U SPORTS HOCKEY: Ranking the OUA West Arenas

Toronto, ON If you like old hockey arenas, you’ve found the right list. The OUA Western Conference has some of the country’s oldest rinks, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still nice in the 21st century. From small-town barns to refurbished cathedrals of hockey, the OUA West offers all a traditional hockey fan could wish for.

49 Sports has been ranking the arenas across U SPORTS conferences, including the AUS and Canada West, but today, join us in taking a look at the first half of the OUA

10. University of Windsor- Capri Pizzeria Recreation Centre

On-Campus: No

Ice: >NHL size

Capacity: 500

Capri Pizzeria Recreation Center
(Stadium Journey)

Off-campus, small and old, the home of the Windsor Lancers leaves fans wanting more. While a dedicated few make their way out to the South Windsor complex, the rink is eons behind many other U SPORTS arenas when it comes to a modern gameday experience.

The rink’s scoreboard is at the end of the ice, leaving it out of the view of many in the gently sloped arena, and even if your eye can find it, the board doesn’t show shots on goal, a mainstay in modern arenas. The seats are only found on one side, and although the rink’s age adds character, the one-sided seats make the contribution minimal.

When at the arena, fans should put an emphasis on heading to Rico’s Food & Refreshment to grab a hot chocolate, because the home of the Lancers can get very cold. Many have told me that the key to an enjoyable night at the arena is either bundling up or making sure to secure one of the seats under a heater. 

9. University of Waterloo: Columbia IceField Arena

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: NHL size

Built: 1983

Capacity: Around 700

CIF Arena - University of Waterloo Athletics
(University of Waterloo)

The name says it’s an icefield, and that’s nearly true. Seats are extremely limited, and standing capacity is around 500. At least this arena is on campus. While Waterloo has good support for its football team and boasts a rich hockey history, the student body of 30,000+ will never be attracted to a tight, old barn-like the Columbia Icefield Arena.

8. Brock University- Seymour-Hannah Centre

On-Campus: No

Ice: NHL size

Built: 2005

Capacity: 1’500

Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre · Find Rinks ...
(City of St.Catharines)

The Seymour-Hannah Centre is one of the few rinks in the conference that isn’t on campus and that’s an immediate drawback. The 1’500 seat arena is barely ever full for the Badgers seeing as it’s a roughly 45-minute bus ride from campus, however, other than location, the venue is decent.

The ice is reportedly well-maintained, and the facility has multiple sheets for both community and team use. Playing out of a city-owned arena would be a burden on any team, but the Badgers make do with what they’ve got. An additional downside to the rink is the two-sided seating structure, which like other areas mentioned, splits up the atmosphere’s cohesion. On a positive note, the wifi in the arena is very solid. Lastly, I’ve been also told that it can get very cold in the rink, and the heaters are barely ever turned on during games.

7. Wilfred Laurier University- Sun Life Financial Arena

On-Campus: No

Ice: Olympic size

Built: 1993

Capacity: 3’400

Sun Life Financial Arena – Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks | Stadium ...
(Stadium Journey)

The home of the Laurier Golden Hawks has a full arena bowl, which I love, but the non-school colours and surrounding running track are detrimental to the school’s overall ranking. Don’t get me started on the fact that it’s not on campus.

Getting to the arena can prove to be a challenge for students, with no public transit stop directly at the rink. Student support is vital to the success of U SPORTS teams, and it’s not something that the Golden Hawks can rely on, despite their game-day operations run by students.

It’s a nice arena, but being so inaccessible to the target market of the team leaves it at this position on the list

6. York University- Canlan Ice Centre

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: Olympic size

Capacity: 1’200

(York Lions Athletics)

One-sided seating- it ain’t great. The atmosphere at York is constantly lacking, and it doesn’t help that the seats are only on one side of the arena. Canlan Ice Centre is a beautiful multi-rink facility, and the Lions home sheet is the only one with sizeable space for spectators. 

The locker rooms are small, and a player told me that his/her teammates were using foldable chairs in the middle of the room, rather than having their own stall like the rest. While the roster was bigger than most, the rooms are tight for a U SPORTS hockey team.

Something the arena has going for it, is a restaurant with the rink in view. From alumni to fans, the ability to enjoy a beverage or non-stadium food meal while taking in a live game is a treat not seen at many U SPORTS arenas.

The one-sided stands don’t look great on a broadcast that shoots away from them, but the individual seats with backrests are much better than the benches seen at other single-stand arenas such as Canada West’s Grant MacEwan.

Canlan Ice Centre is plain, and it works, but other than a restaurant, it lacks any sort of “wow factor.”

5. University of Guelph- The Gryphon Centre

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: Olympic Size

Built: 1989

Capacity: 1’400

Gryphon Centre Arena – Guelph Gryphons | Stadium Journey
(Stadium Journey)

Toronto’s Varsity Arena has four sides of seating, Brock has two, York has one and Guelph has three. Is this OUA hockey arenas or a random number generator?

The home of the Guelph Gryphons is one of the weirder areas I’ve visited. The stands are on a completely different floor than the ice and to move between levels, one has to exit and re-enter the rink. The separate levels do offer a steeper viewpoint of the ice, and the fan floor has a built-in the restaurant (no view of ice), but all of this makes for a very confusing game-day experience. 

