Category Archives: arenas

Warm Rooms

When I was a kid, indoor rinks were nasty cold places in the heart of winter.  I guess they still are but I’m old enough now to enjoy throwing stories to my kids about how it was colder and snowier back in the day.  For parents and other spectators who didn’t benefit from the physical activity of the actual game to keep warm, they had to brave the cold of the game somehow.  I’m not sure this was the official name given to them, but those areas of certain rinks where you could watch the game with some heat on were known as warm rooms.

My mom, a primo hockey mom if there ever was one, was a warm room stalwart.  I don’t ever remember her watching a game at ice level.  Ever.  And yet, I can count on one hand the number of my games she missed over all the years I played.

NorthCrest arena had an awesome warm room.  Big glass at the end of the rink, slightly elevated, good snack stand, just big enough to accommodate fans from both sides and yet small enough to be intimate.   The Kinsmen arena in Peterborough was the 8th wonder of the world for awhile in the 70’s being a twin-pad with a long vertical, second floor viewing area that looked down on both pads.  And being a heated area, it was the cruise ship of warm rooms for its time.

Moses Springer arena in Kitchener used a hybrid approach.  Yes, for that old barn, somewhat reminiscent of NorthCrest in Peterborough, they simply hung gas heat lamps over the bleachers at rink side.  Not a real warm room, but a pseudo-warm-bench at least.

The Keene arena had an second floor warm room / party room at the end of the rink which got used for wedding receptions and the like (rarel on the same nights as hockey games although I actually did bring my new supertacks, a stick and some pucks with me to a cousin’s wedding in April one year on a Saturday night when the ice was still in and actually slipped down for a skate while the nuptial party unfolded up above).  It also had a lobby on the main floor that had a couple of pretty weak viewing windows out to ice level.

Yes, the warm room is an architectural innovation that many a hockey fand, and player, have benefited from.  It has kept spectators warm and it has been a gathering place before and after games for generations of players.  It’s the 19th hole of the hockey world.  It’s where missed chances have been lamented post-game, trash talk exchanged amongst rival player-friends (or enemies) and where families and friends have gathered and socialized with hockey at the centre of the discussion.


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Warm Rink, Cold Rink

I visited my dad this weekend and there is always some wonderful old hockey stories offered up during such visits.  This time was no exception.

He told me about the old Keene arena that had wooden boards and on winter nights where they had games that drew decent crowds, the inside of the arena would get warmer than was healthy for the ice which he thinks had either no ice plant or a weak one.  Anyway, on such nights they would open the windows to keep it cold inside to maintain the quality of the ice.

Can you actually picture this?  Being at a hockey game in a cold arena on a January night with the windows to the arena left open?   That’s cold baby!

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Not All Benches Are Created Equal

For anyone of my generation who has been fortunate enough to play into their old-timer years, the passing of these years has almost always offered the chance to play in umpteen rinks of every possible description in umpteen different places.   In small towns, big cities, rich private schools, universities and colleges, fairgrounds and even shopping centres – you name it, arenas can be found in lots of places.  Some are shiny new ones with bars, restaurants and seventeen ice pads, some are middle-age arenas with no fancy frills but with reliable ice plants and zamboni / olympia’s and some are badly aging relics with quirks unheard of in their more modern brethern.

And as unique as these ice temples can be, so too can be the benches they contain.  I recall some benches that were built for era’s where each team carried only eight players – six on the ice and two on the bench.  I don’t actually know if there was such an era but I seem to recall old hockey pictures where it looks like this was the case.  I can remember playing on some of these in high school or my latter house league days in tournaments.  These benches would force us to stack players two deep with the guys playing less frequently standing up behind the actual bench.

There were benches that we so short that even if you could fit all the players on them, you always had one or two guys squished behind the doors at each end.  I remember playing on one of these at one point when we were just getting old enough to change by going over the boards instead of out the doors.  This was a necessity when playing on such a bench so that day, we all had to learn in a hurry.  Ouuffff – that day we became men!

There was one bench one night with so much ice built up near it that we could not get it closed.  This is a bit dangerous in a contact game so we had to stuff a spare stick up against the latch on the inside to keep it as closed as we could without it being closed.

There have been more than a few rinks where the designer failed to account for the fact that if the ice isn’t fairly close to the same level as the bottom of the bench on the inside, going over the boards is like falling out of an airplane.  That extra six inch drop feels like a mile until you get used to it.  Same goes for going out the door on such rinks.  When you expect to step out and hit the ice, only to find yourself dropping, it’s a little unnerving.

There have been benches that were so far back from the actual boards that changing by going over the boards meant literally throwing yourself half sideways, half forwards, half upwards hoping you had enough distance, altitude and lift that you’d somehow come down on the other side with both wheels down.

There have been benches that you needed a stack of books to sit on in order to see the game over the boards in front of you, as well as some that were high enough you felt like you were in the first row behind the bench you were up so high.

There have been benches with the boards in front all hallowed out on the inside from players kicking at them and those that have the flooring worn right through exposing some skate-dulling surface (concrete works excellent) right around the door so as you step off the ice, you take another shot of sharpness of your blades for the next shift.

There have been benches with doors so uncooperative you’d swear they weren’t meant to open. (Another trigger for learning to go over the boards if you were young).

