February 8, 2014 - Cheektowaga, New York
The GOJHL, and the individual leagues that came before it, provide a good product with a large fan following, usually garnering much higher attendance than even the Junior A teams in Southern Ontario. For the last 10 seasons or so there has been a sole U.S. entry on the Junior B circuit. The current incarnation of Buffalo Junior B hockey is known as the Buffalo Regals, and was previously known as the Wheatfield Blades, and later the Buffalo Blades. Recent seasons of single digit win totals and on ice futility have found the team being considered a bit of an afterthought in the league, however the fact that you can watch this intense brand of hockey and not have to cross the border if you are a U.S. resident makes taking in a Regals game worthwhile. The Regals actually split their home games between this arena and Buffalo State Ice Arena. Each road game for the Regals is actually played in another country. Holiday Twin Rinks is a nondescript facility in Cheektowaga, and opened in 1971. This arena was the original practice facility of the Buffalo Sabres. The blue metal building sits in an industrial part of town, and its rather plain exterior mixes in with the warehouses and other nearby buildings nicely. An electronic marquee sign sits near the road, and a small parking lot sits to the side of the arena. Parking was at a premium for this game, and lots of folks were parked in and the police were on site trying to keep things orderly. Much of the parking lot congestion was due to a youth hockey tournament which took place before the Regals game, and also the fact that large Buffalo area snow totals left some of the lot unusable. Holiday Twin Rinks is a no frills facility for sure. The front of the building is also divided into separate areas for fitness, and a center entrance between the 2 ice pads is marked with a red sign and double doors. With 2 ice pads and other training facilities the building looks like a giant blue barn.
Once inside the main entrance there is a small lobby, which was soaked from wet boots on this Saturday afternoon before this matinee matchup between the Regals and the St. Catharines Falcons. To the left of the entryway way is the main lobby, which features a ticket and Regals merchandise table, and also a well stocked snack bar called the Holiday Grille. A pro shop and small arcade area also makes up the lower lobby, and this is a busy place as parents of young players finishing up their games on the 2 ice pads watch their kids gear while they grab a hotdog from the grille. A ticket for the game was $8 and included a free lineup sheet, although the lineup only listed the Regals players and not the opponent. To access the main arena that the Regals call home you can either go down a sloped ramp through a tunnel of sorts to the arena, or go up a set of stairs to the upper lobby and then access the seating that way. That arena capacity is listed at 1500 and the seating is all on one side and features 5 rows of mostly wooden bleachers. About half of the grandstand has 2 more rows of bleachers that run behind the aisleway above the grandstand. The stands are raised up so that the front row is even with the top of the boards. The arena is rather dark and not overly welcoming. A row of chain link fencing runs in front of the grandstand, and there is also netting above the glass in front of the entire seating area. A simple scoreclock sits on the far end of the arena, and there is a mural commemorating 50 years of Buffalo Regals hockey (the local teams have had that name for a long time). There are retired number jerseys hanging from the ceiling as well. Many folks choose to watch from the heated upper lobby, which has table seating overlooking the ice. The facility has a bit of a worn out feel to it, although there is nothing in particular that indicates that the arena is lacking in care or maintenance, it is simply a 40 year old arena that sees lots of use from local patrons. It's a basic hockey barn, and this type of setting in the middle of a brutal winter seems so true to what hockey is supposed to be that it makes things enjoyable.
The gameday experience at Holiday Twin Rinks is basic. The PA system is loud and clear, and things are presented in a professional manner. The arena is very cold, so most of the 120 announced spectators chose to warm up in the lobby between periods. There are no intermission contests or giveaways. Oddly there is no advertising on the boards either. There are several viewing options as you can watch from the stands, stand along the end glass, or watch from the upper lobby. The upper lobby has a fireplace to keep you warm, and also has a trophy case full or Regals awards from the local amateur youth teams. We got to experience a typical Regals game, with the team being outplayed badly to the point that the entire game was in the Regals defensive zone. St. Catharines pelted the Buffalo goalie with over 50 shots. You had to root for the underdog Regals as they were terribly outmatched, but kept the game close, escaping the first period with a 0-0 tie. You could tell that alone was a moral victory for the boys as they seemed pumped up leaving the ice after the first. The game ended up 3-0 St. Catharines, and was enjoyable despite the one sided play. There is not a lot of "atmosphere" in the arena when the crowd numbers a little over 100. Much of the crowd seems to be made up of family and friends of the players, and with the border crossing there may not be much out of town support from visiting fans, despite the most of the other Golden Horseshoe Division opponents being located within 30 or 40 miles of Buffalo, if not closer. Fans in Buffalo have a lot of hockey options, including the NHL, Division 1 college, and Junior A. The Regals seem to get lost in the shuffle a bit, but taking in a game in the old school, basic atmosphere that Holiday Twin Rinks provides is a decent way to get your hockey fix. The afternoon timing of this game also filled our schedule nicely, as we were headed to the nearby NHL arena for a rare AHL game at First Niagara Center. Holiday Twin Rinks may not be first on on your priority list of hockey arenas in Buffalo to attend, but watching Canadian Junior hockey in the states is always a treat. Fielding an American team on the tough Ontario Junior B circuit will always be an uphill battle, but for now the Regals provide an opportunity for Buffalo fans to be a part of that action.
A box score of the game is available Here
Other information about the Buffalo Regals is available at: Regals Home
Other information about Holiday Twin Rinks is available at: Arena Home
More photos of Holiday Twin Rinks are available Here