There are no individual seats at the Gryphon Centre, rather backrest lacking benches on three sides of the arena. From a broadcast point of view, cameras fail to point at the crowd, making an often raucous building feel emptier than it should. 

The host of the 2020 Queen’s Cup Final also has the largest ice sheet in a conference where nearly every school’s playing surface is a different size. It’s an annoyance of U SPORTS hockey, but one that can play to Guelph’s favour. 

As for player amenities, I’ve got one word- crowded. Alongside the ice, there are no more than three meters from the locker room to bench, and the hallway separating the two is cramped with tables and hockey sticks. It works, and the building is on the older side, but it is far from the best building or gameday experience in the OUA West.

4. Western University- Thompson Arena

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: NHL size

Built: 1975

Capacity: 3’615

Thompson Recreation & Athletic Centre - Western Mustangs Sports
(Western Mustangs Athletics)

Let me start with this, Thompson Arena not a hockey specific arena, but it’s better than most on the list. The facility is a multi-sport facility, and the rink itself is surrounded by a running track. To accommodate for the track, the permanent seats are far away from the rink and are elevated, however, foldable seats on both sides (one rarely used) aid in bringing fans closer to the action.

Most nights, the seats are only on one side of the arena, but at least they are seats rather than benches. Fans aren’t treated to any sort of video board, rather settling for an ancient 8-bulb scoreboard is the best they can do.

Thompson Arena is multi-purpose, one-sided, strange, but better than the previous six on our list.

3. University of Toronto- Varsity Arena

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: > NHL size

Built: 1926

Capcity: 4’100

(Chelsea Purcell)

The home of the oldest team in the OUA West, Varsity Arena is your classic old barn. Banners from decades gone by hang from the rafters of 1926 built facility with the newest one recently being earned by the women’s hockey team.

Although the arena is one of the oldest in all of U SPORTS, there is still a lot to like. Many of the OUA schools have one-sided or two-sided seating in the arena, not U of T, which has a bowl with a steep incline. The angle of the stands makes for some viewpoints unparalleled in other areas, however, some of these are obstructed due to the building’s old-fashioned construction. While the capacity of 4000+ can leave the building cavernous on most nights, it allows for rivalries to pack the barn on occasion. 

Ryerson fans flock to Varsity Arena for the Toronto rivalry (Benjamin Steiner)

There is a single concession that sells simple fan food, but the biggest drawback is the facility’s two small washrooms. Although large crowds don’t frequent U of T, two washrooms is sub-optimal. Aside from the tissue issue, the arena can get very cold in the winter due to the Toronto temperature and the ageing building. 

Overall, it’s a decent arena, and it’s right on campus in Toronto’s core, so it has a lot going for it. Would a flashy new arena draw a larger crowd? Maybe, but Varsity Arena’s old charm has my soft spot

2. Lakehead University- Fort Williams Gardens

On-Campus: No

Ice: NHL size

Built: 1951

Capacity: 4’680

Lakehead University Thunderwolves Men's Hockey - Karla Rodriguez
(Stadium Journey)

The Thunderwolves have one of the highest attendances in all the OUA , and those fans routinely enjoy one of the best arenas in university hockey.  Starting on the outside, the vintage arena has a non-electronic events sign to advertise every Lakehead game, which is charming, but the real “wow factors” don’t begin until you enter the arena. 

When you step into the arena bowl, the first thing you’ll notice is that its actually a “bowl,” unlike the many one, two and three-sided arenas seen across the conference. The individual seats surround the ice, offering a good vantage point for every kind of fan. 

(Stadium Journey)

It’s off-campus, which is a major drawback for student support- the key to a successful program, but the Thunderwolves fill the arena regularly with members of the Thunder Bay community and It makes for a great game-day atmosphere.

While the arena is already one of the nicest in OUA hockey, it is seeking a $1.1 million grant for renovations ahead of hosting the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (curling).

1. Ryerson University- Mattamy Athletic Centre (Maple Leaf Gardens)

On-Campus: Yes

Ice: NHL size

Built: 1931 (Renovated 2012)

Capacity: 4’350

Mattamy Homes Ice | Mattamy Athletic Centre
(Ryerson Rams Athletics)

Ryerson’s rink is simply beautiful. It’s the former home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s right in the middle of downtown Toronto and it’s on campus. The history and location of the building are perfect.

Ryerson’s varsity teams moved in for 2012 from a suburban arena. The relocation of the teams to campus has been positive but hasn’t led to the large crowds which were once hoped. The lack of crowds highlights the arena’s large capacity, however, while it may be big for university hockey, the building serves other, more popular tenants as well. 

A breakdown of the Mattamy Athletic Centre | The Eyeopener
(Toronto Observer)

There is ample extra room for events above the seats, however, the seats do not surround the entire arena. It is only two-sided, and the limited number of fans usually congregate on the same side of the cameras, making broadcasts look barren. 

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

The locker rooms are some of the nicest in U SPORTS, and the facility holds all the offices, training, and therapy rooms needed for the teams. There is a lot to like about Ryerson’s rink, despite the two-sided seating and lack of connection between the two stands. Overall, the renovated rink with history intertwined makes it the nicest arena in the OUA’s Western Conference.

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