

Scotiabank Saddledome

Over three decades of existence, the Scotiabank Saddledome has been through quite a bit. The venerable venue with the potato chip-shaped roof has had three corporate sponsors attached to its name; it hosted hockey and figure skating during the 1988 Winter Olympics; it hosted a Stanley Cup-winning Flames team in the 1988-89 season; and it survived serious flooding in Calgary in 2013.

Flames ownership has been looking for ways to build a new arena for some time, raising the specter of relocation. Despite that, the Saddledome is still plugging away as Calgary’s primary indoor venue, hosting not only the Flames but events for the annual Calgary Stampede and minor-league hockey and lacrosse as well. 

The Saddledome is showing its age in a few areas, but still appears to be a fine venue for Flames fans to watch their team play. Mrs. Fan and I checked out the facility in our first-ever visit to Alberta, braving the winter chill to see the Flames in action.


The approach: Getting to Scotiabank Saddledome

The Calgary Stampede, a 100-year-old event held every summer, requires sizable grounds to hold its massive proceedings, which it has just southeast of downtown Calgary. The Saddledome is just one venue in the complex, and it sits on the far end of the grounds respective to downtown.

The upshot: The arena appears deceptively close to the downtown core, but unless you manage to park your car right near the doorstep, you’ll likely find yourself doing more walking than you expected.

Many fans take the C-Train, Calgary’s light-rail system, to the game. Both lines of the train run through downtown, but only one, the Somerset/Bridlewood-Tuscany line, swings by the Saddledome. (In fact, riders to the game have to take note that while the downtown area is a designated zero-fare zone, the Victoria Park/Stampede station that services the Saddledome is just outside this zone and valid fare is required. But the C-Train operates on an honor system, so it’s hard to tell how rigidly authorities enforce fares during the hockey-game rush.)

Light rail is a popular way to get to the game, so expect crowds of folks wearing red going to the game and especially right afterward. Also be prepared for the aforementioned long walk; from the Victoria Park/Stampede station, you’ll need to go through a long indoor tunnel, then an equally long outdoor tunnel, to get to the arena. At least you’ll get to see a ton of Calgary Stampede posters and other memorabilia along the way.

If walking is your sort of thing, it is possible to get to the arena from downtown on foot — from the Calgary Tower, you’re looking at a stroll of a little more than a mile.

For drivers, there’s plenty of parking surrounding the arena and throughout the Stampede grounds, including a parkade (fancy term for a parking structure) right next to the Saddledome. Rates were C$15 at the game we attended.

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The build-up: Things to do around Scotiabank Saddledome

For pregame imbibing, look just north of the Stampede grounds, where you’ll find an array of restaurants and bars frequented by fans. Options also exist downtown, close to light rail access — in fact, downtown Calgary has an impressive array of brewpubs and restaurants, particularly along 8th Avenue SW (aka Stephen Avenue), which is closed to vehicle traffic.

Even in the freezing weather (which I’m sure Calgarians are plenty used to), there were plenty of fans walking around the downtown area and hanging out in restaurants. We chose to head straight to the game, but during our three days in Calgary we sampled a few of these spots.

One particular favorite: Local Public Eatery, which had the ideal ratio of food items, beer selections and TV screens for most sports fans.

Scotiabank Saddledome rink

The ambiance: Watching a game at Scotiabank Saddledome

Once you’ve gotten inside, pretty much everything the Scotiabank Saddledome has to offer is laid out before you. There’s only one main concourse, and while it’s mostly wide and spacious along the sides, it’ll get a little narrow at each end of the rink. But there’s plenty to see, including a “Hall of Flames” that highlights the team’s history and displays highlighting the arena’s role in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

All the food and drink options are in front of you as well, and the stands are largely the same on both sides. Mrs. Fan and I were intrigued by two different items — her by a “Pocket Dawg” (basically a hot dog completely encased in a bread roll), me by a “signature burger” (a pretty big bacon mushroom burger). We each purchased our respective wants, and while both items were pretty good, they weren’t really adventurous as far as arena food goes. We also saw a stand for Cin City Donuts, the mini-donuts purveyor that seem ubiquitous around Western Canada (we also saw it at Rogers Arena in Vancouver).

Our seats were in the Press Level, a fancy name for the upper deck. Which seemed all well and good until we had difficulty figuring out how to get up there. You’ll have to look closely at the signs for the “PL” sections, and even then there are only two staircases — one on each side — that will get you there. You must walk up the length of the 200 section, then through another series of ramps and staircases, to reach the Press Level, where you’ll find limited restroom and concessions facilities.

Oh, and God forbid you misread the sign and go up the wrong side of the arena from your actual section — your only recourse is to go back down from whence you came and repeat the climb on the other side. The usher of our section, a Dan Bylsma lookalike, clearly had to tell a pair of fans this, based on their reaction: a very audible “Aw man!” So pay VERY close attention to your section and where you’re headed before you start climbing.

Once in our seats, we quickly discovered what the drawback was to that cool saddle-shaped roof. It sorta feels like you’re staring at the rink through a porthole from up there. You also can barely see the overhead scoreboard thanks to the press gondola that hangs in front of you; at least there are scoreboards and video screens posted on the side of the gondola.

Be careful if you’re in Row 5, the first row behind the walkway that cuts through the Press Level — folks tend to loiter in that walkway even while play is in progress and can block your view. At least the ushers are pretty vigilant about keeping it clear, even going so far at one point as to ask Mrs. Fan if she could see, and when she replied “not really,” telling the offending folks in front of her to please move along.

Flames fans, we learned, are a pretty spirited bunch. Pay close attention during the singing of the U.S. national anthem, when they’ll scream along when certain words are mentioned (“see,” aka C, and “red,” namely). 

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    The Particulars

    Home Teams
    Calgary Flames

    Address
    555 Saddledome Rise SE
    Calgary, AB T2G 2W1

    Year Opened
    1983

    Capacity
    19,289

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