February 8, 2017 - Nepean, Ontario
The Nepean Sportsplex opened in 1972 in the city of Nepean, on the western edge of Ottawa, and has been a vibrant facility seeing a lot of community use ever since. The area is now built up with shopping and chain restaurants nearby, but the 1970's era facility still has a strong presence in the community. Fans are greeted by a retro concrete and metal sign at the entrance to the parking lot, and find the sprawling complex in front of them, with the Steve Yzerman Arena's concrete Brutalist architecture standing as a focal point when approaching the complex. The venue finds 3 ice pads on site as well as a swimming pool, meeting rooms, and other facilities for community use. The simple exterior of Steve Yzerman Arena looks rather boxy and industrial, and features a slanted roofline, and a smokestack looking vent in the center of the roof. The nearly windowless exterior is rather plain, and aside from some tan brick in spots, is covered in gray and tan vertical metal siding. The complex features several entrances and large parking lots on several sides of the building. A series of hallways and corridors connect the various sections of the building with the main lobby, and also the rear entryway which also features an art gallery. The main lobby has a wall of fame with photos of local sports heroes on display, although many of the photos are faded and located in a spot that is almost overlooked. The most famous native son who has his photo displayed on the Wall of Fame is none other than Steve Yzerman, who grew up in Nepean, and skated in this very building for the Raiders during his first season of junior hockey. Although it is not uncommon to find a facility housing 3 ice pads in Ontario these days the Nepean Sportsplex has a classic 1970's feel to it, and you can sense the history that has taken place here over the years. The Brutalist architecture can be hard to appreciate, but is something to behold with its focus on strength and simplicity. You get a sense of stepping back in time a few decades when attending a game here, and the facility itself harkens back to the time before Steve Yzerman was known as one of the NHL's best players.
The Raiders frequently play Wednesday night contests, and fans assemble on the lower concourse hallway of Steve Yzerman Arena before the game as they can purchase their tickets from the simple ticket table that is set up at the grandstand entrance. A ticket for this contest against the Pembroke Lumber Kings was $12. Once inside the arena you find yourself part way up the enormous grandstand that offers a great view of the ice. The large single grandstand features seating for 3000, and is comprised of 27 rows of red, orange, and yellow wooden seats which appear to be original to the building. The ceiling is very high, and the rake of the seating is terrifically steep, providing a great view of the ice. It seems rather odd to have such a large grandstand on one side and no seating on the other side, as it almost looks as though this is a 6000 seat arena which is half finished. The ceiling slopes away from the grandstand toward the opposite side of the building, and the benches and penalty boxes are all across the ice from the stands. The walls are rather plain white cinder block walls with a blue stripe, and the tin ceiling sits above the exposed metal beams, which slope away from the grandstand as the roof tapers toward the other side. In a bit of a design quirk the entrances from the concourse to the grandstand come out about 1/3 of the way up the seating, but there is no aisle to get across to different sections, either in front of the seating or near the entrances. With the small crowds on hand that the CCHL attracts these days fans can just walk across the row of seats near the entrance until they get to an aisle. A press box sits at the very top of the grandstand, but appears not to be used anymore as the team's broadcasting personnel are set up at a couple tables about half way up the stands. A pair of scoreboards keep the fans informed, one is at the end of the ice above the goal, and the other is on the far arena wall above the penalty box. That scoreboard also features a back-lit "Steve Yzerman Arena" sign as the main arena became known by that name in 1997, when Stevie Y's career was still in full swing for the Red Wings. The concourse underneath the grandstand has a simple food concession window, and is rather dark and drab with gray concrete everywhere, but it serves the intended purpose. As in much of Ontario, protective netting covers the seating area, although since you can sit up very high here if you like the netting does not seem as obstructive as at other venues. Steve Yzerman Arena is a big time facility, and there were rumors of the AHL coming here a few decades ago, but the Raiders have been a constant here, and have given the fans some excellent hockey to watch over the years.
The game day experience at a Nepean Raiders game at SteveYzerman Arena is focused on the hockey and is all business. The team has built up a huge tradition over the last few decades, and the banners which hang above the ice show the past success of the teams. You get the throwback feeling of watching the action from a high vantage point if you choose, and the muffled PA can make you think you are watching some classic hockey from the 1970's. The CCHL has an advantage over most leagues in that the teams are all within 2-3 hours geographically, and therefore fans can attend road games rather easily. Although Pembroke is one of the outlying towns in the league the Lumber Kings brought a hearty group of fans to cheer on their team. A small crowd of a couple hundred was dwarfed by the giant grandstand, but the sense of tradition here and the entertaining hockey kept the fans happy. Cowbells could be heard frequently, and the game itself was very entertaining as the Raiders took a 2-0 win in a tight contest after an empty netter and great goaltending on both sides of the ice. You likely won't find a huge crowd at a Raider's game, but you will be able to watch hockey in a architecturally unique building with a long sense of tradition. During intermission things are kept simple as the ice is resurfaced and that is it. There are no contests or giveaways, and most of the fans congregate on the lower concourse to grab a coffee or have a chat while they wait for the intermission to end. The colorful wooden seats and steep pitch of the grandstand are both great features that are not seen very often anymore. The Raiders have been around for over 50 seasons, and are one of the better known Junior A teams in Canada. As times change across North America, and multiplex arenas spring up across Canada, many of which have a similar look, fans can still enjoy action in one of the older multi-pad arenas here. In addition to having a big arena feel the other parts of the facility are able to provide ample recreation space for the residents of Nepean. Taking in a game at Steve Yzerman Arena is a bit of a step back in time for 2 and a half hours, and a bit of a taste of how fans enjoyed our great game a few decades ago.