Windsor Spitfires


Windsor Spitfires

Arena Name: WFCU Centre
Capacity: 6,500
Built: 2008
Address: 8787 McHugh Street, Windsor, ON, N8S OA1
Telephone No: (519) 254-5000
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 1975-76
OHL Championships: 3, most recently in 2009-10
Memorial Cup Championships: 2, most recently in in 2009-10
Colours: Blue, Red & White
Official Web Site: http://www.windsorspitfires.com/
Unofficial Sites: Windsor Spitfires Fan Page
Former Arena: Windsor Arena

OHL
WFCU Centre
WFCU Centre
What's the Arena Like?
Apart from the loss of my beloved London Ice House in 2002, there has been no other CHL arena closure that I've felt more personally than that of Windsor Arena. While I'm about as far from a Spitfires fan as is possible, I always loved making the trip down the highway to Windsor to take in the atmosphere at the old Barn. There were two main things about going to games at Windsor Arena that I loved. First of all, I loved the feeling of stepping back in time and sitting in an 80-year-old madhouse where absolutely anything could happen, from games delayed by squirrels to visiting players electrocuted in the locker room. And the second thing I loved was taking in the intense blue-collar atmosphere that existed virtually nowhere else at any level of hockey. Even though the fans could occasionally cross the line, and even though being a Knights fan there occasionally made me fear for my safety, I still loved making the trip, and attending the last game there in December of 2008 was an emotional and bittersweet experience for me. So in taking in my first game at the new WFCU Centre, two main thoughts crossed my mind. The first was that the new rink is a palace, with the same steep seating that the old barn had combined with new facilities that could be the envy of any in the CHL. And the second was that the old madhouse atmosphere has mostly survived.

Unlike the old arena with its gritty, downtown location, the new WFCU Centre sits in Forest Glade, closer to Tecumseh Town Centre than the Ambassador Bridge. The neighbourhood seems to be one in major transition, as former industrial brownfields in the arena are being converted into retail. As of my first visit, the massive former GM/Lear plant on Lauzon was being demolished next door, and the apparent plan is to build a massive shopping complex on the site. As for the new arena itself, it is a sprawling, suburban complex in yellow and tan brick, surrounded by parking lots, and with a community rink complex attached on the far side. As of its construction, the new building's grounds are still a work in progress, as there currently is nowhere near enough parking space to handle the crowds. Most of the overflow traffic is currently directed into the Lear plant's lot, but one certainly hopes that more parking is in the future plans for arena management. As well, as of the arena's construction, McHugh Street does not go through to the eastern suburbs, and so all exiting traffic is directed back onto Lauzon at the end of the game. The post-game traffic snarl we were caught in was Brampton-esque, but I will give Windsor a pass on this, at least temporarily, as the city is planning to extend the missing street over the summer of 2009.

Once inside the new arena, you enter into the very lap of luxury. Ornate hallways extend 3/4 of the way around the building, with elegant wood trim, panelled ceilings and soft lighting. It would seem that the dingy corridors of Windsor Arena have finally been consigned to history. The team has set up numerous souvenir booths, food stands, and other ways to drop a few bucks around the concourse, and there are two full team stores in the building, with a Spitfires-only store being complimented by a Pro Shop that sells hockey gear and is open to the community pads. In one end is a dry-land training facility and gym which looked packed with kids, and along one side there is also a club seat lounge running down one side of the concourse. This part seemed to be off-limits to casual fans, although at least the concourse is open. The club has also preserved Mickey Renaud's locker exactly as it was the day he died in February 2008, and it is now a permanent memorial in the new rink. The fourth side of the arena features the team restaurant halfway up the seating area, and while access is blocked off pre- and post-game to ordinary fans, you're free to wander in the intermissions and during play. The one major flaw of the design is that while the concourse is an improvement on Windsor Arena (although so is my living room), it's still way too narrow to handle 6,500 fans. Traffic still bottlenecks hugely during intermissions, and for the most part it's not worth leaving your seat.