For most players, even the good ones who play the most, you actually spend more time on the bench than on the ice.  It’s important to have a good bench, a solid bench, a bench that will get you through the game.  It needs to support you when you’re gassed, it needs to shield you when you’ve just chirped a ref or a guy on the other team who is bigger than you and it needs to be comfortable enough to allow you to enjoy the game when you’re not playing, a fate that befell me more than a few times as a high schooler.

The humble bench, rarely written about or strategized around, has nonetheless been immortalized in a several words, albeit some not necessarily specific to hockey.  “Riding the pine” or being “benched” is for those who sit more than play, as is the term “bench-warmer”.    The notion of “bench strength” has long referred to the depth of a team.

And to finish up this topic with a bit of romance, it is said that Bill LaForge, the legendary (and some would say insane) former Ontario junior coach used to measure the quality of some games by referring to the number of “bench clears” that he was able to incite.

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Two Old Rinks

One of the damndest rinks I ever played in was a barn in Havelock.   We played a high school game there one afternoon after school and it honestly felt like it was about as wide as the dressing room we got dressed in.   Obviously, it was bigger than that but I do remember thinking at the time how could anyone design / build a rink so out of proportion.  Perhaps it was a curling rink re-purposed for hockey.

And while on the topic of dressing rooms, I remember the old Warsaw arena had one room that was about as big as the bed in the McDougall brothers’ pickup.  You had to get there good and early to avoid sitting in the middle of the room on the floor to get dressed.

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Getting to the Rink

In the late 70’s / early 80’s, I can remember fall days like this one where the St. Pete’s hockey tryouts would begin after school.  We couldn’t wait to get school over with and get over to the Kinsmen arena where the tryouts were held and where we had the bulk of our practices and home games.

In the initial years on the team, not many of us drove as this was grade 10 and 11.  The McDougal brothers (Mike and Dan) were driving from the moment they turned 16 and I can remember they had a beautiful maroon Chevy step-side pickup.  They would load as many of us as they could into the cab and bed and off we’d go, taking back streets as much as possible since we were probably breaking some safety law or other.

Heckling those walking on sidewalks, yelling at girls for attention and the occasional hard stop or quick start at intersections were all part of the journey.

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Jock Harty Arena

I spent this past weekend in Kingston (thus, no posts for three days so I’m in catch-up mode) and it was a wonderful homecoming weekend at Queen’s.  It was great to connect with some old friends and wander the campus, take in the Gaels beat-down on Western etc. etc.

On the downside, it is a pretty empty corner of Division and Union where old Jock Harty arena used to be.  We had some great times there.  Oom-pa-pa bands in the fall, BEWS broomball games in the early morning hours and of course, BEWS hockey.

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This was the reaction my daughter got recently from a bunch of her girlfriends when she chipped in with her version of her most embarrassing moment ever.    Not sure sure of the venue where this collective of young female wisdom dished up such stories but my daughter assured me her’s got as strong a reaction as any.

So…what does this have to do with the hockey you ask?  Well, as it turns out, this most embarrassing movement took place when my daughter and a neigbourhood friend recently attended the hockey game of this friend’s mother.

For some reason I cannot remember, these two young ladies needed to visit the dressing room of the ladies team.  As my daughter describes it, they went down the long hall containing all the dressing room doors to the one where the friend’s mother’s team was preparing for battle.  My daughter was sure the correct dressing room was the one with the red key in the door and her compadre was sure it was a different one.

The latter door was the one they chose to open and things headed south quite quickly at that point.  If you’ve ever been inside the dressing room at any hockey rink, and given that this particular blog is written by one who writes as an old-timer, my guess is that you’re already forming a visual of how this post-game interview went down.  This was not the standard Daniel-Alfredson-on-the-bike-in-his-under-armour. Nope, this went down way less pretty than that.

Not sure if there is any clearer way to describe the scene than this:  Old Ugly Naked Guys.

My daughter claims her and her buddy screeched and quickly tried to shield their eyes from damage, as one might in the event of a solar flare or thermo-nuclear detonation.  And to be fair to the Old Ugly Naked Guys, they too reacted – one apparently yelled “Whoa!” in a half scared, half threatened, half violated, half surprised sort of tone.

The girls predictably ran like scared rabbits.  Off to the other room.  It was made more horrible by the fact that this happened before the friend’s mother’s game even began.  The young ladies actually sat through that game on the bench of the mother’s team.  There is security in closeness to loved ones to be sure and this situation called for all of that.  They literally kept their heads down in the arena until they went home for fear of seeing one of the aforementioned Old Ugly Naked Guys.

I’m sure the old boys weren’t quite as scarred for life by the experience.  There were likely one or two who  got nailed with more ridicule than some of the others.  No doubt the ones with the least equipment on, the ones with the longest history of female problems, etc. etc.

The old hockey adage “keep your stick on the ice” can be used to sum up the moral of most hockey stories. However, I’m not sure it applies here.


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New Digs for the WOHL in Elmira

The Woolwich Oldtimers Hockey League started play in their new home in Elmira last week.   What a beautiful facility.  Playing on an NHL size rink means a bit more huffing and puffing than normal but we’ll all be in shape in no time.    I believe that’s Tim Farrell ripping off one of those patented laser beam snap shots of his that has goalies in the league running scared.  “He just has more room to shoot now than ever before”

Farrell rips one

Farrell rips one

said one of the goalies who refused to be named “and frankly, that scares all of us!”

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