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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Progressive Auto Sales Arena - Sarnia Sting

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Progressive Auto Sales Arena 1455 London Road Sarnia, ON N7T 7N2

Sarnia Sting website

Progressive Auto Sales Arena website

Year Opened: 1998

Capacity: 4,118

The Hive On Campus

At the Western tip of Ontario, across from Michigan, sits Sarnia, Ontario. In 1994, local NHL legend Dino Ciccarelli and his family purchased the wayward Newmarket Royals and moved them to Sarnia, christening the team the Sarnia Sting. The Royals originated in Cornwall in 1969 and were a bit of a stalwart franchise until moving to Newmarket in 1992. In preparation, the City of Sarnia rapidly put together a plan for a new arena that would be appropriate for OHL hockey. The result was the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre that saw its first game in 1999. In 2009 the City would sell the naming rights to the Royal Bank of Canada making it the RBC Centre from 2009 until 2015. After a short return to the SSEC, naming rights were sold to Progressive Auto Sales on a 10-year deal beginning in 2016. In a bit of a unique situation, Progressive Auto Sales Arena sits on the campus of local community college, Lambton College.

The Sting have been a consistent team in the West Division for the majority of their duration in Sarnia. In 2015 the Ciccarellis sold their stake in the Sting to a pair of former NHL players, Derian Hatcher and David Legwand. Both now have active roles in the team, with Hatcher also acting as head coach. Despite their consistent success on the ice, the Sting are still looking for their first J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions. Despite the lack of championships, the Sting have produced a number of 1st round draft picks for the NHL including Trevor Letowski, Nail Yakupov, Mike Van Ryn, Alex Galchenyuk and their favorite son, Steven Stamkos.

Food & Beverage 5

At Progressive Auto Sales Arena there are four concession stands around the arena concourse and each stand offers different culinary options. Smoke’s Poutinerie, The Hot Dog Hut, Pizza Pizza and the Creemore Market Carvery are the four main stands. Smoke’s offers a variety of the Canadian staple, poutine, and is creating a growing footprint for itself around Canada, especially in arenas and stadiums. Pizza Pizza is the Canadian authority on pizza and slices can be found for $8 with a soda. The Hot Dog Hut offers a variety of gourmet hot dogs including the Southwestern Dog, Poutine Dog and Club Dog. Finally, the Market Carvery offers a variety of sandwiches as well as alcohol options. Traditional arena fare, including nachos, popcorn, chips and chocolate bars can be found at the Pizza Pizza stand.

As far as beverages go, Pepsi products can be found throughout the arena in the 500 ml plastic bottle. There are also some alcoholic beverages available. At mobile stands around the concourse and most concession stands, Molson Canadian, Coors, Coors Light and Rickard’s Red are available in tallboys for $8.25/$8.50. Draught is also available at the Market Carvery and Pizza Pizza stand for $6.25/$9.75. Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Palm Bay Coolers are available at the Carvery as well if you are interested in a non-beer alcoholic beverage. Bottle water and Tim Horton’s coffee and cappuccino are also available.

It is difficult to go wrong with the wide variety of culinary options at Progressive Auto Sales Arena. However, if you are looking for something distinctly Canadian, especially if you are from across the border, then head for Smoke’s Poutinerie and try some poutine. The Double Pork is a great option featuring pulled pork and double-smoked bacon.

2023 Update: A reader has let us know that the concession stands al appear to take credit cards as a payment option.

Atmosphere 3

Progressive Auto Sales Arena was built at the beginning of a wave of new arenas in the Ontario Hockey League. As a result, it is a pretty decent spot to catch a game, but there are certainly some issues with the arena. The exterior is not overly spectacular but is not remotely close to being an eyesore. The arena features red and grey brick with blue siding. Where Progressive lacks is in any sort of major entryway to the arena. There is no large meeting spot and fans meeting friends before the game will assuredly be forced outside.

Upon entry, fans are immediately thrust into the main concourse, behind the seating bowl. The concourses are open concept, giving fans a view of the ice while walking around. On the southwest side of the arena, you will find two banners that may confuse you a bit. One is for former NHL referee Kerry Fraser and former NHL player Shawn Burr. Neither have a specific connection to the Sting, however both are Sarnia natives. A few Sting specific banners hang above the ice. These include division championships from 2004 and 2016. The Sting also hang a banner for players who reached 50 goals and 100 points in a season. There is also a banner for players who have won the World Junior Hockey Championships. The centerpiece for the Sting, however, is the retired number 91 of former first pick overall and NHL All-Star, Steven Stamkos. New to Progressive is a crystal-clear video board and ribbon board around most of the arena. LED lights also brighten up the arena.

