By Mike Keenan
For locals and tourists alike, the Meridian Centre is a vital St. Catharines focal point. On October 21, 2014, St. Catharines’ native band “City and Colour” performed as the headline act for the Centre’s opening. Afterwards, it has hosted such acts as The Tragically Hip, Chris De Burgh, Blue Rodeo, Old Dominion, Elton John, Daniel O’ Donnell, Metric, Johnny Reid, Hedley and Death Cab For Cutie.
Prime tenant is the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League. They won their first game at the Meridian Centre October 16, 2014, against the Belleville Bulls, 7–4 with a sellout crowd of 5,300, the largest attendance in franchise history. This record was broken when standing room tickets were sold during the 2015–16 playoffs with an attendance of 5,580.
In 2015, the Meridian Centre welcomed the Niagara River Lions of the National Basketball League of Canada, which opened up a basketball court venue for important Brock University men’s and women’s games when the larger venue was needed. The River Lions joined the Canadian Elite Basketball League in 2018.
The Meridian Centre hosted the 2016 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship in January 2016. The final, a 3–2 overtime victory for the United States over Canada. The total tournament attendance of 34,523 surpassed the previous record of 16,855.
On September 29, 2016, the Meridian Centre hosted a pre-season exhibition game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League. After regulation and overtime, the game remained scoreless at 0-0. Matt Moulson gave the Sabres a 1-0 shoot-out win.
The Meridian Centre hosted the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the annual Canadian women’s curling championship, between February 16 and 26, 2017. Team Ontario, led by Rachel Homan, defeated Team Manitoba in the final by a score of 8-6. The overall attendance throughout the tournament was 56, 804. In June 2018, the Meridian Centre hosted the 2018 FIBA Under-18 Americas Championship. It played host to Harlem Globetrotters basketball games, WWE NXT and Cirque du Soleil.
At a recent IceDogs game, I viewed the banner of Stan Mikita, the great Chicago Blackhawk high-scoring forward that hangs in one end of the Meridian Centre. I reflected back on the rich heritage and storied days of St. Catharines Teepee teams coached by Rudy Pilous.
The St. Catharines Teepees were born in 1947 when local businessman George Stauffer, president and GM of Thompson Products Ltd., purchased the St. Catharines Falcons team for $2500 from Rudy Pilous. He named the team after the company’s initials. During the fifteen years the Teepees played, they were a powerhouse in the OHA, finishing first five years in a six-year span, and winning the championship twice. The Teepees won the Memorial Cup in 1954 and 1960.
Many graduated to the NHL. Some will bring back memories – the Cullen brothers, Roger Crozier, Ian Cushenan, Marv Edwards, Roy Edwards, Phil Esposito, Vic Hadfield, Murray Hall, Wayne Hillman, Ken Hodge, the Hoekstra’s, Bobby Hull, Dennis Hull, Doug Jarrett, Chico Maki, Ab McDonald, John McKenzie, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Ken Schinkel, Don Simmons, Fred Stanfield, Pat Stapleton, Art Stratton, Red Sullivan, Jerry Toppazzini and Elmer “Moose” Vasko.
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