September 16, 2010
The old junior hockey barns you knew and loved aren't complete a thing of the past.
Like the big league, the Canadian Hockey League is in the midst of a building boom, at least anywhere west of the Ottawa River.
New arenas have sprung up like big-box stores with names such as Prospera Place (Kelowna Rockets) and the RBC Centre (Sarnia Sting). The Oshawa Generals no longer play at the old Civic Auditorium, where airborne pucks regularly hit the ceiling. My hometown Kingston Frontenacs finally moved out of the old Memorial Centre — sparing programmers at EA Sports from having to add a digitized portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for NHL 12 and figuring out how to simulate the unyielding smell of vinegar that came from either the cleaning products that were in use or the deep fryers at the concession stand.
Still, there are a few questionable joints out there in the 60-team CHL; and Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault's comments inspired a post: the five worst arenas in the CHL. We'll go from west to east.
The Crushed Can — AKA Moose Jaw Civic Centre (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL)
Get your pot shots in while you can, since the Western League's Warriors will soon move to a new arena which actually has a convex roof. Imagine that. The Crushed Can's downward-sloping roof comes down so low that a spectator seated in the last row on one side of the building can't see the top of the standings on the other side. The Warriors have needed a new arena the way a man on fire could use a drink of water for several years. It's not out of the realm to think air quotes were invented when someone tried to describe the Civic Centre as "interesting."
The upshot is the Warriors have already upped their season-ticket base to more than 2,200 in anticipation of moving to their new rink. You might take that as an indication of how eager everyone is to get out of the Can.
Jack Gatecliff Arena (Niagara IceDogs, OHL)
That Jerry Seinfeld bit, "Do you ever notice how there's always that one store in your neighbourhood that's always changing hands?" comes to mind with the OHL in Southern Ontario. Hamilton, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines have been akin to a Bermuda Triangle of major junior hockey for more than 30 years. The Erie Otters played in all three cities before moving to the U.S. in 1996.
It says here the IceDogs, who moved to St. Catharines in 2007, will break the hex if they get a decent arena. That doesn't mean the more than 70-year-old Jack Gatecliff Arena gets off the hook, as the OHL Arena Guide noted:
" ... the 1938 fire code means that there are as many as forty seats between aisles; as a result, if you're near an end of an aisle you might have to stand up to let people by many times a game. The last row in particular is terrible for seating — there is barely enough leg room up there for a child."
The Jack Gatecliff Arena might have the OHL's only ice surface which is smaller than NHL regulation. It's 10 feet shorter than the standard 200. It can work to the IceDogs' advantage, but it's not ideal for a developmental league.
Verdun Auditorium (Montreal Juniors, QMJHL)
The Juniors are the latest venture into a Montreal market which is too large for the Quebec league to give up on, but the building doesn't help much. The Auditorium has limited parking and the front of it (quoth the QMJHL Arena Guide: "hideous black aluminum siding at strange angles, giving it a 60's-70's pop art feel") is uglier than the exterior of the old Sears store that existed in mid-town Kingston during my childhood.
The Auditorium also has the old wooden double-seaters. That's as inexcusable and behind the times in 2010 as making gross generalizations about bloggers. Right, Bruce?
Aréna Dave-Keon (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL)
The rub is both arenas scream, "Tier II Junior A." You could have a good time there for one night, if only that.
So, after a coin flip, we'll say Rouyn-Noranda, with a heavy heart. The Huskies' home rink only has seating for 2,150 fans and a building that old is bound to be rundown. It's also very, very small, and there's only so much the team can do with the place.
One nominee, at least until recent improvements, was the Victoriaville Tigers' Colisée Desjardins. The exterior is about as impressive as the typical suburban community rink in a small Ontario city.
However, the Tigres have made some improvements, such as new seats, more washrooms, new protective glass. They even added a new video scoreboard (quick, someone tell Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, maybe he'll step to) and more washrooms. The Tigres are fortunate this list wasn't made in 2009.
Charlottetown Civic Centre (P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL)
Makes the list for being a secretly bad arena. It's understandable with a place that was built before 1960, but the Civic Centre is only 20 years old. And it's got problems:
"The rake of the seats is shallow ... and even a tall person can find it difficult to see over the person in front of him. In the ends, the walkway between the boards and the seats creates a disconnect between the fans and the ice, and worse, the angle is such that the people in the ends can't see the net when the building is full. Navigation around the building during a game is extremely difficult. The place feels like it was built for community use, as though the designers never actually thought that the seats would be full of people needing concessions, washrooms, and the like." (QMJHL Arena Guide)
Tellingly, Charlottetown's Junior A (Charlottetown Abbies) and CIS (UPEI Panthers) outfits each used to play at the Civic Centre. Neither does anymore. No wonder.
The Rocket, who need the larger seating capacity, have to make the best of it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.