One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Eastlink Arena - Home of the Clinton Radars
March 29, 2019 - Clinton, Ontario
The Clinton Radars are arguably the most successful small town semi-pro team in Ontario over the last decade. The team's nickname of the Radars is tied closely to the history of this one-stoplight town 20 minutes east of Lake Huron. Clinton was a Royal Air Force radar base during World War 2, and the center of town still features a large radar antenna. Radars hockey came into existence in 1994, but moved into this arena upon its completion. Eastlink Arena, which is part of the Central Huron Community Complex, is a newer venue which opened in 2011, and is tucked away at the corner of the grounds of a horse racing track. The building in built into a hill, with parking along the lower level as well as near the upper entrance. In addition to the ice arena the venue houses a meeting hall and the local YMCA weight room and gym. The WOAA is one of our favorite leagues, and the fans in the small towns that have teams in this league are generally very enthusiastic and support their teams well. The exterior of the arena looks modern but basic, with tan metal siding accented by a green metal roof and some stonework around the base of the building. The small main entrance sits at the end of the building and has a small metal awning and a raised letter sign bearing the name Eastlink Arena. The Radars had claimed the last 3 WOAA championships, and this playoff final series against the Ripley Wolves created quite a buzz in the town, with fans arriving early to the arena. This Friday night contest was the main attraction in town. Having seen the Radars play of the road before and being amazed at the number of traveling fans they get to their road games we were equally impressed by the number of fans filling the parking lot more than an hour before puck drop. Eastlink Arena is a modern arena that serves mainly as a local community rink, but is an excellent home for the Radars and their loyal fans.
Fans entering the arena on game day will pass through the lower lobby to secure their tickets. Tickets for this playoff contest were $10, and there was also a Radars merchandise table in the lobby, as well as a few photos of previous Radars teams. The lobby is colorful with multi-color tiles in place. There is also seating in the lobby overlooking the end of the ice at ice level. The seating is accessed by walking along the glass of the arena, or going up a stairway in the lobby. The seating is comprised of 6 rows of seats running down 1 side of the ice. The first 5 rows of seats are blue plastic chairbacks, and the top row is a blue bench. There is standing all around the rink, although a press box sits in the middle on the far side of the ice. The upper concourse serves as a running track and circles the ice completely. Netting is only in place on the ends, and the sight lines are good with the seating being steeply pitched. A low profile center ice scoreclock hangs above center ice, and the entire arena has a compact feel, yet they often cram 1000 plus fans in here on game night. The interior walls are gray, and white metal beams hold the roof in place. The starkness of the interior colors of the arena itself is a contrast to the colorful decor in the lobby. In actuality, Eastlink Arena is a simple community rink, but it is modern, and does seem well equipped to host semi-pro hockey at this level. Despite being rather new the arena does feel as though it has a bit of character, but that is mainly due to the success the Radars have on the ice, and the support they receive in the community.
The game day atmosphere at Eastlink Arena for this Clinton Radars playoff game was intense and filled with anticipation. One of these teams was going to claim the WOAA championship after this best of 7 series, and the Radars were looking for 4 straight titles. The early arriving crowd hung around the lobby until just before warmups started, and then took their seats, or standing positions, as the arena was jammed full of fans, with all the seats occupied by the time the Radars came out for warmups. Fans lined the running track and the beer garden area along the track 2 and 3 deep to watch this game. The presentation itself was extremely basic,with music played at a low volume over the PA system, and announcements kept to a minimum. There was a small pregame ceremony and a puck drop by a local team supporter, but the on ice action was the center of attention here. The intermissions are not timed here and simply last as long as it takes to flood the ice. There was a chuck-a-puck contest during the first intermission. The Radars fans are what really sets this place apart from other small modern Ontario arenas, as the crowd is supportive, with many wearing team gear, and, although the group could be described as a typical stoic Ontario crowd, they know how to make noise when the Radars do something positive. Quite a few homemade noisemakers are on hand in the crowd, and every rush is watched with the type of anticipation that only a league championship series can bring. With the arena completely packed it magnified the intensity level of the game. The level of play in the WOAA is quite fast paced and physical, and with most of the rosters made of of former Junior A or OHL players who went on to play in pro leagues such as the ECHL, the skill level is there as well. Most of the players are from towns within the nearby region, so it adds to the small town feel of the league, and team pride is evident. Unfortunately the Wolves kept the Clinton fans quiet and took a 7-2 road win. It turns out the Radars would recover to claim the series and another WOAA championship. Watching hockey at Eastlink Arena, for the small price of $10, in a fuil arena with passionate fans, is a great hockey experience, and a trip to Clinton to watch the Radars may be off the beaten path but is a worthwhile stop.