Olympiques

Gatineau Olympiques

Arena Name: Robert Guertin Arena (Aréna Robert Guertin)
Capacity: 4906
Built: 1957
Address: 125 rue De Carillon, Gatineau, QC, J8X 2P8
Telephone No: (819) 595-7700
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 1973-74
QMJHL Championships: 7, Most Recently in 2007-08
Memorial Cup Championships: 1, in 1996-97
Colours: Black, Silver & White
Official Web Site: LesOlympiques.Net
Unofficial Sites: Non-Official Olympiques Site, Olympiques Message Board
Tourist Information: Tourisme Outaouais
Google Satellite: Click Here
One-Time Second Home: Scotiabank Place

QMJHL
Robert Guertin Arena
Robert Guertin Arena
What's the Arena Like?
While Gatineau is the third-largest city in Quebec, it is dwarfed by its twin Ottawa across the river. The city is a bilingual one, and from the outset I had always conceived that it would be a sort of hybrid of the QMJHL and the OHL. Even Robert Guertin Arena, with its downtown location, is closer to the Parliament Buildings than the Ottawa Civic Centre. However, while arena announcements are bilingual, make no mistake about it: it's a QMJHL town as surely as Ottawa is an OHL one, and the two solitudes don't appear to mix much in any way.

Robert Guertin Arena is a well-maintained building in a working-class neighbourhood. Nestled between downtown and the autoroute, it has a convenient location with on-site parking, and has an interesting traditional design with an arched roof and red aluminum siding complimenting brown brick. While the "marquee" entrance facing rue de Carillon is the one that an uninitiated visitor flocks towards, the main entrance is actually down along the side of the building facing the parking lot.

The arena lobby is a traditional one, with ticket windows, a souvenir boutique and concessions all immediately visible as soon as you enter, and the walls painted in team colours of purple, orange, black and yellow. There is very little public space between the ticket booths and the turnstiles, and later I was to find out why - immediately after puck drop, the turnstiles are whisked away and the lobby becomes part of the main arena. Unusual, but interesting, and it would appear that latecomers are forced to have their tickets taken right at the door by arena security. Robert Guertin is one of those old buildings with many nooks, crannies, back staircases and strange entryways, and so by whatever route you choose, you ultimately find yourself in the main seating bowl.

Like much of its similarly-aged brethren, the Robert Guertin Arena is a triple-concourse design, with a top concourse being the main one for seat access and complimenting one under the seats and another at ice level. The setup works very well and bottlenecks are uncommon. Wooden seats surround the ice on a steep incline painted in bright blue, red and green, and they're wide to the point of being almost unheard of. Leg and elbow room abounds! However, the same cannot be said about the section design. There are only twelve sections in the entire building, and most have at least 40 seats to an aisle. If you're on the end of the row when the arena is full, you'll be disturbed almost constantly by passers-by.

Washrooms and concessions aren't plentiful and tend to line up and stay that way. The scoreclock is relatively new and works quite well, and includes a digital display for sponsorship messages and announcements. Rows of suites overhang the seating running down both sides of the ice, and if you look up to the rafters, each suite is equipped with a television set embedded in the ceiling. Most were turned either to the game feed or the NFL game going on at the time, but the one directly above our heads was turned to something else entirely. A press box runs down the one side of the arena, completing the setup. Finally, the arena's strangest feature is one I haven't seen anywhere else, ever. Robert Guertin Arena has two penalty boxes for some reason. Each side of the ice contains a player bench and penalty box, although the one on the visitors' side doesn't appear to be used for anything.

The history of the Olympiques is also on display everywhere. Banners hang from the ceiling celebrating great players and championships, and the concourses are all full of pictures and other memorabilia from the team's long history. One arena wall contains photos of every player from Hull's 1996-97 Memorial Cup-winning team. In spite of the history and good design, as soon as the game started, I was worried that the game experience in Gatineau would be ruined like so many others across Canada. Game presentation is as promotion-heavy as any I've seen in the province of Quebec. Nearly every stoppage in play is time for another sponsor announcement, and the mascot, Hully the Panda, is pretty over-the-top with his zany antics. While promotions tend to destroy atmosphere in most buildings, this thankfully doesn't seem to be a problem in Gatineau, and the crowd is knowledgeable, loud and into the game. It was very gratifying to see.

