Plymouth Whalers

Plymouth Whalers

Arena Name: Compuware Arena
Capacity: 4,000 (3,504 seated)
Built: 1996
Last Game: 2015
Address: 14900 Beck Rd., Plymouth, MI, 48170
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
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Compuware Sports Arena
Compuware Arena
What's the Arena Like?
In the mid 1990's the Detroit Junior Red Wings were flying high. Having only been created as an expansion team in 1990-91, they had in a few short years developed into one of junior hockey's premier franchises, often selling out the gigantic Joe Louis Arena as they soared to an OHL title in 1994-95. Then, as occasionally happens in life, the wheels completely fell off the bus. A disagreement between Hartford Whalers/Jr Wings owner Peter Karmanos and NHL Wings owner Mike Illitch forced the junior team out of the Joe, and they spent the year after their title essentially homeless, splitting time between the tiny Oak Park Arena and the massive Palace of Auburn Hills. Something had to be done to save junior hockey in the Detroit area, and so in tiny Plymouth Township, closer to Ann Arbor than downtown Detroit, Karmanos built a new arena for his junior team. With so little time and few resources available, the arena was built with speed and cost being the two most important factors, and so the Compuware Arena that stands today is a monument to what happens when a hockey rink is built on the cheap in the middle of nowhere.

The Compuware Arena is located in a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Plymouth. The neighbourhood seems to be on the fringe between an area between something reminiscent of of Mississauga or Brampton, with a lot of corporations with generic names like "Systems Unlimited" in the area, and a wealthy enclave of executives living in gigantic houses in gated communities. Just to complete the strange feeling, there's also a maximum security prison nearby. The neighbourhood has grown up a lot in the past ten years; back even in the mid-2000's your choices for food around the rink were limited to the Greek restaurant inside the rink and McDonalds. Nowadays, though, a lot of the nearby vacant land has been developed with monstrous houses and shops and restaurants. It's not quite the hideous commercial sprawl that surrounds the Barrie Molson Centre, but at least you've got a few choices for supper now.

The arena itself is pretty spartan from the outside. Boring grey concrete walls surround the building; with a small main entrance done in red brick with faux landscaping. Arenas that live by the form-follows-function design ethic are very common across North America, but rarely as a home for high-level hockey - "putting a roof on winter" works for kids and adult rec hockey, but it's nice when cities spend a little money on architecture and design when building a showplace. A huge parking lot completes the suburban feeling.

Inside, things aren't too much better. There are a couple of ice pads in the CSA; the Whalers' rink and an Olympic-sized practice pad. The place feels bigger than it looks from the road. The entranceway features the "Whale Call" ticket window and a couple other booths, but there aren't nearly enough of them to ease congestion. When you finally get into the main rink, the "warehouse" feeling is only confirmed - the Arena interior space is much bigger than it needs to be, with the main concourse around the top of the seats being the widest I've ever seen. The ceiling is flat with girders and the ice is buried down from the entry-way. I was immediately struck by the thought that the place must be a Wal-Mart or something that someone converted into an OHL rink. The fact that the CSA was purpose-built is astounding - to compare, a building in the OHL that was actually built from a former department store (Guelph) is actually really nice and intimate, while a purpose-built rink like the Compuware Arena has that too-spacious, warehouse feeling. The best arenas waste no space at all - they have steep seats and walls giving a closed-in and intimate feeling. Plymouth, by comparison, has a ton of wasted space that echoes sound and makes it feel like you're watching hockey in a boxy, airy gymnasium.

The rake of the seats in Plymouth is as shallow as you've ever seen - even for a tall person like me, it's very difficult to see over the person in front of you. Leg room is also totally inadequate by new building standards. Apparently the CSA was originally concieved with an upper bowl. Because of tax considerations, it was rushed into "production" and somewhere along the way the upper bowl was scratched, but this explains why the concourses are so wide. Plymouthite Danger Girl also tell me that reason why the pitch of the seats is so shallow is that the first inspector said that the seats were too steep, so they flattened them out. Then, when it was time for the final inspection, the inspector asked why they built the seats so shallow.

Still, the CSA has its odd charms. The Plymouth team has had many incarnations over its history and the championship banners from their days as the Detroit Ambassadors and Junior Red Wings are hanging from the ceiling, as well as Pat Peake's number 14, their only retired number. Plymouth's team store, called the "Pro Shop", has not only all the Whalers gear you could ever want but also sells hockey equipment - sticks, skates, shoulder pads, helmets and the like. It's the OHL's best hockey store, and up there near the Outpost in Kitchener as the best team store. There is a Greek restaurant called "Ginopolis on the Ice" attached to the building as well. There are two LCD boards - one in each end - and they are both done up in red lighting, which is a little hard on the eyes and is strangely reminiscent of Nintendo's short-lived "Virtual Boy" 3-D gaming system. The score-clock is small and functional.

