September 22, 2017 - Woodstock, Ontario
Woodstock, Ontario is a small city in Southern Ontario about half way between London and Hamilton. Hockey tradition is deep here, as the Woodstock Navy Vets have been a tradition in the town since 1966. Bobby Hull even played Junior B in Woodstock in the 1950's for the team known as the Woodstock Warriors. The Vets have the fortune of playing in Southwood Arena, located in the sprawling Woodstock District Community Complex, one of the nicest facilities in Junior C hockey. Sitting on the edge of town near suburban housing developments, the large complex is also surrounded by athletic fields. At first glance the complex looks like a mega-church or some sort of school campus. Fanshawe College has some facilities on site, and the tan brick walls, and green metal roof give a distinctive look the the facility. Concrete pillars and a glass facade mark the main entrance, which sits across from a small courtyard which has benches, a patio of sorts, and a flagpole. Having opened 1996 the venue is on the large side for Junior C, and has the feel of a big time event venue. A pair of ice pads are in the building along with a gymnastics studio and other athletic facilities. Although the Navy Vets were well entrenched in the town culture you have to wonder if the arena was built in hopes of attracting a higher league. The lobby features high ceilings and a digital wall of fame which has screens changing in sequence to pay tribute to past area athletes of note. Just inside the entry door is a trophy case honoring Woodstock native Jake Muzzin, who won a Stanley Cup as a member of the L.A. Kings in 2014. On display are Muzzin's jersey and the Stanley Cup ring itself. The lobby also features a concession stand. On game nights the Vets set up a ticket and program table at the main arena entrance, and large photo murals of Vets players are set up in the lobby and throughout the arena as well. Tickets for this Friday evening contest against the New Hamburg Firebirds were $8. A silver raised-letter sign sits above the main arena entrance bearing the Southwood Arena name. Although over 20 years old, this arena still has a new and modern look, and its sheer size makes it feel much more like a big event venue than a community arena.
Once inside the arena doors at Southwood Arena you are taken aback by the size of the arena. The square building has a high flat ceiling with open gray beams which are hardly noticeable due to the height of the ceiling. The ice surface is also oversized, measuring at Olympic dimensions, something we are not crazy bout. The seating features a mammoth 2-tier grandstand one one side, with 8 rows of maroon plastic seats in the lower level and 7 more rows in the upper level. The pitch of the seats is steep, and the sightlines are good as there is no netting in front of the seating area. Fans enter from the lobby on the center concourse which runs in front of the stands but in between the upper and lower level of seating. The opposite side of the ice features a smaller grandstand, with 7 rows of seats and a standing rail above them along the upper concourse aisle. There is not seating on the ends, save the small bar table seating along the end boards in what is the beer garden area. This section gets quite crowded on game nights as fan enjoy a beverage and converse with their fellow Vets fans. The interior walls are tan and gray cinder blocks, and a professional pressbox sits above the larger grandstand. Although certainly not large enough at 2,300 capacity to host a league such as the OHL, this venue seems much larger than most Junior C community arenas, and has a big-time feel to it. A Vets merchandise stand is set up on the concourse in the corner just inside the doors from the lobby, and banners hang high on the walls paying tribute to past clubs who have had success. You definitely feel a sense of tradition inside the arena, and the team signage and banners add to that feeling that this is truly home of the Navy Vets and not just an arena.
The gameday presentation at Southwood Arena for a Woodstock Navy Vets game is laid back but professional. The Vets attract good crowds by Junior C standards, and 500 were on hand for this traditional Friday night contest. The crowd seems somewhat dwarfed due to the size of the building, but are a vocal and supportive bunch, with the "Let's Go Vets" chant breaking out on numerous occasions. The feel of the games is one of small town tradition, and it seems as though most folks on hand know each other at least in passing. The kids participate in a chuck-a-puck contest at intermission and everyone on hand seems friendly and supportive of the team. The PA system is crisp and loud, and the goal horn is exceptionally loud, and is a ship horn type sound to go along with the Navy Vets theme. The horn is so loud in fact that the folks in the pressbox warned some fans sitting close to the horn before the game that it would be loud, and gave them the option of moving. The goal horn sounded often as the Vets claimed a 5-1 win in this entertaining contest, sending the locals home happy. At first glance Southwood Arena is far too big for Junior C hockey and seems to belong at a higher level such as Junior A or even higher. After experiencing a game here you understand that it just feels right, and the tradition of half a century of Vets hockey seems at home here in this venue. We suspect that this arena will be home of the Navy Vets for decades to come and will also serve as a modern community arena for folks to enjoy on a daily basis as well.