One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
INVISTA Centre - Home of the Kingston Voyageurs
October 13, 2016 - Kingston, Ontario
The city of Kingston has a long and storied tradition of hosting hockey, dating back to the 1880's. The market is currently a bit crowded with the OHL's Frontenacs sharing a fanbase with Queens University, Royal Military College, and the Junior A Kingston Voyageurs, who we previously saw compete at the modest confines of their prior home, Cataraqui Community Arena. Kingston got a new community arena, the INVISTA Centre, in 2008, and the 4 pad arena has been home of the Voyageurs ever since. Sitting in an industrial part of town, the INVISTA Centre has a sprawling, modern look, featuring a glassed in area near the lobby and a glass tower of sorts near the main entrance. The building sits rather low to the ground, and the gray siding on the building is offset by brick walls and glass panels on the lower lever, and modern looking patches of red and orange colored blocks used to break up the pale looking siding. A large electronic marquee sign sits near the road announcing upcoming events, and there is a rather large parking lot on site. With 4 ice pads the venue has capacity to host large hockey tournaments and other activities. Interestingly enough, the building has also been home of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, which first opened in downtown Kingston in 1943, but temporarily moved here after the structure was condemned. The small area of the Hall of Fame takes up a couple rooms behind the grandstand of the main arena here. A Don Cherry exhibit paying tribute to one of Kingston's most famous personalities is said to be the main attraction at this free museum, however when we arrived a couple hours before gametime we were told "sorry, the museum is closed for a couple weeks for renovations". No museum visit for us unfortunately. We did secure a ticket for the Thursday night contest against Whitby at the main arena info desk, and the cost was $14, which seems to be a couple dollars too high for Junior A hockey. The INVISTA Centre is a busy place used by local families for hockey and skating and other activities, but also provides a modern home for the Voyageurs, known by the locals as "the Vees", who have built up quite a following and tradition in their home city.
Once inside the main entrance of the INVISTA Centre you end up in the large lower lobby which is a hallway providing access to all 4 ice pads. On the lower level is a food concession stand known as the Limestone Krease, various tables and seating areas and a pro shop. To access the seating to the main arena, known as the Ambassador Resort Hotel Rink, you go up to the second level. On the second level is another hallway which provides access to the Hall of Fame, and has benches overlooking 3 ice pads. There is a mini-stick rink in the upper lobby complete with glass, dasher boards, and nets. The stairway and lower hallway provide a view of the elaborate painted mural paying tribute to Jayne Hefford, the Kingston native who has played for the Canadian National Women's team. The layout is efficient and the look of the hallways and lobby are modern. The main arena can be viewed from the lower lobby, but shades are drawn on gameday blocking the view from there as you need to purchase an admission ticket and enter from the upper lobby. On game day a Vees booster club table is set up selling merchandise and 50/50 tickets. A separate table has programs and collects the tickets. The main arena features a upper concourse above the seating area. Seating is made up of a large grandstand on one side of the ice, featuring 10 rows of dark blue plastic seats. The walls and ceiling of the arena are all white, and large white metal beams hold up the rather flat ceiling. A modern press box sits above the concourse, and a single scoreboard sits above the net at the far end of the rink. As is the case in much of Ontario, protective netting covers the entire seating area. There are quite a few banners commemorating the Voyageurs success, and some banners paying tribute to Vees who went on to the NHL including Dan Cleary. Gas heaters sit above the seating area providing a bit of heat for the fans as the arena temperature is kept quite cold. Overall the arena has a bit of a sterile feel to it, but the facility is modern, and provides a good home for Junior A hockey. With a grandstand capacity of 750 seats, you can easily fit over a thousand fans here with standees. The Voyageurs have claimed Thursday night as their usual game night, and the team draws decent crowds by the modest standards of the OJHL.
The game day presentation at the INVISTA Centre for a Kingston Voyageurs game is professional and well organized. This game was Pink in the Rink night, and there were additional activities and prizes being raffled off by the booster club. The fans here seem very dedicated to the team and are quite vocal, with quite a few folks having cowbells on hand to rings. A crowd of only 250 was on hand, but the noise level was very high at the start of the game as the Vees went up 2-0 early in the contest. That excitement did not last, however, as the Whitby Fury came back with 8 straight goals to take a 8-3 win. Thursday night is a hockey tradition in Kingston though with the Voyageurs, and despite the sterile look of the arena you feel a sense of tradition here. The team is frequently near the top of the standings and playoff crowds here can be quite large. Intermission are devoid of much on-ice activity as they just get down to business and resurface the ice. The INVISTA Centre was among the first wave of arenas that seem more prevalent in Canada now, which merge the need for a multi-pad community arena with a bigger event venue with a seating capacity of 1000 or more. The modern look of the building makes this an enjoyable venue to watch a game, although the sterile look of the main arena confines seem a bit out of place compared to the rest of the facility. The added touch of having the Hall of Fame on site draws visitors to the building from the Kingston area, and those traveling through or visiting often stop here to see this free attraction as well, so we plan to stop back on our next trip through Kingston to see what we missed out on during this trip as the museum was closed for remodeling. The Voyageurs are among the most well known Junior A franchises in Canada, and, despite having the OHL and University hockey in town to spread the fanbase out, seem to be thriving in Kingston. The INVISTA Centre may not be the only place for fans to watch high level hockey in Kingston, but it is a decent place to watch a game and, with the Hall of Fame on site, it makes a fun place to stop for a little while while traveling through Kingston.