The in-game promotions are about what you would expect from junior hockey. The Sting feature a local school or choir singing the national anthems. The 50/50 is a staple as well as the expected on ice and off ice promotions. There is definitely a community feel at the Sting game and they are heavy on sponsorships. Chuck-a-puck is a staple at the Sting game also, which is not normally found at larger arenas. The music at the Progressive is a mix of modern and classic pop/rock with traditional hockey organ mixed in. The mascots Buzz and Honey also make their presence felt on and off the ice.

The seating bowl at Progressive Auto Sales Arena features 13 rows of traditional plastic stadium seats in maroon. There are cup holders throughout the arena also. If you are interested in that perfect picture of the ice with the logo facing your direction, then the west side of the arena is where you want to be. As with most junior hockey facilities, standing room is something of a tradition, and there is plenty behind the seating bowl along specified rails. There are luxury boxes above the concourses in a horseshoe around the west, north, and east sides of the arena. For an alternative experience, Legends, the in-arena restaurant and bar, is available on the east side of the arena. As far as which seats you should choose, a capacity of over 4,000 means that almost all the seats provide a great view of the ice. Selecting one of the top few rows will give you the opportunity to see the majority of the ice without having to look through the glass.

Neighbourhood 3

Progressive Auto Sales Arena is located on the campus of Lambton College. Just to the north of the college is London Road which offers a huge selection of recognizable chain restaurants that you may wish to select. From fast food to roadhouse chains there is a decent variety for you to choose from. There are also a few options that are a little more unique and may interest you. Some of these may include Norm’s Pub and Grill, Canton Restaurant, John’s Restaurant, BrownStones Sports Lounge, Nick’s Family Restaurant and Sicily Restaurant and Pizzeria. However, Bains BBQ might be the best selection of them all.

As far as other entertainment options go, Sarnia does not offer too many other things to capture your imagination. In the months with nicer weather, the waterfront is nice, but the most popular attraction may be the Blue Water Bridge, which leads to Michigan. If you have kids with you, the Stones ‘n Bones Museum may be worth a look. There is not much in the immediate vicinity as far as other sporting options.

There are a couple of places that you may consider staying in Sarnia. The Ramada is on Modeland Road and is the closest to the college campus. The Howard Johnson is just on London Line also.

Fans 3

Sarnia Sting fans are fairly average as far as the OHL goes. The Sting consistently average around 3,000 fans per game. This puts the Sting at the top of the bottom third with regards to attendance in the OHL. The fans in the stands do get excited and loud at the right time and usually there are a few fans in the stands brandishing cowbells or drums.

Access 3

Getting around Progressive Auto Sales Arena can be the biggest impediment to enjoying a Sting game.

Progressive Auto Sales Arena is located on the campus of Lambton College and practically at the junction of highways 20 and 402. It is just west of the Bluewater Bridge, which leads to Port Huron, Michigan and the northern suburbs of Detroit.

The Sarnia Transit does have a bus that runs right into the college for those of you who are interested in public transit. Check out the City of Sarnia website for maps, schedules and fares.

There is plenty of free parking on the campus immediately surrounding the arena. On a game where there is a sellout, you may want to consider getting there early to ensure that you have a good spot.

Ticketing and gate entry are areas that Progressive Auto Sales Arena falls flat. Ticket windows are outside the arena and will-call is split at different entrances with temporary desks. Progressive Auto Sales Arena would definitely benefit from some sort of atrium that could act as meeting place, ticketing and entry out of the elements.

Getting around Progressive Auto Sales Arena can be a real challenge. The concourses are far too narrow especially with a variety of temporary tables set up. Intermissions are best spent in your seat, which is never a great formula. Washroom facilities are pretty small also. Add lines for concessions and washrooms with narrow concourses and getting around is more hassle than it’s worth.

Return on Investment 5

As with most Major Junior hockey, the Sarnia Sting offer a great experience for not a ton of money. Tickets for the Sting go for around $22 with discounts for seniors, students and children. Although concessions may not be cheap, you can’t argue with the quality and selection. Parking is free also. Combine all of these with the opportunity to see top notch hockey in a pretty decent atmosphere, and you have a great combination for an excellent evening or afternoon’s entertainment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the unique “Yuuup Yuuup” call after Sting goals.

An extra mark for honouring local Sarnia hockey products.

An extra mark for a steady, stable OHL franchise.

Final Thoughts

The Sarnia Sting offer the typical OHL experience which fans have come to expect. On the campus of Lambton College, Progressive Auto Sales Arena offers a solid OHL experience. If the Sting and City of Sarnia could find a way to iron out the kinks, the Hive would be an even better spot to catch a game. However, Sarnia is still a good experience and one that is well worth taking in.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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