September 11, 2016 - Rexdale, Ontario
The Toronto hockey market is crowded with community arenas, many of which contain multiple ice pads. One such venue in the Northwest corner of Toronto is Westwood Arena, an older arena complex featuring 5 ice pads. The venue sits in a rather industrial area of Rexdale and the sprawling building has large parking lots outside its walls. The low profile structure looks like a warehouse, or even a 1980's shopping center from afar, and features tan brick and white siding on its exterior. A sharp looking and unique sign sits at the main entrance, featuring a large raised letter sign above the entry doors which is highlighted by large blue metal I-beams. It gives an industrial look and seems to have a retro appeal. The roof of the facility is flat, so the venue does not have a classic arena profile. We were not able to determine the year the facility opened, but it has the stylings of the late 1970's and 1980's. The entrance is notched into a side corner of the building, and for this Sunday evening game there was not a lot of activity going on beforehand, although many minor hockey programs had not gotten into full swing yet as this was a mid-September early season game. The Toronto Patriots have had a successful Junior A program, and were earlier known as the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, previously playing at the Mastercard Centre along the lake, which is the practice facility for the NHL's Maple Leafs. They moved here in 2013, and have claimed the 2014 Dudley Hewitt Cup, as well as a pair of Buckland Cups as OJHL champions. Westwood Arena is certainly not one of the modern multiplex arenas that seem to be popping up all lover Canada, but as an older venue it has a bit of charm and character despite its simple and utilitarian design and modest exterior. The use of the blue steel beams adds a visual appeal to the building, but most in the area, including teams in the GTHL minor hockey system see the arena as simply one of the many that make up the hockey culture in the Toronto area.
Once inside the main entrance to Westwood Arena you find yourself in a wide hallway. Directly ahead is the entrance to the Penalty Box Bar and Grille, a full service restaurant which overlooks the corner of the main arena from ice level. Past that is a large lobby which sits between 4 of the 5 ice pads on site. The lobby features photos of players who have played in this facility and gone on to the NHL, including several Hall of Famers. A snack bar sits in the lobby as well, and the walls are colorful and offset the tile floor. A pro shop also sits in the lobby, and on game day the Patriots set up a ticket and merchandise table at the entrance door to the main arena. Once through the door to the main arena you find a simple configuration which features a very steep concrete grandstand on one side of the ice, which houses 12 rows of wooden benches which are painted blue. The gray concrete base for the grandstand is quite large, extending up to the ceiling rafters, and there is also a standing aisle atop the seating area. The roof slopes away from the grandstand toward the other side of the ice, and the ceiling is supported by huge white metal rafters. The cinder block walls, gray siding, and white ceiling give the arena a rather cold and spartan look, but sight lines are excellent, and thankfully, the protective netting does not cover the area at center ice, so views are good. Both team benches are on the grandstand side of the ice, and a single scoreboard sits behind the goal on one end wall of the arena. The Patriots have taken to the Sunday night time slot for many of their games, and tickets at $10 are a bit less expensive than many teams in the OJHL. The layout of the arena is all business, but the large grandstand provides ample room for the Patriots crowds, and you could certainly jam in over 1500 people here including standees. Although the arena may not have the modern trappings that many venues have, Westwood Arena is a suitable home for Junior A hockey.
The gameday presentation at Westwood Arena for a Patriots game is solid and well done. The entire roster was introduced individually before the game, and the music selection during the stoppages is up-tempo and fun. The Patriots have built up a bit of tradition and a decent following for having only been in Rexdale for a few seasons. A large Patriots banner hangs on the wall across from the grandstand, as do the championship banners accumulated by the team. As with most venues in the OJHL nothing really happens at intermission aside from the ice being resurfaced, as fans head for the warmth of the lobby the escape the cold inside the arena. A good crowd was on hand considering this was a warm September evening and a Sunday night. Announcements were made over the clear PA system, and the game itself was very entertaining with the Patriots taking a 2-1 win despite some great goaltending by the netminder for the visiting Mississauga Chargers. With so many options for spectators in the Toronto hockey market it is hard for a team to carve out a niche and a following of fans. The Patriots have put a successful product on the ice and garnered multiple championships lately, so that has gone a long way to attracting fans in Northwest Toronto. Westwood Arena is the kind of place that just seems right for Junior A hockey. It is not flashy or modern. The neighborhood in which the arena sits it rather gritty. The arena does have a sense of history and character, with all of the NHLers who have skated here at one time, even as a young players in minor hockey. With the option of watching quality hockey at a good price on a Sunday night, the Toronto Patriots provide a fun experience for fans at Westwood Arena.