February 10, 2017 - Oshawa, Ontario
When you say the words "Oshawa" and "hockey" most folks will be referring to the iconic OHL franchise the Oshawa Generals, known for their Memorial Cup wins and Eric Lindros' time there. There is another quality hockey program in town though, as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology started a CIS program in 2008, and the Ridgebacks have been skating for the local fans and student body ever since. This game was the second annual school day game, which saw an 11AM Friday start and free admission for this matchup against the UQTR Patriotes. A number of area elementary schools had busloads of kids on hand to watch the game and make a lot of noise. Having opened in 2005 Campus Ice Centre has a modern look, and features gray brick walls and white metal siding. The building, which sits on the edge of campus, has a rather low profile and a flat roof line. A concrete walkway leads to the entrance on the corner of the building, which features blue tinted glass walls. The architecture blends in nicely with many of the newer buildings on the UOIT campus, and the venue could be mistaken for just another school building on campus aside from the small signage directing fans to the nearby parking lot which also indicates this is a ice arena. The building houses 2 ice pads, and the large 2-story lobby features an information desk and some Ridgebacks signage and decor. The venue is clearly geared as much for community and student use as it is for big time university hockey, but the main arena features a solid environment which is more than sufficient to house the size crowds that CIS hockey draws in Ontario. The modern look of the arena is appealing, although rather utilitarian, but this is certainly a solid arena for the Ridgebacks.
Once inside the lobby, and after learning that there was no admission charge for this game, we headed up the stairway that runs along the end wall of the main rink to the upper lobby, where a table was set up with game programs and entry to the arena on the right. A nice on-site restaurant and bar sits to the left and is an open-air setting to the lobby below complete with all of the trappings of your typical sports bar. The seats in the bar don't quite overlook the ice though, as the stairway runs in between the restaurant and the rink itself. Once inside the main arena you are on the single narrow concourse that runs atop the grandstand which runs the length of the ice. The low ceiling is very noticeable here and the arena has a very compact feel to it. The seating is comprised of 7 rows of blue plastic chairs. With 500 seats total and a capacity including standees of under 800 this place clearly qualifies as a band box. There is standing along the aisle above the seats but it gets very tight here as fans try to navigate their way to the concession stand, which sits to the outside of the concourse, or the lobby. As is the case in most of Ontario, protective netting covers the entire seating area, but sight lines are pretty good here, and all seats are close to the ice. A single scoreboard sits above the goal on the far wall. The interior shows this is clearly home of the Ridgebacks as the blue cinder block walls and white metal rafters display school colors, and there are retired numbers hanging, despite the program being less than 10 season old, and also a number of historic photos along the main upper concourse wall. At first glance, Campus Ice Centre looks like one of the modern cookie-cutter small community arenas that have been constructed over the last decade or so, but the details of the interior and the color scheme of the arena make this place feel much more inviting and much less drab than many venues of its age.
With this game being the annual school day game and having a morning start time the game day atmosphere was likely quite a bit different than the normal night game would be. The arena was full of young attendees however, and the place got very noisy, although much of the attention was to the snack bar and the teams dog mascot rather than the on ice performance. We don't want to be the old guy that yells "get off my lawn", or "sit down while the puck is in play" so rather than watch the game with kids constantly running up the aisles during play to go back and forth to the concession stand we chose to stand at ice level on the end of the rink and enjoy the action from there. With free admission it is hard to complain and the game day presentation was very professional and polished. Fan give-aways and t-shirt tosses got the kids excited, and intermission featured a fan shootout contest with some of the young school kids. The PA system seemed to be at a very low volume for this game, making it a bit difficult to hear goal and penalty announcements. The school staff that organized this game for area kids did an excellent job however, as the OUA brought some displays from their various sports, including having the University Cup trophy on hand, as well as some frisbie and sticker handouts for kids who took part in the football toss that was set up at ice level in the corner of the rink. There were also members of the Ridgebacks women's hockey team on hand signing autographs for the young fans as well. Despite the arena being on campus there were almost no UIOT students on hand for this game as the 11AM weekday start is not conducive to attending class, but the game was designed to give back to the local community and showcase the team to a group of kids who may not get exposed to the team or university any other way. The packed house of kids also spent a ton of money at the concession stand, more than making up for any loss of revenue by allowing everyone in for free. In speaking with one of the arena staff members there is normally a merchandise table set up for Ridgebacks game, but with the thought of it being unmanageable with so many kids on hand the team merchandise was kept locked up for this game. The on ice action was solid, with UOIT claiming a 2-0 victory in a very physical and entertaining contest. Although this was not the typical hockey crowd the loud noise level and enthusiasm of the young fans made for a fun environment to watch a game. The arena itself, although rather basic in its amenities, is a fun little place to watch hockey with its low ceiling, small capacity, and attention to tradition. CIS hockey flies under the radar a bit in Ontario, but the quality of play is very high and the games are very entertaining. We enjoyed our trip to Campus Ice Centre, and the early start left plenty of time to head back over the border and catch a game in the States in the evening. The Generals will likely always garner the bulk of the hockey attention in Oshawa, but fans looking to enjoy some quality hockey in an intimate and modern setting should check out a Ridgebacks game at Campus Ice Centre as it is a worthy hockey destination.