But enough about the flaws. Once you're in your seat, the WFCU Centre is, by far, the best new arena in the OHL. The seating bowl is angled sharply towards the heavens, much in the same style as the old arena. This is not the shallow, gradual rise of most new rinks. Maroon seats extend all the way around the building, with private suites running down both sides of the ice. The restaurant sits in the one end of the ice, while in the fourth end, seats climb nearly all the way to the roof, much like in Peterborough. The view up there is pretty incredible. Also, the ice is sunken below ground level, so concourse access is halfway up, which helps to prevent the end-of-period bottlenecks common at most other arenas. An eight-sided scoreboard hangs over centre ice, and both the screen and the graphics package used are top-notch. The boards are complimented by two small boards straddling the red line on either side of the ice (an odd setup, but it works) and the usual clock and shot counters in the corners. The sound system is also terrific, clear and loud without being overpowering.

And speaking of loud, Windsor's still got it. Yes, they've added some of the usual noise-killing promotional things most buildings have, like a promotions announcer girl and "noise meters", but the fans there are still just as jaw-droppingly loud as they always were. My first game in Windsor was for the Western Conference finals and was literally one of the best games I've seen, with two fantastic teams playing the game at the highest levels. The crowd completely responded and was well into the game, just like they used to be, with shouts, cheers, heckling, and everything else you've come to expect from a Windsor crowd. Experiencing the classic Spitfire atmosphere, just like it used to be, was extremely gratifying.

In the past decade, old rinks have been replaced in six OHL cities. In each of the five other cases, the atmosphere of the old place is largely not the same, and some of the new buildings are pretty much "junior hockey boilerplate", i.e. they're all pretty much the same, built from a template. Windsor's not like that. Spits fans were always crazy, hardcore, and boisterous, and they're still the same in the new rink, which, fortunately, isn't doing much to change that. The loss of Windsor Arena is one that anyone who loved history and tradition felt personally, but at least, in this case, the new arena does a pretty good job of replacing the feeling of the old rink, right down to the steep seats and the crowded hallways.

Brian Thompson says:
When Border Cities Arena opened its doors in 1924, few people would predict that it would hold a meaningful franchise into the 21st century. After decades and generations of poor proposals, incompetent councils and enough red tape for a large crime scene, the Spitfires' fortunes were finally rewarded in October of 2006 with the approval of the 6,500 seat Greater Windsor Sports & Entertainment Complex, later renamed the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre, or the WFCU Centre.

While Windsor Arena was a staple of downtown Windsor, the WFCU Centre is located in the developing east end of the city behind a former auto plant. While it's sparsely surrounded by a few restaurants and some industrial shops, the Lauzon-McHugh sector is poised for redevelopment as a shopping and dining hub. Parking is for the early birds, as a great number of spots are reserved for the adjacent community rinks and the Platinum Club members. Thankfully the arena lot is free, but those unlucky to get a spot will spend $5 in the Lear plant, or be forced to bus it from nearby Tecumseh Mall.

The arena's design is very modern and looks similar to a miniature Pontiac Silverdome with its giant white roof. They've tried to make it a nice hang-out spot with a few Inukshuk monuments and a large tree lit up for Christmas. Entry is accessible from 4 different gates, including the community rink access, which is connected through a secondary team store/pro shop. Once inside, you’re greeted to an ultra-modern concourse, featuring specially designed ceilings, flat screens on every post, and enough space for people to walk around. The bottlenecks of Windsor Arena may be long gone, but when lines grow for concessions it can still be tricky to manoeuvre around. There's 2 bars inside the rink, but one is for Platinum Club members only (this becomes a running theme). The best feature of the rink is a display in tribute to Mickey Renaud, which includes photos, mementos, and his entire locker from Windsor Arena the day it was of his passing.

Walking inside the arena is like walking into an NHL rink in miniature, and very similar to the John Labatt Centre minus the upper bowl. The steps are purposefully steep so to keep the Barn atmosphere of being close to the action. The design is U-shaped, with the west end zone having a foldable stand and an overhang designed for the restaurant to overlook the arena, while the east end zone featuring an imposing Peterborough-esque 28 row stand. All the banners were redesigned and hang neatly and orderly in the rafters, bordering the best scoreboard in the OHL, an 8 sided video board fully equipped for hockey and basketball. The north and south side also feature a video scroll board used for promotions and advertisements, but don’t take away from the game.

