Vancouver, BC- Canada West is the most spread out conference in U SPORTS, and with that comes varying levels of fan engagement. While Atlantic Canada routinely sees crowds of 1000+ frequenting the regions’ arenas, the same can’t be said for Canada West. However, that doesn’t mean that the facilities are subpar in any way.
49 Sports recently ranked all seven U SPORTS men’s hockey arenas in the AUS, but today, we are travelling coast-to-coast to rank the hockey arenas of Canada West.
9. Mount Royal- Flames Community Arenas
There’s not much to the home of the Mount Royal Cougars. The rink that saw the Cougars men lose in the overtime of the Canada West quarter-finals is 1/3 rinks in the multi-rink Flames Community Arenas. The Cougars call the Blue rink home, but other than spacious locker rooms for players, the arena is very minimal. Much like others in Canada West, fans are treated to bench-style seating, but only having it on one side makes for a lacking atmosphere.
The broadcast location for Cougars games is also somewhat problematic, with the camera off-centre and obstructed views throughout the game. On a more positive note, a Yelp! Food review mentions that the concession’s meatball subs are “more than good!”
8. Grant MacEwan- Downtown Community Arena
Simple, yet good enough. Those are my thoughts on Grant MacEwan’s home arena. The bench seating on one side is very minimal, but at least there are backrests. The facility was one of the main factors in getting the Griffins into U SPORTS, but it is still pretty plain. There is a separate press box at the end of the rink, although that vantage point is far from perfect.
The arena was built as part of the Rogers Place and Edmonton Ice District projects and features five dressing rooms, but is much simpler than other Canada West arenas.
7. Calgary- Father David Bauer Olympic Arena
For a decent team, this old barn doesn’t do justice. The first thing that used to stick out has been fixed, the fact that the bench seating was green and gold, the colours of their rival, the University of Alberta. It’s not in the photo, but they’ve been painted red, making this arena feel much more like home.The stands are bench-style, which is a drawback that makes the venue not ideal for fans with back issues.
The Father David Bauer Olympic Arena is very close to the University of Calgary campus, as well as a transit line, which is good, but that’s one of the few positives of the venue. It boasts an Olympic sized ice surface, which can favour the Dinos teams, but also contributes to one of the complaints of U SPORTS hockey and the league’s variable ice sizes.
6. Regina- Co-Operators Centre
The home of the Regina Cougars is part of a multi-rink complex, but it is better than the aforementioned Flames Community Arenas. Rink 6, where the Cougars play has one-sided seating but boasts individual seats, as well as solid sightlines from everywhere in the house. The facility is also on-campus, which makes the team more accessible to the student body.
For the team, it offers a centralized location for all operations. From locker rooms, the weight rooms to offices, everything a hockey team needs is found in the walls of the Co-Operators Centre. While a name does not affect the arena, Regina’s rink is also one of the few university arenas to have a coorperate sponsor.
5. Manitoba- Wayne Fleming Arena
The Manitoba Bisons play in one of two Canada West arenas that also house a WHL team, with the other being the Trinity Western Spartans. Up until 2019-20, the Bisons were the primary tenants of the Wayne Fleming arena but now share it with the Winnipeg Ice, who renovated the facility prior to their first WHL season in the ‘Peg.
While the seats are bench-style, they do include a backrest, unlike traditional bench seats, which is a must for a WHL franchise. The seats are also arranged throughout the arena, rather than just one side, as is the case with some Canada West counterparts. There is now a media deck on one whole side of the arena, and the deck offers a wide, yet close view of the ice, unique to Wayne Fleming Arena.
The refurbishment of the facility for WHL hockey certainly aided it’s ranking on the list, but it is still a very bland venue.
4. Alberta- Clare Drake Arena
The Clare Drake Arena has the richest history of any in Canada West and has hosted notable events throughout its history, However, its age has shown. Built-in 1959, the arena is very simple and doesn’t have many of the amenities that are included in modern arenas. It is one of the few rinks to have bench-style seating, which despite its old comfort, isn’t the nicest for spectators. There are four locker rooms in the facility, with two dedicated to the schools varsity teams.
Clare Drake Arena is on campus, which gives it a major bonus, and it hosts two programs that are some of the country’s most successful. With both of those in its favour, the arena sees some of the best crowds in western Canada, however, this is a ranking of arenas, not crowds.
3. UBC- Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre
Built for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Thunderbird’s arena is a major upgrade on their occasional fill-in home and old rink, Father David Bauer Arena. It is right in the heart of the campus, yet struggles to attract much of a student crowd. The facility boasts a capacity of 7’200 seats, and every one of them is individual, not bench-style like multiple other Canada West schools. However, despite the size being too big for university hockey, everything else is of premier quality.
The main concession is open regularly for all events, and for bigger events, the venue opens other food and beverage stations. There are two event areas above the ice for various events and promotions, but these platforms keep the game insight. The pressbox lacks chairs, but it is situated high above the ice and is accessible by elevator, two rarities for U SPORTS hockey.
Players have access to an adjacent facility that has weight and therapy rooms, but the main locker rooms are permanently installed in the main arena. While the former Olympic venue is too big to top this list, its one of the best in university hockey, and was recently spoken about as a potential host for the resumption of NHL play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Trinity Western- Langley Events Centre
UBC is nice, but it’s not the best university hockey arena in BC’s Lower Mainland. While the LEC has not hosted U SPORTS hockey just yet, the home of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants is one of the nicest small arenas on the west coast.
While there is worry about the potential of filling the 5000+ person arena and not being on-campus, there is not much else to worry about for the new U SPORTS venue. The concessions offer simple stadium food, but good enough for any event, and there are 26 luxury boxes around the arena for special fans. The media setup is also professional quality, with separate print and broadcast areas, and both have chairs, unlike UBC.
The entire facility, which also boasts additional basketball, gymnastics and hockey areas also has 12 team rooms and was briefly mentioned in NHL return to play plans.
Similarly to Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the LEC also puts together a pristine broadcast, making Spartans hockey enjoyable across the country. Not being on-campus is a major drawback, but its worth leaving TWU campus for a facility of this calibre. As an expansion team in U SPORTS, it is up to the university athletics department to promote these hockey teams better than ever before, to hopefully draw students out to games. Another bonus? It’s got a video jumbotron, something seldom seen in U SPORTS arenas.
1. Saskatchewan: Merlis Belsher Place
Flashy, new and comfortable. Merlis Belsher Place is the perfect venue for university hockey in Canada. Opened in 2019, it replaced the 89-year-old Rutherford Rink as the home of Huskies hockey. When one compares the two, theres no competition, but that’s not what we’re here for.
Merlis Belsher Place has the main rink, with a capacity of 2’487, expandable to 3000+, as well as an additional rink for community hockey. The locker rooms are spacious and professional, there are individual seats for fans, as well as standing room for socializing. Are you a VIP? Then you can also enjoy the multiple luxury boxes in the arena. For every fan, they’re also able to enjoy a rarity in U SPORTS hockey, a video jumbotron. As the newest facility in U SPORTS hockey, Merlis Belsher Place is the perfect home for Canadian university hockey.
As an aside, with a writing team that doesn’t live in Saskatchewan and can’t visit the rink regularly, Merlis Belsher Place has a professional level broadcast setup that allows us here at 49 Sports to cover the team as we would if we could attend.
With U SPORTS hockey cancelled until at least Jan 1, the University of Saskatchewan has transformed their pristine arena into a field hospital, anticipating a major second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
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