April 3, 2011 - Elmira, Ontario
Most of our road trips have a solid plan in place before we leave home. As this particular trip took place during playoff time, with its uncertain schedule, there had to be more flexibility built in. It turned out that the Elmira Sugar Kings game, which I had no idea was even taking place on the first day of the trip, ended up on the schedule, bumping an afternoon AHL tilt for the Toronto Marlies. As I sat in my hotel room in Guelph the night before this game it was mentioned that the Cherrey Cup finals were taking place in nearby Elmira, so I decided to check out my first Junior B action and was not dissappointed. The Sugar Kings play in the GOJHL, which is made up of 3 conferences which were once their own leagues. The Cherrey Cup was the crowning of the Midwestern Junior League champions for many years, but is now a step along the road to the GOJHL finals. I had no idea what to expect, or even where the arena was, but easily found the impressive new Woolwich Memorial Centre once in Elmira, which is a very small town whose streets were filled with Amish buggies on this early Sunday afternoon. The town was actually still cleaning up from its large maple syrup festival, which was held the day before, and explains the team's Sugar Kings nickname. The arena sports a rather small parking lot in front, and looks huge from the outside. A small carved stone sign sits near the road and has a digital message board announcing upcoming events at the complex. The structure itself has a modern industrial look, as its gray cement and gray metal exterior are highlighted with stained glass accents along the front of the building. The Memorial Centre itself actually houses a number of community athletic facilities, including the pool and 2 arenas as well as meeting rooms and a fitness center. It was built in 2009, so it looks spotless and new inside and out.
The entrance to the building opens up to a corridor between the arena where the Sugar Kings play, known as Dan Snyder Arena, and the other half of the building, which houses the gym and pool. Tickets are for sale at the counter, and were a reasonable $10. There is also a food concession stand in this lower hallway, and benches which look into the arena from the end, although there is a sliding curtain which is lowered to block the view of the arena from the hallway and lobby once the game and warmups are about to start. To enter the arena itself you go up a modern looking open stairway to the upper level, where there is a landing with a merchandise table, and then the entry to the arena, which dumps out on the corner of the upper concourse. I was impressed with the souvenirs for sale and the game program was very informative. The Sugar Kings have a long history of success, and saw NHLers such as Daryl Sittler and Cam Stewart suit up in an Elmira sweater. The end of the concourse is lined with a full glass wall overlooking the lobby and main hallway below, and the rest of the concourse runs along the top of the seating area and doubles as a jogging track. The orange, white and blue stained glass windows, which are evident from the outside of the front of the building, run along the entire wall above the seats on the penalty box side of the arena. The seats are all modern plastic seats, and are a gray color, adding to the industrial look of the arena. There is a large wall behind the benches, so there are only a few rows in that area of center ice, and the seats on both sides extend further into the corner on the end which is farthest from the lobby. There is a second concession stand on the middle of the concourse behind the benches, and the ends are devoid of seating, but if you don't mind looking through the netting the concourse on the ends offer are great standing view as you are almost hanging above the ice. This is an impressive new building indeed, and is listed as having a capacity of 1500, although it looks bigger.
I had no idea if people cared about Junior B hockey that much, especially with 2 OHL teams, Guelph and Kitchener, a half hour away, but I was again surprised as the fans of small town Elmira, as well as opposing fans from Listowel, filled this place to capacity, with people filling every seat of the 8 rows on one side and 9 rows on the other. There were folks lining the entire upper standing area, as well as people standing in the aisles on the end, and standing at glass level on both ends as well. The Sugar Kings sure seem to have the support of the community. I was glad I skipped the AHL game as the action on the ice was everything playoff hockey is supposed to be, and the atmosphere was great as well. The crowd, although large, was not overly vocal or rowdy, but they sure seemed to support their team. The action was smash-mouth hockey at its finest, with a decent level of skill. The fact that it was played in a full barn, with basic amenities such as a small center ice scoreboard and fans all having an up close view of the action made this arena tons of fun. They do a decent job with the game presentation, with a chuck-a-puck contest at intermission, and the teams Lion mascot on hand. Not a whole lot was said over the PA, but that is not a bad thing as fans were not bombarded with ads either. This was the kind of place I can picture from the movie "Youngblood", with its small town feel and hard hitting hockey, only it had the comforts of many of the newer arenas which house teams at a higher level. The game itself was fantastic, with the Sugar Kings taking a 2-1 win in this game 3 of the series. A few weeks later I was happy to read that they went on to win the league championship by defeating Niagara Falls. I have a new appreciation for Junior B hockey, and will check out more games in the future. This new arena is a great place to watch hockey and meet some enthusiastic small town fans. The fact that I was able to do it during the playoffs, and then head a half hour down the road to a OHL playoff game in Guelph that evening made this an awesome day.
Other information about the Elmira Sugar Kings is available at: Sugar Kings Home
Other information about the Woolwich Memorial Centre is available at: Arena Home
More photos of the Woolwich Memorial Centre are available Here