First Visit: March 6, 2022
CHL Arena: 62
QMJHL Arena: 23
Inspired by the experience of the city of Winnipeg in getting their Jets back, and flush with cash from Quebecor Media, the city of Quebec decided in the early 2010's to build a new NHL-calibre arena in hopes of inspiring the return of the Quebec Nordiques. Time will tell if the plan works or not, but so far, all that having a new 18,000 seat arena in Quebec City has done is give the Remparts a new place to play. Since the Nordiques left and the Remparts moved back to the Expo-Cité grounds in the late 1990's, the Remparts have been one of the CHL's best-supported teams, and going to see them play in front of a full house at the Colisée in 2007 was one of the best junior hockey experiences I've ever had. And sure, other junior teams in the Western League play in NHL-sized arenas, but the Remparts are the only one right now who are the primary tenant at theirs. I was excited to find out what it was like.
Videotron Centre looks not unlike a spaceship that has landed in the middle of the city's fairgrounds. The new rink is a short distance from the old Colisée, still standing as of 2022, and is also not far from the Pavillion de la Jeunesse, another former Remparts arena. There is ample parking on site, but it's expensive by junior standards, and there doesn't appear to be enough entrances into the lots. The game I went to was restricted to 50% capacity in light of the COVID pandemic, but even though I got in line to park with more than enough time to get in for warmups, we missed most of them after waiting nearly twenty minutes to get into the parking lot. People kept pouring into the arena for at least half of the first period, and I imagine that parking backups are the primary reason for that. If you're going, definitely plan to go early!
The main arena entrance is reminiscent of Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, or the Sabres' rink in Buffalo. A large lobby with a huge team store and ticket windows leads to escalators which head up into the seating bowl. For the game I went to, the upper deck was closed, but there are escalators leading up again from the concourse to funnel people to the top when needed. The concourse also has large windows with a lot of natural light that pours in during a day game, which is always a nice touch.
I've now been to most of the NHL in addition to my junior hockey travels, and by the standards of the modern NHL, the Videotron Centre is perfectly middle of the road. Inside, you could easily be in New Jersey or Edmonton or any other modern NHL rink built in the past two decades. There's a wide concourse around the top of the seats, restricted club seats along the sides, an outer concourse with exposed wood that looks not unlike an airport concourse, souvenir kiosks and bars and concessions. There is an enormous video board with professional-grade sound and graphics. The seats are comfortable and the views are excellent, with the angle of the seating being steep by new building standards.
Atmosphere in Quebec is also tremendous. The fans that were always intimidating at the old Colisée are still there, still loud and passionate. And yet... I kept glancing over at the Colisée, sadly locked up and abandoned across the parking lot, and wishing I was back there one more time. Don't get me wrong, the Videotron Centre is without question the best junior-only facility in Canada. But with the building only half-full, it felt cavernous and empty, and I really wished that, despite the pandemic, I could have seen it full. Going to an NHL game with 18,000 fans feels like the big time, and the Remparts, in the pandemic, didn't feel that way. As an NHL facility, Videotron Centre is middle-of-the-road, perfectly nice and luxurious without having anything that really makes it stand out. But it felt less like junior hockey than any other junior game I've ever been to.
In fact, one of the only things that really stuck out in my mind that made the game I saw there feel like a Remparts game is an old tradition that's carried over to the new rink - kids playing mini-stick hockey on every available flat surface in the concourse. Dozens of mini-stick games were constantly happening at the Colisée, and I was so glad to see that new arena security hasn't clamped down on the tradition.
Even before leaving the game, I had the idea in mind that someday, when the pandemic is well and truly over, I'd like to come back and see the Videotron Centre again. I fully accept that I didn't see it at its best, but the impression I was left with above all was a relatively average NHL arena with only one unique thing about it - the fact that it belongs to a QMJHL team. Even then, all the banners from the old Nordiques have made their way across to the new building, waiting for an NHL team that may never return. Someday I hope to see it full, whether that be for the Remparts or for the unlikely return of the Nordiques, and see Videotron Centre at its best.