John Labatt Centre
The John Labatt Centre is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league in many respects. It is a magnificent arena which is surprisingly intimate given its size, but it is not a perfect building. As a Knights fan I probably notice the flaws in the JLC more than I would a building I have only been to a couple of times, but I still believe the JLC, for all its wondrous glory, could improve in a few areas. Still, the NHL-in-miniature design of the JLC is something that every OHL fan should experience, and the atmosphere, while not quite at London Ice House levels, is still mid-range for the OHL.
Architecture: Grade A+
A beautiful postmodern exterior design around 3/4 of the building, the JLC's yellow brick facade, windows and rounded roof scream "hockey arena". The preserved Talbot Inn facade on the Northeast corner of the building also adds a great deal to the building's footprint and helps it to fit in to downtown London. An architectural gem.
Interior Layout and Design: Grade A+
The general design of the JLC is a twin "U" shape, one on top of the other. There is a lower deck with a concourse that extends 3/4 of the way around the building, with group sales and standing room in the fourth end. Meanwhile, the upper deck has terrific views and is surprisingly close to the action. The OHL's only escalators make it easy to get around, and the arena is well-signed and well laid-out.
Seating: Grade A
While seats are "only" hard plastic instead of padded and plush (no doubt to assist the acoustics in concerts), they're still comfortable, with terrific views and ample legroom. The lower bowl seats are slightly too shallow, but it's still easy to see and there are no bad views anywhere.
Scoreboard: Grade B
One of the OHL's best scoreboard systems, the JLC features a four-sided video board with digital board as well as two LCD boards in each end. They add up to a design that is among the OHL's best technical setups. It's a shame that the scoreboard isn't run so professionally - many graphics look like they've come out of a clipart photo package from 1996, and the posted writings on the board are frequently misspelled. The board is also far too given over to advertising instead of to hockey. Things have improved since the place opened, with new graphics packages finally being introduced for the 2005 Memorial Cup, but there's still a ways to go before the scoreboard can be awarded another London A+. In addition, the promotions announcer is one of the OHL's worst - highly annoying and constantly interrupting the play. It is possible to have a promotions announcer who doesn't degrade from the hockey experience, but the JLC most certainly does not have one.
Arena Employees: Grade C
Unlike the ancient old men who ran the Ice House, the JLC staffers are employed by Global Spectrum facility management. The ushers work all events at the JLC, from hockey to basketball to concerts to religious meetings, and they are as diverse in quality as the aforementioned events. Some ushers are as good as any in the OHL, some know nothing about hockey, some are obviously 9-to-5ers who are only in it for the paycheque, and some are just, well, assholes. Overzealousness and overenforcement of the rules is perhaps the most common flaw inherent in the JLC employee; if the lot of them learned a bit more about hockey and loosened up a little it would improve the facility greatly.
Facilities: Grade B
How could the best new arena in the OHL have only Grade B facilities? I'll tell you: No on-site public parking and far too few washrooms. The parking issue is forgivable given the JLC's downtown location, but there is no excuse whatsoever for 15-minute lines for the men's room every intermission.
Atmosphere: Grade A
An NHL atmosphere in junior hockey, London's JLC is in so many ways the class of the OHL. London fans used to be among the loudest in the league back in the Ice House days, and while the JLC isn't as loud as the old barn used to be, the noise has mostly returned following a quiet first few seasons. It's a shame that the Knights don't display their history more - past division and conference championship banners still aren't posted yet - but overall the JLC, while flawed, is still about as good as they come.