Vancouver, BC- It’s no secret that university hockey in Canada is not regarded for the high-level product that it actually is. However, some of the arenas that host the game are elite-level quality. Whether it’s NHL calibre rinks, historic halls of hockey or shiny new facilities, U SPORTS hockey arenas have something everyone can fall in love with.
That brings us to today’s question- What is the best university hockey arena in the country?
49 Sports has spent the last week ranking the arenas in each conference, and today, after discussing with four members of the editorial team, we’re unveiling our Top 10 U SPORTS Hockey Arenas.
10. Concordia University- Ed Meagher Arena
Renovated in 2013, Ed Meagher Arena is the freshest of the OUA East and is about as nice as you can get for a one-sided rink. The seats are fitted to 2/3 people, and there is ample standing room behind them, did I mention they also have backrests? The fans are also on a different level than the ice, and although it makes a distant feeling, it offers a good viewpoint from every area of the smaller arena.
The rink and ice are up to NHL quality since their renovations, so much so that Hockey Canada held it’s IIHF World Junior Championship assessment camp at the rink in 2014, a team that boasted future Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
Also in the refurbishment was an environmental dedication, and now the arena is one of the greenest in U SPORTS. There is a mural on one side of the arena that has the word’s “Concordia Stingers” on it, and although a simple detail, it makes the rink feel like home.
While one-sided arenas are far from the best, Ed Meagher Arena and the Concordia Stingers make the best of it.
9. Nipissing University- North Bay Memorial Gardens
Inhabiting the same home as the OHL’s North Bay Battalion, the Nipissing Lakers have one of the better rinks in the OUA East. The concourses are large, the stands spacious, and all of that leads to an enjoyable North Bay evening. However, all of this is quite aways from campus.
The stands almost remind me of soccer stands rather than an arena bowl, but they do surround all four sides of the ice, giving the rink amazing atmosphere potential. While many North Bay fans prefer turning out for the Battalion rather than the Lakers, the arena is very nice for both. It also houses one of the few video jumbotrons in U SPORTS hockey, however, it’s seldom turned on for the Lakers.
8. McGill University- McConnell Arena
McConnell Arena may be old, but the storied history of the barn makes in a very attractive building. The arena has three-sided seating, in a near bowl style. Although there is not much height to the stands, the vantage points are generally pretty good. It is right on campus, mere steps away from the student residences, putting it in a perfect location for student support.
One of the interesting things about the rink is the fact that the first row of seats are not level with the ice, rather they’re just a bit higher. I like this, as it offers a more vertical view of the game, but it may not be to everyone’s fancy. McConnell Arena is simple, but its storied history helps vault it to the top of the list.
In the coming days, 49 Sports will be unveiling the top 15 U SPORTS hockey arenas, taking into consideration all of thearenas ranked in the series so far.
7. University of 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.
6. University of British Columbia- 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.
5. Acadia University- Andrew H. McCain Arena
Andrew H. McCain Arena, formerly known as the Acadia Arena has a lot going for it. Built-in 1988, it’s the newest addition to Acadia’s athletic facilities but is still over 30 years old. The Axemen/women are known to have some of the higher attended games in U SPORTS, and the capacity of 1800 makes for a cozy atmosphere each and every night.
There is a running track the goes around the top of the stands, which is odd but doesn’t draw too much away from the game. In the corner, there is a divider between the two stands which has photos of past Acadia events, this adds a unique touch to the barn, but could potentially interfere with spectator sightlines.
4. Trinity Western University- 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.
3. University of New Brunswick- Aitken University Centre
Combine one of the best teams in university hockey history with an on-campus arena, and you’ve got the Aitken University Centre. Although on-campus, it serves as the community main arena, and with that, it’s set up is nothing short of elite.
The centre is one of the few areas in all of U SPORTS to have luxury seats, and it boasts 80 of them, all alongside its 3278 person capacity. With all of its likeable characteristics, the Aitken Centre has attracted the University Cup national tournament six times, most recently in 2018. The arena also hosted the Moncton Wildcats in QMJHL playoff action in 2015 and regularly houses the league’s pre-season action.
Overall, I love every bit of this arena. From the colours of the seats, the classic, yet clean look, and the on-campus venue, most if not all of the barn’s characteristics are near perfect.
For the smallest U SPORTS conference, the AUS has a very wide range of arenas, from modern to 90+ years old, from one sided to professional level bowl, Atlantic Canada’s university hockey arenas have something for everybody.
2. University of 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 and seats 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. The Merlis Belsher Place is perfect in every way, and the decision to place it second was very difficult, but there was no dethroning the hallowed hockey hall that is Maple Leaf Gardens.
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.
1. Ryerson University- Mattamy Athletic Centre (Maple Leaf Gardens)
Built: 1931 (Renovated 2012)
This was the hardest decision of the whole list. Merlis Belsher place is awesome in every way, Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre barely edges it out. 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.
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.
The locker rooms are 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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