The game experience is, as expected with any new rink, going through the kinks. It's nowhere near as loud as The Barn, but as fans slowly get used to the "Masterpiece of McHugh", the passion will return. Promotions are surprisingly kept to a minimum so fans can keep into the game, but a huge chunk in the the south zone where the Platinum members sit is borderline mute, with a majority of the Platinum seat holders leaving with 10 minutes to go in the 3rd period.

Overall, it's not The Barn, but that's the point. Ultra-modern concessions (with sadly ultra-modern prices), and potential for the leatherlungs will return after settling in. It’s guaranteed to be a future home of All-Star Games, Canada-Russia series, and a few Memorial Cups in its time, but more importantly, for Spitfire fans that waited countless years for a new rink, a fitting home.
Future Developments
The WFCU Centre received new arena glass and a new HD scoreboard in anticipation of hosting the 2018 Memorial Cup.
Inside the WFCU Centre
WFCU Centre
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
A question that used to be posed to me somewhat often in running this website is, "Will I have trouble if I cheer for my team in Windsor?" The only answer I gave people back then was "Probably not, but I can't promise anything."

The reputation of Windsor Arena in the past, right up until a couple of years before it closed, was of a crazy house filled with intimidating people - one guy I've talked to was egged in Windsor on more than one occasion back in the 1980's. That reputation is still true to a large extent, but things are a lot calmer now than they were back then. The new arena still features the same fans as before, and a visit there is certainly intimidating at least to a degree, but I didn't really notice an appreciable difference between the old Windsor Arena since Steve Riolo sold the team and the new building.

It used to be that the heckling at Spits games could be unnerving for the weaker-willed and there were a few "superfans" who liked to make things miserable for visiting fans. Once, in the 2002-03 playoffs I heard racial abuse, had things thrown at me, was heckled and intimidated, and given the finger about thirty times, all in one evening. To a large extent, this has faded into the past.

Back during Steve Riolo's ownership, that legendary cheapskate saw no reason to spend money hiring security guards or ushers, and so the fans could get away with pretty much anything. The few security guards that existed tended to be Spits fans first and security second, and so a visiting fan could be ejected without provocation while the Spits' fans could get away with pretty much anything. Now, though, new ownership has hired real police officers for crowd control and there's an usher in every section, and as such, the worst has been calmed. The fans are still loud and act tough in Windsor, but you no longer have any reasons to fear for your safety.

If you can ignore the remaining idiots, though, the rest of the Windsor crowd is passionate, knowledgable, and well worth talking to. While some of Windsor's support is still among the worst in the OHL for intimidation, the majority are simply old-time blue-collar hockey fans like they don't make anymore. Being a Windsor fan in Windsor would be incredible. Being a visitor can be unnerving, but if you go and don't make a spectacle of yourself or look for trouble, it probably won't find you.

And strangely enough, I'm actually glad that I saw old-school Windsor lunacy at the Barn a couple of times before it changed.

How To Get There

From the 401: Exit at Manning Rd and proceed north. (You will still be outside the city in farm country, but don't worry, it's correct.) Travel about 7 km to the E.C. Row Expressway and turn left. Follow the E.C. Row to Lauzon Pkwy and exit, then proceed north to McHugh St. Turn right on McHugh St. and proceed to the arena, which will be on your right.

From the Ambassador Bridge: The bridge exits onto Huron Church Road. Follow Huron Church south to the E.C. Row Expressway. Proceed east on E.C. Row to the Lauzon Pkwy exit. Proceed north on Lauzon to McHugh St. Turn right on McHugh St. and proceed to the arena, which will be on your right.

From the Windsor Tunnel: Tunnel exits onto Park Street. Turn left on Park St. and proceed west a short distance (short block) to Ouellette Avenue. Turn left on Ouellette Ave. and proceed south to Wyandotte Street. Turn left on Wyandotte St. and proceed east to Lauzon Road. Turn right on Lauzon Rd. and proceed south Lauzon Line. Turn left on Lauzon Line and continue south to McHugh Street. Turn left on McHugh St. and proceed east to arena, which will be on your right.