There are a few pet peeves about the arena. The announcer is a foghorn-voiced young guy with a slight California surfer accent who seems to have been hired solely on the strength of his voice, and every Whalers goal is a sign to put on the earmuffs - otherwise you'll be blasted with "WWWWWWHHHHHHHHHAAAAAALLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSS GOAL..." and so on. The music is also unbearably loud, but the poor acoustics of the arena mean most of it comes out as distortion. The fact that the team store sells earplugs should be a good sign that maybe the volume should be turned down a little?

One thing I must mention is what happens every time a puck goes over the glass. The arena announcer says,
"That puck was brought to you by Zubor Buick."
All the kids in the audience respond with, "Who cares?"
"Zubor cares!"
"So what?"
"So sassy."
It's probably the silliest thing I've encountered in my travels, and yet... it's endearing.

One final pet peeve about the Compuware Arena is one that has become more and more noticeable over the past six years since my first visit, and that is that the rink is starting to show signs of wear and tear. While I'm obviously not privy to the maintenance schedule of the arena staff, my guess is that their budget isn't very high. Floors are movie theatre-floor sticky with the spills of games past, and the painted whitewashed walls are beginning to show numerous scuffs and scars. The arena is now into its teen years, but it's starting to seem a lot older than that as the maintenance is further neglected. Even just a thorough scrubbing and a new coat of paint (preferably in team colours instead of boring white) would go a long way.

The Compuware Arena, for all its faults, seems like a permanent home for the Whalers franchise, and that is all the club needed. After having played at Cobo Arena, Joe Louis Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills and Oak Park Ice Arena over the past ten years, the Whalers only needed a place that they could call home. The CSA fits that bill. Still, it's unfortunate that owner Peter Karmanos, for all his money, couldn't have built his team a palace to play in, instead of the boring, cheap and uncomfortable warehouse they call home.

How To Get There

From Farmington Hills:
Take I-696 West to I-275 South. Take I-275 South to M-14 West, exit Beck Rd. Turn right onto Beck Rd. Compuware Sports Arena is located on the right side, past the railroad tracks.

From Ann Arbor:
Take M-14 East, exit Beck Rd. Turn left onto Beck Rd. Compuware Sports Arena is located on the right side, past the railroad tracks.

From the Windsor Tunnel:
Take 96 West (Jeffries Fwy.) to M-14, exit Beck Rd., turn right. Compuware Sports Arena is located on the right side, past the railroad tracks.

From Sarnia:
Take I-94 West (towards Detroit) to I-696 West to I-275 South. Take I-275 South to M-14 West, exit Beck Rd. Turn right onto Beck Rd. Compuware Sports Arena is located on the right side, past the railroad tracks.

Parking is on-site, and there is a charge.
Inside the Compuware Sports Arena
Compuware Sports Arena
Formerly Retired Numbers
14 Pat Peake
What's the Arena Used For Today?
When Peter Karmanos finally gave up and sold the Whalers up the road to Flint, the Compuware Arena was sold to USA Hockey, the national governing body for the sport in the United States. The building was upgraded and renamed USA Hockey Arena, and is today home to the national junior development program.

About the City

By Plymouther Danger Girl:

Plymouth Township is a currently boasts a population of about 28,000. It is a steadily-growing area that is desirable to both industry and families. Located halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor with easy access to major freeways, Plymouth is a great place for people who want the big city life without the big city problems. But bring the big city checkbook, because living in one of Money magazine's "most desirable places to live in America" isn't cheap. Established in 1827, Plymouth is an interesting balance of high-tech industry (Plymouth Township) and quaint "main street" businesses (the City of Plymouth). Downtown Plymouth features a town square surrounded by small shops and mostly independent businesses, some in the historic homes that line the streets. In contrast, Plymouth Township features new upscale housing in recently developed subdivisions as well as state of the art industrial parks. Plymouth has grown as urban sprawl and urban flight have spread. You'd be hard pressed to find any racial minorities in Plymouth, as of the 2000 census the population was 97% white. Probably the most famous person from Plymouth was former Barrie Colts' defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Erik Reitz.

For more information about the Metro Detroit area, visit Detroit Tourism.


If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.



Copyright © Kevin Jordan 2002-17.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: January 16, 2017