Gatineau is the closest QMJHL city to my home in London, but it was my twelfth Q arena visited for a game. I had put off going for a long time because I figured it was the easiest to get and I would visit someday, but having finally been now, I'm glad I waited. As a more seasoned veteran of the QMJHL now I'm able to appreciate just how terrific of a building Robert Guertin Arena is by the league's standards, with a loud atmosphere, great views of the ice and wide, comfortable seats. While it has its problems - not enough washrooms or concessions, a cramped ticket area and ridiculously large seating sections - it's refreshing to find a place where a promo-heavy atmosphere doesn't destroy the hockey one. And moreover, while it is within walking distance of Ontario, it's just as much QMJHL as Val-d'Or or Victoriaville. The whole game long I didn't see one 67's sweater, and the only Ottawa Senators one I saw was worn by my travel companion. In many ways Gatineau turns its back somewhat on the larger city across the river, and they have a stronger and more unique hockey experience for it.

Jason Cormier says: Robert Guertin Arena oozes history. From the working class neighbourhood in which it's located to its barn-like exterior; from its cramped entrance way to the gated ticket gate; from the ice level entry into the arena to the steep seating; from the standing room wrapped around the entire rink to the low roof.

There is ample parking next to the rink and access from the Ontario side is fairly simple. The box office is right inside the first set of doors at the side of the rink though lines can be long if there a lot of walk-up sales. There are concession stands outside the seating area and another set on the concourse/standing area that surrounds the top of the rink. Washrooms are not too plentiful and fill up quickly.

The rink is small by CHL standards but medium-sized in the Q. When the seats (3500) and the standing room are full, about 4300 people are crammed inside. (Capacity is most definitely not the 4900 claimed in the league guide.) The seats wrap around the entire rink and the standing area is along the concourse above the seats. Team benches are on opposite sides of the rink, much like at the Civic Centre across the river.

The seating at Guertin is very steep and all the way around. The fans are right on top of the action and they let the visitors know they are there. The low roof and the ample beer sales also contribute to an extremely loud and intimidating experience for visiting teams. On the other hand, the fans are also very knowledgeable and appreciative. With the exception of the hard-core nationalists who only show up for the infrequent games vs. the 67's, the crowd is not rude or violent. When the opposition is worthy, they will show their appreciation. Sidney Crosby was a recent recipient of multiple standing ovations at the rink.

The owners of les Olympiques have been in lengthy negotiations with the city over expanded office space, larger dressing rooms, more concessions, and bigger washrooms. The negotiations have become so bitter at times that the team started making threats of moving, though it was disguised as an appeal for more season ticket sales. The city will eventually relent and make the desired improvements.

Future Developments

The city of Gatineau is planning either a full rebuild from the inside out of the Guertin Arena, or to demolish it and build a new arena next door. Either way, the plan would result in a 6,000 seat arena for the 'Piques. A time frame for the work hasn't yet been decided.
Inside Robert Guertin Arena
Arena Robert Guertin

How To Get There

From Ottawa: From Ottawa, take Sussex Dr to the Alexandria Bridge. Cross the bridge and continue straight along boul. des Allumettières. Turn right at De Carillon. (If you come to Autoroute 50, you have gone too far.) The arena is about 100 metres down the road, on your left. The parking entrance is off De Carillon, just before the rink.

Parking is on-site and free.
Franchise History
Hull Arena was built in 1957 as the main arena for the city of Hull/Gatineau, Quebec. The Olympiques franchise was founded in 1973 as the Hull Festivals but were renamed the Olympiques in 1976, and have been a model of stability for an oft-unstable league. The now-renamed Robert Guertin Arena is the only home that the team has ever had.

The Olympiques also played one home game against the Ottawa 67's at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa in January 2002.
Another Look Inside Robert Guertin Arena
Robert Guertin Arena

Retired Numbers

10 Jean Poulin
15 Luc Robitaille
16 Sam Lang
20 Martin Gelinas
24 Colin White
25 Maxime Talbot
33 José Théodore
77 Guy Rouleau

Local Rivals

There really aren't any Q teams that are that near to Gatineau, but the other Quebec teams in the Montreal-Quebec corridor are rivals. The Olympiques and the Ottawa 67's used to play each other in exhibition games, but that was stopped a few years ago because the rivalry was too intense, to the point of being dangerous. The danger of the rivalry didn't really have anything to do with hockey, either - hardcore Quebec nationalists tended to attend the games in great number and the atmosphere became more about politics than sport.

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 2002-08.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: October 22, 2008