Windsor Spitfires


Windsor Spitfires

Arena Name: Windsor Arena
Capacity: 4,400 (4,186 seated)
Built: 1924
Last Game: 2008
Address: 572 McDougall Street, Windsor, Ontario, N9A 1L4
Telephone No: (519) 256-4549
Ice Surface Size: 195 X 80
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OHL
Windsor Arena
Windsor Arena
What Was the Arena Like?
Old Time Hockey. The phrase itself means different things to different people. It's a t-shirt slogan and a rallying cry. To the neanderthals, it conjures visions of the mythic days when men were men and put foil on their knuckles before trying to kill each other on the ice. To others, it's a helmetless, black-and-white Orr or Howe skating smoothly down the ice before burying one past the goalie. To me, the phrase is best applied to a place where you really feel the crushing weight of history bearing down on you, and nowhere in the OHL was this more apparent than Windsor Arena. There really was nowhere else like it in hockey.

The Windsor Arena was the oldest arena in the CHL and is still among the oldest with a major tenant still in use in Ontario, having been built in 1924. The only older arena in the province is the Galt Arena Gardens in Cambridge, which was built in 1922. Nothing can exist for 80+ years without acquiring a bit of character, and the Windsor Arena is no exception. Its nickname is "the Barn" and when you first see the rink you realise how very appropriate that name is - the place looks just like an old barn down on the farm. The building has painted yellow walls and a huge brown roof, and stands out in the middle of an open area. The rink is located beside a city park but the main entrance is close to a city street, and entering the Arena almost feels like walking into a store. The main entrance is tiny, the ticket booth is almost an afterthought, and you enter into the concourse almost immediately.

The concourse is the smallest you've ever seen. You're right under the seats but close to the ice, and consequently the ceiling is only a foot taller than a normal adult male. All of the dressing rooms, concessions, washrooms, and other things of the sort are located on the outside of the concourse. (As are the dressing rooms - both teams have to walk across the concourse six times over the course of a game, often to a dressing-down from fans.) Once you find your section, you step out through a tunnel so narrow it could be called a "doorway" and you're in the seating area. The dark grey paint and dingy lighting give the feeling of being in some sort of cave, and only serves to intensify the magnificent whiteness of the ice upon first glimpse. It is one of the OHL's truly remarkable sights.

The building has a high, vaulted ceiling and steeply raked seats, and at the back of every section they dispense with seats altogether and have only wooden benches. Many of the red seats are originals from 1924, but they're surprisingly comfortable. Windsor is one of the few teams in the league that still has obstructed-view seats - there are support columns at the back of every section. If you're in one of the last few rows you could wind up looking through a pillar all game long. Windsor's seats are also about as cramped as you can get while still being reasonably comfortable. However, some seats in Windsor are quite simply the best in hockey. The seats start at the top of the glass, like in Val-d'Or, and go up on an incredibly steep angle from there. From a fifth or sixth row seat, you're well above the top of the glass and close enough to hear every word being said on the ice. Windsor also has what must be considered the best old-school seats in hockey in sections 7 and 8 behind the visitor's net. The Arena used to have a smaller ice surface, and so when they expanded it to its present 195' length many years ago, they took out several rows of seats from those sections. As a result, there are only three rows of seats in sections 7/8, and they start right at the very top of the glass and hang over the ice. It's an angle for watching hockey that's not possible to get anywhere else, essentially sitting on top of the glass, and it's amazing.

The scoreclock is old and inadequate - it doesn't even have room to put up a player's number beside the penalty time. The announcer is fine, blending into the atmosphere without being annoying. Washrooms are poor - dark, dingy and sparse. The press box is at the back of one section and is almost an afterthought - you could easily walk right in if there wasn't any security. The "team store" is in actuality a kiosk dug out of the side of the building and has a limited selection of gear. Concessions are standard-issue arena fare. The ice surface is small and the Spits always had a team tailored to the small surface and claustrophobic atmosphere. HD video boards have been installed in two corners of the rink, but for some reason, they don't show the play while it's on.

