March 31, 2019 - Wellesley, Ontario
Junior C hockey teams provide small towns across Canada with entertainment, outlets for local athletes, and a team to support with local pride. Wellesley is about as "small town" as it comes, as this town without a traffic light has been home of the Apple Jacks since 1987, and the team claimed a OHA Championship in 1998. Wellesley Arena opened in 1977, and is a simple community arena set in a residential neighborhood next to a ballfield. The single pad facility has tan brick exterior walls with gray metal siding on the upper walls. A squarish lobby sits at one end of the building, with dark brick walls and dark brown siding above, as well as a flat roof line. A parking lot is adjacent, although for this Sunday afternoon playoff contest against Grimsby fans also had to park on area roads as the lot filled up. The exterior of the building features signage declaring that this is the "Home of the Apple Jacks", and the Wellesley Township logo sits above the main entry doors. The arena has seen better days, and is in somewhat of disrepair as, over the summer after we attended this game, it was announced that the arena would close due to structural concerns with the arena and a leaking roof. The town's decision was reversed and it was announced that the roof would be patched up and the arena would continue for one more season, although its days are likely numbered. It is hard to describe this tiny arena as anything other than utilitarian, yet it is a clear source of community pride, and the Apple Jacks get excellent support from area fans.
On game day fans enter Wellesley Arena through the main entry doors and find a small table set up selling tickets, programs and 50/50 tickets. Admission for this Sunday afternoon playoff contest against the Grimsby Peach Kings was $10, and an early arriving crowd filled all of the seats of the arena before warmups started. The small lobby also features a window which serves as the concession stand, and some handicap seating which overlooks the end of the rink through the glass. Once inside the arena itself you find a spartan layout which features 3 rows of wooden bench seats on a concrete platform. The front row is at ice level, so sight lines are less than ideal. There is no netting in front of the seating area as the glass extends taller than the top row of the stands. A standing rail sits above the seats along the narrow upper aisle, and there is additional table seating in one corner near a makeshift bar that is set up on a platform in the corner. In the near corner there is an odd wooden platform which seems to offer an additional 4 rows of wooden seats, but the seats are facing the grandstands rather than the ice, making it impossible to see one net unless you turn around. The low ceiling is held up by large metal beams, and a single scoreclock is on the far end wall above the net. The entire place has a compact footprint, and the ice surface looks small, although we were not able to confirm if it is indeed smaller than regulation. The whole arena has a worn and weathered look about it, but with fans jamming Wellesley Arena to capacity it is certainly an intimidating place for visiting teams.
The game day presentation at Wellesley Arena for an Apple Jacks game is basic and focused on the game. There is a Score-O contest at intermission to add some entertainment, but the fans on hand here are there for one purpose, to support the team. The arena was filled to capacity with fans standing 3 deep at the glass and in every possible spot in the arena to watch an elimination playoff game where the Apple Jacks hoped to keep their season alive. Announcements and music is played over a muffled PA system, and the fans themselves provide quite a bit of the noise as chants of "Go Jacks Go" could be heard frequently throughout the afternoon, and every positive play, whether it be a puck chipped out of the zone or a save by the goalie, resulted in a chorus of cowbells ringing from the hearty Jacks fans. Despite the worn appearance of the building they do a lot to make it feel like home for the Apple Jacks, including the Apple Jacks Wall of Fame at one end of the arena, and signage and banners honoring past teams. Ultimately the Apple Jacks season would end as a late empty-netter sealed the deal for Grimsby as they won 3-0 to advance to the Schmalz Cup Semi-Final. It is always surreal being in attendance when a team is eliminated from the the playoffs, and quite a few fans, players, and billet parents hung around the arena after the game, reflecting on the end of a hard fought season, and for those players aging out, the end of a junior hockey career. Clearly Wellesley Arena is worn out, and as it days are numbered, the Apple Jacks will likely be playing in a different venue in the future. This arena is, however, important to the local community, and is a place where local sports history has been made and is a source of pride for local residents.