Despite the dreary weather, hockey fans in the Friendly City made their presence felt on Wednesday, welcoming the AHL Belleville Senators home in fine fashion.
The red carpet at the pre-game fan fest was soaked, but a handful of players still made the soggy walk down it, greeting fans and signing autographs for those who waited out in the cold.
Once inside it didn’t take long for the chills to fade as fans warmed up to the newly refurbished Yardmen Arena.
Most fans hadn’t seen the rink since before construction work started late last year and told Quinte News they were absolutely impressed by what they saw.
The $20 million renovation project saw the addition of 800 seats, a brand new video scoreboard, smaller ice surface and numerous other improvements around the building.
That opinion was shared by dignitaries involved in the game’s opening ceremonies as well, including American Hockey League President Dave Andrews.
The success of the event was no surprise to team owner Eugene Melnyk, who praised Mayor Taso Christopher and the delegation from the city for their part in bringing the team to town.
Melnyk says, in his mind, Belleville was a perfect fit from the first time he heard the idea.
The Senators’ players got a lift from the crowd as well, battling through a physical affair, to come from behind three times and win 4-3 in a shootout.
Forward Tyler Randell played with the Belleville Bulls during his OHL career and newcomer Gabriel Gagne had the shootout winner.
Both were extremely impressed with their first experiences in the refurbished barn.
Fans don’t have to wait long to see their new club in action again, as the B-Sens host the Charlotte Checkers on Friday and Saturday nights.
That’s part of six more games in a row at home, before Belleville visits Utica on November 17th.
Click below to listen to the full interview with American Hockey League President Dave Andrews:
Click below to listen to the full interview with Sentaors’ owner Eugene Melnyk: