November 2, 2019 - Guelph, Ontario
University hockey in Canada is among the most competitive and skilled hockey in the country, with most players having played major junior previously, and a few players on each roster who had tried their hand at pro hockey, often at the ECHL or AHL level. Despite the skill and fast pace of the games crowds are often on the small side, as CIS hockey flies a bit under the radar. The Guelph Gryphons have an on-campus arena, known as the Gryphon Centre, which is conveniently located for both the players as well as students who wish to catch a game. This Saturday afternoon contest against Nipissing was billed as Hockey Day in Gryphonville, and many former players and alumni were on hand for this afternoon tilt. Tickets for Gryphons hockey are $10, and can be purchased at the ticket table in the upper lobby of the arena. The Gryphon Centre opened in 1989, and the exterior of this twin pad facility features a curved concrete facade on one end which serves as a main entrance. Large windows in the middle of the facade sit outside the interior stairway. The exterior features red metal walls and the roof line is rather flat. The building itself would be rather boxy, but the curved facade on the lobby end adds some character. The building itself looks rather small from the outside. The main entrance sits along a red brick sidewalk and courtyard which is open to other campus buildings, giving this place a true college hockey feel. Although universities in Canada do not focus on their sports teams the way schools in the U.S. do, there is a lot of pride in Gryphon hockey, and with its on-campus location the arena is a busy place on game day. With 2 ice pads, known as the Gold and Red Rinks, the facility gets plenty of use in addition to the school's hockey teams. The city of Guelph also hosts the OHL's Storm in downtown, but the Gryphons provide a solid on ice product and a decent game day experience for local fans as well as the students who are on campus attending classes. Gryphons hockey is a tradition, and many in attendance can be found wearing the red, gold, and black team colors.
Fans entering Gryphon Centre Arena on game day will enter into the lower lobby, which is complete with a nicely stocked Gryphons team store as well as a Tim Horton's kiosk. There is a large trophy case in the lower lobby displaying hardware and memorabilia from Gryphon hockey success over the years. Fans will need to proceed up the stairway in the center of the lobby to the upper level, where a large upper lobby sits outside the entrance to the Gold Rink. The entire lobby and arena itself are filled with red, gold, and black trim, and there is no doubt whose home this place is. A sports bar with seating overlooking the ice is also in the upper lobby. Fans enter the arena itself from the corner of the rink, and find an Olympic sized ice surface with seating on both ends and one side of the ice. The wall where the penalty boxes are located is devoid of seating, but the capacity of 1400 is sufficient for the size crowds CIS hockey draws. The seating is all elevated above the ice, and consists of 5 rows of seats, with the end sections being red plastic bench seats, and the seats near center ice being plastic chairback seats. The ceiling seems rather low, and a concourse runs behind the seating which is carpeted and features a standing rail behind the seats. A scoreclock is on each end of the arena, and the light gray cinder block walls feature the Gryphon logo. In addition to the Timmies in the lobby fans can find a small snack and drink stand in the corner of the upper concourse of the arena, or grab something more substantial from the sports bar which offers a wider menu. The sight lines of the arena are good overall, with no netting in front of the center seats, although the near boards can be a bit tough to see with the seats being elevated the way they are. Although basic in design, the Gryphon Centre Arena is a homey place, and seems to posses the intangibles which make an arena feel like home for the team that plays there. With a capacity of 1400 it is a medium sized CIS hockey arena, with some teams playing in larger venues, and some in even smaller barns. Despite being from the era where hockey arena design and architecture is not generally thought of as appealing, the Gryphon Centre seems to have stood the test of time and still feels like an arena with plenty of life left in it.
The game day experience in Geulph for a Gryphons hockey game is fun and laid back. The crowd is your typical Ontario crowd, which means quiet but knowledgeable, but they get vocal when necessary. The presentation is professional, and intermission features on-ice fan contests. A beanbag toss takes place instead of a traditional chuck-a-puck contest here. A Gryphon mascot roams the crowd during the game, and the crowd filled about half of the arena on this Saturday afternoon. University of Guelph does a great job honoring its sports history, with banners and displays throughout the lobby and arena, and even has banners dating back to when the team was known as the Redmen. There is no designated student section here, and the students seem to spread out around the arena, with the center ice sections seeming to fill up first on game day. Most of the fans here are very focused on the game itself, and not very concerned with ancillary activities taking place at intermission or during the game. The presentation is solid, however, with a good selection of music being played at stoppages and an enjoyable team introduction before the game. Fans on hand for this Hockey Day in Gryphonville went away pleased as Guelph took a 9-4 win over Nipissing in a game which featured some outstanding passing and skill in addition to some gritty and physical play, making for a very enjoyable contest. The game even featured each team having a penalty shot attempt, something you don't see very often. From the red, gold, and black trim throughout the arena to the displays in the concourse there is little doubt whose house you are in and it is apparent that hockey takes top billing at the Univeristy of Guelph. Despite being a fairly small and rather dated building Gryphon Centre Arena provides a very solid hockey experience for those who choose to catch a game here.