Sags


Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Arena Name: Centre Georges-Vézina
Capacity: 4,651 (3,683 seated)
Built: 1949
Address: 643, rue Bégin, Chicoutimi, QC, G7H 5B8
Telephone No: (418) 698-3071
Ice Surface Size: Olympic
Franchise Date: 1973-74
QMJHL Championships: Two, Most Recently in 1993-94
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Navy Blue, Baby Blue, & White
Official Web Site: Sagueneens.com
Unofficial Site: Sags Forum
Tourist Information: Tourism Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean
Google Satellite: Click Here
Former Arena: Palais des Sports de Saguenay

QMJHL
Centre Georges-Vézina
Centre Georges Vezina
What's the Arena Like?
According to native legend told to the first French explorers, a "Kingdom of the Saguenay" existed far to the north in Quebec, populated by blond-haired men rich in gold and furs. While the mythical kingdom was never found, the name eventually was applied to the Saguenay River, to the Saguenay region consisting of the present towns of Chicoutimi, Jonquière, and La Baie, and to the local hockey team, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.

The Kingdom of the Saguenay of legend, like the lost city of El Dorado or Atlantis, may never have existed, but the drive north from Quebec City, through muscular green mountains and sparkling lakes devoid of people, puts one in the mindset of the ancient explorers before one finally reaches the outskirts of town. The Chicoutimi suburbs are nondescript, like any other place in Quebec, but when you reach the older city proper, you find a quaint, lovely city built on the side of a steep hill rolling down to the river, populated with colourful row houses and French Colonial-style stone buildings. I immediately fell in love with the town, with it calling to mind maritime villages in Newfoundland, only with a French flair. The downtown main street sits right on the riverfront, and sheer stone cliffs on the north shore of the fjord only add to the majesty of the setting.

The Centre Georges-Vézina (formerly the Colisée de Chicoutimi) sits on what would have been the outskirts of the city at the time of its construction in 1949, about a kilometre south of downtown. It is surrounded by parking lots, and further on, parkland and housing. It is a squat white building with reddish orange trim, and which the massive angled roof is the only distinguishing feature approaching from the side. From the front side, there has been an addition to the rink done at one point or other, consisting of a small glass enclosure on the second storey. Apart from that, there's very little to indicate that it's not 1949 anymore. The arena lobby is small and intimate and almost immediately one is dumped into a tiny concourse, extending left or right under the stands, or opening directly into the seating bowl behind one of the nets. A massive Saguenéens logo sits embedded in the linoleum floor. To the right, a tiny hole-in-the-wall team store sells souvenirs.

Once out in the arena bowl, you find yourself surrounded by red and blue seats. There is a ground level "moat" concourse in addition to those both under and on top of the grandstands, so while all three are relatively narrow, traffic does not bottleneck even when the game is sold out (as ours was). The Alpine wood roof, supported by black iron trusses, is the dominating feature of the building. Yet as beautiful as the aged wood is, it is also the cause why the Saguenéens have had to move out of the arena in the past, and why the city is hurriedly studying for a new building. Apparently when it snows (as it does a lot in the Saguenay), the city has to pay workers to go up and remove the snow to eliminate the risk of collapse. While I am not an engineer, I did notice numerous spots of dry rot on the woodwork, and I am curious to know if it's the wood or the trusses that are in such dangerous condition. (I'm also told that the roof is still leak-proof.)

Regardless, the Centre Georges-Vézina is an absolutely beautiful arena. The building has otherwise been kept up to date, with newish plastic seats and a video scoreboard, in addition to a secondary video screen in one end. Seats are cramped and leg room, unfortunately, isn't sufficient to the needs of anyone taller or heavier than average. There are also seats in every section where the roof trusses impede head room - while sitting is comfortable enough, one has to take care when standing up not to bonk one's head! It was once common in English Canada to have a portrait of the Queen hanging in one end of the rink, though I've never seen that in Quebec. In Chicoutimi, they still have the anciens Quebecois equivalent - a corpus crucifix high in the rafters. Jesus Christ himself, nailed to the cross, looks down upon his flock.

With the Belleville Bulls having left Belleville (and the Yardmen Arena subsequently having been renovated), the Centre Georges-Vézina is the last CHL venue with Olympic-sized ice. The Sags generally take advantage of their home ice and build a high speed, high octane team that can skate circles around the opposition.

Like many old-school Quebec venues, concession prices in Chicoutimi are reasonable. The Centre Georges-Vézina is the only arena I've ever been to, anywhere, that has no macrobrewed beer available at all - the only beer available is from the local microbrewery La Voie Maltée, who have a blonde ale called "Sags Beer" in addition to three other varieties. The game I went to also included a giveaway at the door of free cheese curds from the local cheesemonger, in perhaps the most stereotypical promotion in the history of organized sports.

As mentioned, a new arena is on the way for Chicoutimi. Obviously, a building that is structurally unsafe must be either repaired or replaced, and one cannot blame the city for replacing their 70-year-old arena with something sparkling and new. But it is still a shame to lose it. Unlike many old buildings that feel cramped or outdated, the Centre Georges-Vézina still feels up to date and (apart from the seating) spacious. If the roof were fixable, it would be wonderful if the arena could be kept open. Buildings from the immediate postwar period are closing rapidly as they reach the ends of their natural lifespans, but more than any other arena I've been to, the Centre Georges-Vézina still feels capable of meeting the needs of a present-day CHL team. It's just a shame about the roof!

More than any other CHL team, the Sags seem to represent their region across the board like that. The Saguenéen name isn't just a mascot; the team motto "Fier d'Être Sags" (Proud to be Sags) isn't just a hashtag dreamed up by a bored marketing intern. The Saguenéens are a team that belongs, fiercely, independently, completely, to the Kingdom of the Saguenay. I am so grateful to have gotten to see them play, in their old-school home, while I still could.
Future Developments
The Saguenay city council unveiled plans for a new arena in September. While no firm dates are available yet, one expects that the arena will be constructed rapidly given the emergency roof repairs which evicted the Saguenéens for over a month to neighbouring Jonquière.
How To Get There
From A-70: Exit at Rte. 175 (exit 47) and proceed north on 175/boul. Talbot, then follow the directions below.

From Rte. 175 (boul. Talbot): Proceed north into town and turn left on boul. de la Université Est. The arena will be on your left, at the corner of Université and Bégin.

Parking is on site and free.
Inside the Centre Georges-Vézina
Centre Georges-Vezina
Franchise History
The Saguenéens franchise was granted in 1973-74 as an expansion team, and has been a model of consistency in an unstable league ever since, having never changed names, cities, or arenas. The uniforms have changed a few times though - the current classy duds the Sags wear are throwbacks to their original unis, but somehow in the 1970's they were abandoned for the hilarious combination of green and orange. For those interested, a "Saguenéen" is a person from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec; the name is similar to the English Houston Texans.
Retired Numbers
14 Alain Cote
16 Normand Leveille
18 Sylvain Locas
20 Marc Fortier
21 Guy Carbonneau
29 Felix Potvin
Local Rivals
Chicoutimi's rivalry with the Quebec Remparts is the stuff of legend, with fistfights on and off the ice being commonplace. Baie-Comeau is also a rival for supremacy in northeastern Quebec.
Inside the Centre Georges-Vézina
Centre Georges-Vezina

Feedback

If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.






Copyright © Kevin Jordan 2002-18.
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Last Revised: September 27, 2018