Windsor Arena changed a lot in the last few years is hosted the OHL, with a major renovation taking place just a few years ago. The sound system - once one of the league's worst - was upgraded and can now stand next to any in hockey. There are also a lot fewer wooden benches (although there are still a few) as the city bought the old plastic seats from the London Ice House when that arena closed. My last visits also saw a much cleaner and more up-to-date arena than in years past. There have also been renovations which directly improve the game - the players' benches, for example, used to be located in the attacking zones which made clearing the puck along the glass impossible, plus it made changing lines in the second period incredibly difficult. The renovation moved the benches where they belong, and also enclosed them to protect the players from fans. It used to be that fans could hurl abuse and objects at visitors; now, the glass prevents that.

Windsor also has more than its share of crazies who do a great deal to add to the general atmosphere. Windsor Arena rocks like new buildings never will, and the crowd noise inside is jaw-dropping. Spitfire fans were easily the second-loudest I've yet encountered on my travels after those in Erie. London fans in the old Gardens/Ice House were very close, as are Ranger fans, but I'd still give the title to the blue-collar autoworkers who packed 'em in every Thursday night in Windsor. The weak-willed visitor would probably have found Windsor crowds intimidating. In the playoffs, most visitors would have found them intimidating. I truly hope the old atmosphere makes the trip over to the new arena.

A few illustrations of Windsor crowds seem to be in order. My first game at the Barn was on Halloween 2002 as I drove down with a buddy to see the Knights-Spitfires game. As we were walking across a park from where we parked our car, we noticed the guy in front of us wearing a Rick Nash Knights sweater. "Good," we thought, "more Knights fans." Wrong. The guy was actually dressed up for Halloween as a "typical retarded Knights fan" and spent the game applauding at the wrong time and shouting abuse!

Another example is the longstanding feud between Knights trainer Don "Branks" Brankley and the Windsor fans. Whenever a Knight goes down and Branks steps on to the ice, the Spits fans all chant "Waterboy" at him. Branks, for his part, is famous for walking excruciatingly slowly to get back to the bench, and has been known to flip Spits fans the bird when the referee's not watching. Back in the 80's when Windsor city council first began discussing a new arena, Branks got a shirt made reading "Save Windsor Arena" and wore it all year to Windsor games. He also once wore a shirt reading "I Hate Windsor". It's a great old-time building and the rivalries are amazing.

That said, facilities are either nonexistent or run-down and the building needed replacing. The Arena is history now, at least in an OHL context. It was a place where there weren't any suits inside the cramped hallways, and the hot, sweaty and loud arena did its best to put off the fickle. But for real hockey fans, there weren't ever many better places left to watch a game; a place where you could sit hovering over the ice with a Coke and hot dog in hand and watch a game uninterrupted by sideshows, promotions or distractions. The non-corporate atmosphere has almost certainly disappeared at the new WFCU Centre, so for those of us who saw pure Old Time Hockey before it was too late, we can say that we're thankful that we got to experience it.
Inside the Windsor Arena
Windsor Arena

How To Get There

Canada
From 401 West: Exit Dougall Rd, drive up Dougall. Dougall will turn into Ouellette, continue along Ouelette until Wyandotte. Turn right on Wyandotte, drive three blocks. Arena is on the left.

USA
From Tunnel, go right on Park to Goyeau. Turn right on Goyeau, take it until Wyandotte. Turn left on Wyandotte and travel two blocks. The arena will be on the left hand side.

From Bridge, go "to Downtown" (Rightmost lane from Booths, turn right onto Huron Church). Turn right on Wyandotte and travel approx. 14 blocks. The arena will be on the left hand side.

Your best bet for parking is at the nearby Casino, a few blocks north of the arena on MacDougall. Technically the casino's lot is free for gamblers only, but unless the garage is near full they probably won't raise much of a fight. Other parking options are limited to city streets and private lots nearby.

What's It Used for Today?

Having been extensively renovated only a few short years ago, there is no need to close Windsor Arena, and the city intends to keep it open for the foreseeable future for community use. The CIS University of Windsor Lancers varsity team has also moved into the building and acts as the major tenant.
Another Look Inside the Windsor Arena
Windsor Arena

Feedback

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 2002-08.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: December 12, 2008