March 11, 2018 - Ayr, Ontario
The town of Ayr, Ontario may be small in size, with a population of only 4000 residents, but the community is big in the hockey world, and filled with pride for its junior team, known by most simply as the Cens. North Dumfries Community Complex opened in 2011, and has seen the Cens have a successful run since then, even claiming a pair of back to back Schmalz Cups. The arena sits adjacent to a large grain mill, and has a large parking lot on site which was overflowing for this Sunday afternoon playoff game against the Tavistock Braves. Like many of the Tavistock fans who were in attendance for the 1pm Sunday game in Tavistock for the WOAA's Tavistock Royals, we hightailed it over to Ayr once the senior league game came to its overtime conclusion. The building's large and modern facade and lobby exterior features gray cinder blocks and stately glass panels. The arena itself sits a bit further back in the complex, and is contained within blue metal walls and a peaked roof. The building sits back off the road a bit, and a digital marquee sign announces upcoming games for the Cens as well as community events. The Community Complex serves the local population in a number of ways, but it is best know as the town's hockey arena and is a gathering place for local residents to come and cheer on their team. The modern look of the facility has somewhat of a low profile, and the flat roof of the lobby area gives the front of the building a bit of a boxy look. Despite being a mainstay on the lower level junior circuit in Southern Ontario since 1982 the club has had limited on-ice success until the last half dozen season or so, with the team's improvement and rise to prominence corresponding with the opening of the North Dumfries Community Complex as the team has won at least 1 playoff round each season since 2012. A Centennials game is certainly an event in Ayr, and community support is strong. Game tickets are purchased at the ticket table at the top of the stairs in the main lobby of the arena, and a playoff ticket for this matchup was $10. Fans in this small farming community certainly have a lot to be proud of when it comes to the recent success of the team, and with one of the most modern arenas in Junior C hockey the Cens have an excellent venue to call home.
Upon entering North Dumfries Community Complex for a Centennials game fan walk through the large main lobby of the building, which features a display of jerseys from area players who have gone on to play in the NHL, including Kyle Clifford. The upper lobby is full of activity on game day, and sits outside the doors of the main arena, which is named Ayr Farmers Mutual Insurance Company Arena. The upper lobby contains the food concession stand, as well as a nicely stocked merchandise table, and signage and trophy cases leave no doubt that this is the home of the Cens. The arena itself is a miniature version of what you might find in the OHL, except with only 4 rows of seats circling the entire ice surface instead of the 25 rows you might find at a OHL-sized arena. The seats are red plastic chairs without armrests. The upper concourse doubles as a running track, and there is a small but adequate center ice scoreclock hanging from the low ceiling. A large crowd on hand took up most of the 1000 seats available here, as well as the entire standing area along the upper concourse circling the rink. With only 4 rows of seats every fan was within about 15 feet of the ice including standees, making for an intimidating environment for opponents to play in. Unfortunately as protective netting covers the entire seating area and fans are so close to both the ice and the netting, the entire viewing experience seems a bit tedious and hard on the eyes. With this late afternoon start and the arena featuring windows above the concourse which let in light from outside the glare and reflection of the light from outside the arena made for very undesirable sight lines and the game was a bit difficult to watch with the glare and distraction of the white netting surrounding the ice. We imagine that night time games would be a bit easier on the eyes here without the glare of the afternoon sun coming in through the windows. The arena is certainly well kept however, and the bright white concrete walls and gray ceiling beams give a rather plain look to the interior, but the red seats stand out and draw attention to the fact that this arena was designed to be the Centennials home. Despite the inconvenience of having to look through the netting here the design is a favorable one, getting the fans close to the action. The layout with the seats circling the entire surface gives North Dumfries Community Complex a big time feel.
The game day presentation at North Dumfries Community Complex for a Centennials game is polished and professional while still making sure that the game itself is the most important attraction. A clear PA system pumps out the music and keeps fans informed, and the overall feel of the place is very professional. Banners along the concourse honor the success of the Cens, including the recent Schmalz Cup and PJHL regular season championships. The merchandise table and signage throughout the arena and lobby make sure fans know whose house they are in, and there is a general sense that the team is the center of attention in the town. Some intermission contests include a fan shoot-a-ram contest where a lucky fan chooses the Cens player of his choice to take a shot at a small target in an attempt for the fan to win a prize. The main takeaway you get when attending a game here is that the town loves the team and the team ownership group does everything possible to put a good product on the ice and make the games enjoyable for the fans to attend. The large crowd on hand generates its own energy and the arena has a great atmosphere like you would expect for playoff hockey. The PJHL is a league where the divisions have a small geographic footprint, so a large contingent of Tavistock fans were on hand from their homes less than a half hour away as these two rival teams battled it out in a divisional final playoff series. The outcome was not what the Cens faithful wanted as Tavistock took a 8-4 victory in what was still an entertaining and hard fought contest. Arenas like this embody small town Canada, and a large percentage of the local population was on hand to root on their team. North Dumfries Community Complex is an excellent venue in which to watch hockey, and we suspect the nuisance of the glare of the sunlight off of the protective netting in front of all spectators may not be as bad for evening games. The place does make up for this flaw in that is it a modern and comfortable arena that is dripping with atmosphere and pride for the local Centennials team, which in turn has given the local fans many great memories in the last few seasons including a pair of Schmalz Cup titles. The professionalism of the arena and team presentation is not what you picture in your mind when you think of Junior C hockey, and attending a game here is a very enjoyable experience.