One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
South Huron Recreation Centre - Home of the Exeter Hawks
March 30, 2019 - Exeter, Ontario
Exeter is a relatively small town in southwestern Ontario that, like many others across the province, has strong support for its hometown junior hockey team. South Huron Recreation Centre is a weathered arena next to the town school which opened in 1976. This squarish building has a flat roof line, dark brown and pale yellow metal walls, and a rather spartan look to it, but it is the kind of place that exudes an old time hockey vibe. Despite being only about 45 minutes from London, this is a town with a slower pace and a friendly attitude, and one that takes great pride in Hawks hockey. This Saturday night playoff game against the Lakeshore Jr. Canadiens found an early arriving crowd filling the parking lot of the arena and the nearby residential streets and school. The Exeter Hawks have been a successful organization over the year, having been founded before the opening of the arena and dating back to 1961. Over the years the Hawks have claimed 9 league championships. This is a town with a hockey tradition, so don't let the fact that they compete at the junior C level fool you. Tickets for this playoff game were $10, and seating was general admission. It seemed as if the entire town was on hand for this Saturday night contest. South Huron Recreation Centre is little more than a small town community rink. Despite the worn and dated appearance of this arena, there is something about this old barn that makes you know right away, even from the outside, that this is a fun place to catch a game.
Fans entering South Huron Recreation Centre on game night find themselves in a small outer lobby which has a vintage look and is likely largely unchanged from the 1970's. After passing through the doors there is an open main lobby complete with some trophy cases, and the arena's main concession stand. There is some signage in the lobby and memorabilia on the walls honoring past teams. A simple ticket table near the entrance to the arena itself has some Hawks signage and sells programs as well as tickets. Entrance into the arena itself is near the corner of the ice and there is a single grandstand running the entire length of one side of the ice. Seating is comprised of 7 rows of wooden bleacher benches painted blue and green alternately, mounted on a concrete base. Above the stands is a wide concrete concourse, and for this game there was an additional concession stand set up selling hotdogs and popcorn. A makeshift bar area was set up on the upper concourse selling beer for the fans on hand. The low ceiling is immediately noticeable, and there is a single scoreclock on one end. The standing rail above the grandstand filled up almost as soon as the arena doors opened and a good crowd filed in, also filling standing spots along the glass nearly all the way around the rink. There is a 50/50 table set up at the base of the grandstand just inside the door from the lobby, and a small enclosed seating area on the lobby end of the rink which has 2 rows of gray plastic seats behind a glass enclosure which has a small, sloping metal roof which is visible from the grandstand. The interior walls keep with Hawks colors of black and pale yellow, and the place just feels like home for this team. The glass is very low, and the boards are made of wood, something you don't see that often anymore. The ice surface also appeared as though it may be smaller than regulation, but we cannot confirm that. From a construction standpoint there is not much to set South Huron Recreation Centre apart from most other basic community arenas built in North America during the 1970's. The building does hold the intangible element of character, at least when nearly full of hockey fans.
The game day atmosphere at South Huron Recreation Centre for this playoff game can be summed up in one word - intense. An announced crowd of over 1100 fans jammed the building to see if the hometown Hawks could stave off playoff elimination and live to fight another day. The game day presentation was basic, with a muffled PA and minimal announcements during stoppages. There was nothing going on at intermission except the resurfacing of the ice. The game was the focus, and seemingly everyone in town was on hand to watch the action. Navigating throughout the arena was a challenge as the fans occupied nearly every available space, making it tough to get to the concession stand or lobby. The arena itself does have a character that recognizes its history, including banners honoring past Hawks teams, as well as the Exeter Mohawks, a senior team that once called this arena home. With walls and trim in team colors and signage declaring Exeter as "Hawkeytown", the area pride in the team is evident. Chants of "Go Hawks, Go" could be heard frequently throughout the night. The goal siren was very loud here, and the local fans got excited as the siren played 5 times as the Hawks took a 5-2 win and kept the series alive. We doubt many folks will decide to make a trip to Exeter, Ontario a stand alone destination for a hockey trip, but watching a game a South Huron Recreation Centre provides a pure hockey experience that is devoid of any ancillary distractions and focused on the on-ice action of the hardworking team in Exeter.