The Top 20 Rinks of the OHL
In the autumn of 2004 I began to realise that once I completed the Eastern Road Trip, I would be finished the league. Once all of the profiles were online there would be little else to do with this site - in some respects, it would be "completed". My mind began to think about what I should do to keep things interesting around here, as well as to help to chronicle the arenas I had visited in a different way. Finally, I have tried in all of the profile pages to at least keep some semblance of fairness about the ratings, giving good as well as bad and being as scrupulously fair as I possibly could, in an effort to encourage first-time travellers to go in to new buildings without preconceived notions. But I am human, I have favourite arenas to visit as well as those that I dislike, and I wanted to provide for the Guide some completely biased editorial based upon nothing but my own opinions. So I present: The Top 20 Rinks of the OHL.
The rating system that I will use is based upon Bob Wood's seminal 1985 book Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, which, although it is about baseball parks, really kicked off the idea of the North American Sports Road Trip as well as a ratings system to rank parks visited. Wood uses an eight-pronged rating system, with the following categories:
- Layout and Upkeep
- Ball Field
- Ballpark Employees
Obviously not all of these categories will work in hockey. The "smell of the grass" is a real part of the ballpark experience, while every sheet of ice in hockey is more or less the same. In addition, I have neither the money nor the inclination to eat bad hot dogs in every arena in the OHL so "Food" is not a category that I will take into account. After some thought, I have decided to utilise the following categories, with explanations:
The first glance of a new building is a terrific experience, and it is one that is improved if the building is architecturally interesting. Was the building built with a lot of thought put into the design? Are the grounds well-landscaped? Does the building look like a hockey rink? Is the building a gaudy eyesore, or does it integrate well into its neighbourhood?
To receive an A+, the arena should be architecturally interesting and scream "hockey". It doesn't matter if it is new or old, but the building needs to fit well into the area where it is constructed. Whether the building is integrated into a downtown or alone in the suburbs, it needs to display some interesting architectural details and show that much thought was put into its design.
- Interior Layout and Design:
Once you're inside the building, the layout of the building becomes your overarching concern. Is the building well-designed? Is it easy to find your seat? Are there wide concourses, or are there tiny hallways? Is it easy to move around inside?
To receive an A+, the arena should be well laid-out. It should be easy to get around inside the building and easy to find everything when you need it (washrooms, concessions, etc.)
Seats are an integral part of the sport-watching experiences. A comfortable seat with a great view is all any sports fan wants, yet many places completely and utterly fail to provide this. Some arenas have wooden benches that barely face the ice, while others have movie-theatre palace seats, all with a great view. Are there any obstructed views? Is there enough leg room? How's the view?
To receive an A+, the arena should have comfortable, padded seats with ample leg room. The views should all be good, with none obstructed by support columns. Seating layout is important as well, the arena's seats should all face the right direction without forcing a fan to get a neck cramp to watch the game.
- Scoreboard and Entertainment:
The scoreboard is the heart and personality of any hockey arena. Any scoreboard system should have ample room to display all of the information that any fan needs at a moment's glance. There should be easily visible shot counters and a real-time clock as well as the hockey board. A video board is also a nice touch. "Entertainment" refers to the between-stoppages entertainment that teams utilise as well as the arena's "voice" - is the music too blaringly loud? Is it muddled to the point that it sounds like it's underwater being blasted out of ancient speakers? Does the arena have a classy, old-school announcer, or an annoying DJ who shouts all game long? Are there too many promotions that interrupt the proceedings?
To receive an A+, the arena should have a functional board with enough room to display all of the necessary information. There should be a full video board. The arena should have clear, precise sound without being too ridiculously loud, and there shouldn't be so many promotions that the game feels like a sideshow. Music selection should be appropriate to a hockey game - arena music and organ music. The announcer should be competent and realise that his function is to inform fans, not to be a part of the show.
- Arena Employees:
The public face of any arena is the people who work within. They're important as well. Do they treat people well, or do they act poorly? Are they distracted kids with no interest in their jobs? Are they ex-prison inmates who took the job because it would give them the chance to push people around? Do they know hockey? Do they know their jobs? Does the arena act like a community rink, or a corporate centre? Do they allow photos? Do they allow fans to cheer and act like fans?
To receive an A+, the arena should have a set of competent, professional, knowledgable employees. They should be polite and keep a lid on idiots within the crowd while allowing the ordinary fans to go about their business without being hassled. The arena should allow fans to generally do as they please provided they don't hassle or intimidate other fans.
The intangibles of an arena are important. A bad experience with a washroom or with parking can colour our experience of a road trip. Does the arena have clean washrooms? Are there enough washrooms? Is there plenty of cheap or free parking? Is the arena reasonably easy to get to? Do the facilities more resemble a five-star hotel, or a prison? Is the building kept in generally good shape?
To receive an A+, the arena should be clean and have plentiful washrooms and other amenities, and have plenty of cheap/free parking. It should be easy to access and easy to get out of once the game is over. It should be well-maintained and kept clean, with obvious signs that it has been loved by those in charge.
The most important category of them all is atmosphere. The reason why we fans keep coming back year-after-year is the atmosphere within the buildings. To be a part of a raucous playoff crowd is one of the great experiences in sports. We love our home teams and we expect them to do well, and we expect our fellow fans to be as passionate about the teams as we are. And when they are, the crowd becomes a unified body of fans who love their team and become the "seventh man" off the ice. Even when you're on the road, it's better to sit amongst loud and proud home fans than amidst empty seats and quiet fans who are embarrassed to cheer. Any arena receiving a good rating in this category, even if it gets "D-" in all the other categories, will still be close to my heart.
To receive an A+, the arena should be loud and fun. That's all.
A Word About Scoring:
All arenas will be judged in all categories on a letter-grade system. Most buildings will receive any grade from A to D in all categories. The points will then be added up to provide us with the rankings - a D=65, C=75, B=85, and A=95. Finally, there will be small numbers of A+'s and D-'s awarded. I will not give more than three D-'s or A+'s in any one category, as these grades are meant to recognise the best of the best and the worst of the worst. An A+ is worth 100 points and a D- is worth 60. The grades can also be interpreted as follows:
A+ - Superior
A - Excellent
B - Good
C - Average
D - Poor
D- - Very Poor
A perfect score of A+ in all seven categories is worth 700 points. All grades are based upon a percentage system. There are three ties throughout the rankings. In those cases I have shown the numerical ties as existing, but I have broken the tie by simply stating which of the two buildings I like better. I should also state that I don't generally update the rankings when I hear about news of a new scoreboard or something; only when I see it myself. Some of these rankings may be out of date.
Update (November 2006): With two of the originally-ranked buildings now closed, I've decided to keep the old rankings of closed buildings and add one for the London Gardens as well. You can access those reviews through the report card only.
A final disclaimer: Once again, I wish to stress that these are all my own opinions. I have visited all 20 OHL arenas and this is what I believe about the buildings based upon my own experiences. Some arenas I haven't been to in a couple years, so things may have changed since my visit. Others may have improved or gotten worse. However, these grades are my own opinions, completely subjective, and based upon what I look for in an arena. If I give a high grade to a building you dislike, or a low grade to one you like, then that is not a problem. Keep travelling, and form your own opinions.
On to the Rankings!