Parking is on-site.
Franchise History
The Windsor Spitfires originally existed in the OHA back in its formative days but folded in 1953. Today's reborn Windsor Spitfires were added to the OHL as an expansion team in 1975-76.
Retired Numbers
The Spitfires, bizarrely, choose to "honour" some of their players and "retire" others. The retired numbers are:

9 Adam Graves
15 Ernie Godden
18 Mickey Renaud
23 Scott Miller

While the honoured numbers are:

4 Marcel Pronovost
6 Joel Quenneville
11 Gordon Haidy
Local Rivals
The London-Windsor rivalry has been epic in the past with fighting being a mainstay of the clashes. Windsor's other chief rivals are Plymouth and Sarnia.
Another Look Inside the WFCU Centre
WFCU Centre
About the City
By Windsorite Sports Nut:
Windsor is a blue-collar city of 210,000 situated in the far southwestern corner of Ontario. Founded in 1797 by French and British settlers, Windsor has become a major cog in the North American automobile industry. Over the years, it has expanded from the original small village of Sandwich, on the city's current far west side, to about 15km wide along the Detroit River. Despite this growth, and the many suburban developments in the late 20th century, the city hasn't made a name for itself on the national map until just recently. When people thought of Windsor, they had to be told "it's across the river from Detroit, Michigan". Windsor is a solid city industrial-wise, as it's home to the "Big Three" automakers - DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors.

Realistically, Windsor isn't a bad city. It has endured some problems that are the result of its placement on the map, but development in the city is booming - new houses are going up every day. The city has expanded its boundaries and has grown from 180,000 people only a decade or so ago to near 210,000 at present. Windsor is also a very multicultural city, and it shows during the annual Carousel of Nations festival. Groups from as many as 20 different cultures set up displays all over the city, and people can experience their music, food, and other cultural aspects. This popular festival is well attended throughout the city and spreads over 2 weekends, usually in mid-June. Tourists seem to flock to Windsor for the Casino downtown, but most enjoy other quiet aspects of the city such as the famous Jackson Park, which is located in the heart of the city. This massive park is 6 city blocks wide and 2 deep, and features beautiful gardens, trees, and children's rides. It is also home to an Avro Lancaster bomber which was built in 1945 but unused during WWII, and today is a monument. The park is one of the best relaxation areas in the city. Windsor is also home to two post-secondary institutions - the University of Windsor and St Clair College. The University of Windsor prides itself on being a small University with a lot to offer. U of W features a beautiful campus and while the school isn't at the same level as the University of Toronto or University of Western Ontario, it is still a well-respected institution. St Clair College is a well-rounded industrial school which prepares adults for the working world. Located in the southern part of the city, St Clair offers a wide range of courses, suiting many different tastes, but is small enough to be able to provide a good learning experience.

Currently, Windsor is a city that's got its fair share of concerns, but generally is looking up. Two of those concerns are the downtown bar scene and the large border-crossing problem. Windsor's proximity to Detroit coupled with a younger drinking age in Canada means that a lot of young American adults flock to the downtown Windsor area on summer nights. This creates fun and excitement for bar-hoppers, but a minor headache for authorities and local residents. Chaos is generally kept to a minimum and Windsor's downtown is looking up from the tourist trade. The other major problem issue in the city is the border problem. Trucks use the Ambassador Bridge to haul goods from Ontario to the USA and vice versa. To get to the bridge from the 401, trucks must go through the city as there is no freeway connection to the border, and that has created a lot of difficulty with truck gridlock a common sight on city streets near the bridge and tunnel. Nothing has been solved at this point, and the federal government has stepped in, thus becoming a national problem.

Windsor has a fresh, new city council and mayor who are determined to make this city the best it can be. Development is high and spirits are generally optimistic. Windsor is finally starting to make a name for itself, instead of "Detroit South", and the city is creating its own identity. Famous Windsorites include music artist Shania Twain, former WCW wrestler Abdullah the Butcher, former NHL enforcer Bob Probert, and actor Oliver Platt.

For more information visit Windsor Tourism's website.

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 2002-09.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: April 16, 2009