March 11, 2018 - Tavistock, Ontario
Tavistock, Ontario is a one stoplight town which has a pair of hockey teams that local fans can follow. The WOAA's Royals have been a mainstay on the senior circuit since being founded in 1984. The PJHL's Tavistock Braves also give fans a junior team to cheer for as well. Tavistock & District Recreation Centre opened in 1996, and is situated in Queen's Park, a community park which sits a few blocks away from the center of town. Upon entering the arena parking lot fans see an old stone archway, which, according to a historical marker, dates back to 1929. This simple community arena has gray metal siding, with gray cinder block at the bottom of the walls. Maroon trim and lettering for the small raised-letter sign break up the gray a bit, and a small overhang signifies the main entrance which sits on the end of the building. The arena is in the shadow of the town's water tower, and the area has a very midwestern feel to it. This Sunday 1pm game was part of the WOAA A level final series pitting the Royals against one of the more well know teams in Ontario senior hockey, the Petrolia Squires. The A final was actually a consolation final if you will, as the WOAA has the top 8 teams in the standings battle it out for the AA title and the remaining teams playing for the A championship. A small and late arriving crowd was able to buy their tickets in the arena lobby, and the ticket price was a reasonable $9. Most fans had their eyes on the afternoon 4pm game in Ayr, a half hour up the road, as the Junior C Braves were playing a playoff matchup against the Ayr Centennials. Many fans planned a caravan to the junior game after this game was over, us included. Tavistock & District Recreation Centre is clearly more of a community rink than a big time event venue, and serves local skaters and hockey players, as well as curlers who have a section of he building to themselves. Despite the basic design the arena and grounds are well kept, and the old stone arch out front exudes character and charm.
Upon entering Tavistock & District Recreation Centre fans find themselves in the small main lobby of the arena. A ticket table sits next to the table selling 50/50 tickets, chuck-a-pucks and a small amount of Royals merchandise. The lobby features green cinder block walls, and some trophy cases, as well as what they refer to as a lounge area which is a small section of seats that looks through the glass in the corner of the lobby and overlook the ice surface. The arena's food concession stand is in the lobby and serves a basic menu. The arena itself features seating on one side of the ice which is elevated just a bit, and runs along the entire side of the arena across from the team benches and penalty boxes. A rather low ceiling finds the absence of a center ice scoreclock, as it sits on the end wall opposite the lobby. The grandstand offers a good view, and is comprised of 6 rows of seating. The center ice section has plastic chairback seats which are maroon, and the sections on the end are wooden bleacher benches. A standing rail above the seating allows for viewing as well, and fans can also choose to watch from the enclosed upper lobby, where a beer garden and additional seating is available. Gray walls and gray ceiling beams give the place a bit of a drab look, but everything is well kept. Center ice features the logos of both the Braves and the Royals, and in speaking with local fans the Braves get a bit of a better turnout, but the Royals also seem well-loved by area fans. Playoff games are always fun, although you could feel a sense that both teams would have rather been in the AA bracket competing than playing for what amounted to a consolation trophy. Tavistock & District Recreation Centre is clearly a gathering place for area residents, and serves as the center of the community, much like hockey arenas often do in small towns across Canada.
The game day presentation in Tavistock for a Royals game is basic and laid back. This Sunday afternoon game found many of the fans lacking energy, and with more of a sense of anticipation for the late afternoon road game for the Braves than a sense of support for the Royals. Intermission finds a chuck-a-puck contest for the kids, and as is typical in Ontario the fans are very knowledgeable, but also very stoic and slow to get excited. The arena itself does a good job recognizing the successes of the locals teams, as the Royals have a trophy case in plain view on the upper concourse as well as a couple WOAA championship banners on display. The rest of the arena also features lots of banner and signage honoring local teams including the Tavistock minor hockey association. With a small capacity of around 500 this arena feels like an old fashioned hockey barn, and fans are here to focus on the on-ice action and catch up with local friends at the same time. There is no need for fancy promotions or interactive fan contests as hockey is the main attraction. The goal horn here is a siren rather than a horn, which is a bit unique and not that common anymore, and is a touch that we like. The game itself had a definite level of playoff intensity as the Royals found themselves trailing by a goal with about 3 and a half minutes left and up on a 5 on 3. When they couldn't convert many fans headed for the exit to hit the road for the junior C game. Those that stayed saw the Royals score with 24 seconds left with the extra attacker to tie it up. While the ice was being resurfaced fans were checking their watches and phones intently as a 20 minute overtime and full intermission meant for a late arrival in Ayr for some. The Squires scored 21 seconds into overtime and the arena emptied out quickly as fans were disappointed and wanted to head up the road to cheer on their hometown Braves. Petrolia's lead in the series would find them claiming the A level title in the next game of the series, and we arrived about 4 minutes late for the next game on our agenda in Ayr, as did quite a few other Tavistock fans. Tavistock & District Recreation Centre is similar to many other arenas in small town Ontario, but sees lots of action with both a junior and senior team. Its attention to history despite being only a couple decades old is refreshing, and the setting next to the water tower and near the historic stone arch make for a great setting for fans to enjoy hockey.