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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Often in Canadian hockey circles, an arena is affectionately referred to as "a barn." Usually there is little connection to a barn in aesthetics or functionality, but the term is used anyway. Maple Leaf Gardens was often referred to as both a cathedral and a barn. Ultimately the term barn is no more than a piece of hockey jargon.
Then there is the Columbia IceField Arena.
Nestled in between one of Canada's most prestigious and well-recognized universities and arguable the heart of the Canadian technology industry, the Columbia IceField Arena is the home of the Waterloo Warriors hockey program. No doubt, cheekily named after the massive icefield in Northern Alberta which feeds into 8 glaciers, the Columbia IceField is located at the corner of Hagey Blvd. and Columbia Street. In 1983 the arena was built at the north end of campus and has since been surrounded with the technology giants of Canada, including Research in Motion, maker of Blackberry.
The Waterloo Warriors have a hockey history that dates back to 1957 with the inception of the program. They've had moderate success over the years, culminating in Queen's Cup victories as Ontario Champions in 1996 and 1974, and a National Championship in 1974.
A trip to Warrior hockey is a trip into the past; a trip into small-town, old-time hockey; a trip to this ol' barn.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions at the Columbia IceField Arena are very basic. All you will find are soda, Gatorade, coffee, chocolate bars and hot dogs. Prices are pretty good, and all items are either $3 or $1.50. Security is not a big deal, so you can bring outside food into the arena, and many do. Don't think of a trip to Warrior hockey as any sort of culinary experience. Grab a snack if necessary but otherwise save tummy space for before or after the game.
As mentioned above, Columbia IceField Arena is an old-school, small-town barn. This is a bit of a surprise as the Columbia IceField is not that old, and Waterloo is definitely not a small town. The arena is now part of a greater athletic complex, which has been built around the arena, many years after the Columbia IceField Arena was fully functioning as the home of the Warriors.
What immediately jumps out at you upon entering the arena is the simplicity and grandeur of the architecture. It is in fact barn-like. The arched roof and beautiful hardwood ceiling give the arena that barn feel. It is a unique feeling, both old and classic, yet not run-down. The unique interior and architecture must be a nod to the university, which is one of the leading engineering schools in the country.
The Columbia IceField Arena has an extremely small capacity. At less than 1,000 seated, the CIF is not going to offer great comfort. Four rows of cramped, wooden bleachers are what you will find. Yet another attribute to add to that old barn feel.
The final piece that seals the deal as the old barn is the temperature. This is the kind of arena that your dad talked about as being freezing, as if you were out on the ice. This is one cold arena. Winter coats are a necessity and hats and gloves are a good idea. There are heaters just above the seating, but selection of your row will determine how warm you may be.
There is some history around the CIF. Above the ice are four banners including 2 conference championships and 1 national championship, as well as a figure skating title. There are also pictures around the arena of various Warrior teams, especially the two championship teams.
The scoreboard is as simple as can be. It is possible that the scoreboard at this time was temporary. A shots-on-goal count would have been beneficial for the fan. Overall, the in-game presentation is very simple, but effective.
A quick trip across campus will bring you to a plethora of dining options. The best place to hit is the University Shops Plaza which is on University Ave. W. The Mongolian Grill, East Side Mario's, McGinnis Front Row, and Molly Bloom's Irish Pub, are just a sampling of some of the culinary options. You could also zip up to King Street and hit Frat Burger or Morty's Pub. The neighbourhood options definitely make up for the lack of options in the arena.
Canadian University hockey does not have the reputation of bringing in huge crowds. This is where the CIF has a huge advantage over many other rinks. Usually, attendance at CIS games, especially in Ontario, are measured in hundreds and not thousands. A couple hundred people at the arena makes it feel full. There is a banner hanging above the grandstand announcing the Warrior fans as "The 5th Line." I'm not sure that the fans have THAT much impact on the game, but there was definitely a following for the Warriors, and greater student support than at many other CIS venues.
Getting to the Columbia IceField is no problem. Columbia Street is a fairly fast moving street that can be easily accessed from King Street. If you are coming from out of town, getting off Highway 85 at King St. will send you in the right direction. There is plenty of parking on campus, and some of it is free on weekends. Otherwise, you are looking at around $5.
Once inside, access is a bit of a different issue. There is not much of an atrium, so a large group entering at the same time can clog things up. Passing through the bleachers can also be an issue.
Finally, there is basically a small washroom for each gender. A large crowd, even in the hundreds, can be a real strain on the facilities.
A ticket for Warrior hockey will run you $10. There are also 1/2 price tickets for students and seniors. Children under 12 are also free. It is a great way to get the family some sports for a pretty small investment. The caliber of hockey is very high, and sitting so close to the ice makes the game seem extra fast. The prices for food are pretty good and parking isn't too much, possibly free. Overall, for a small price you will get some decent entertainment. There is not a lot of flash and sizzle, but good, clean, simple, fun.
An extra mark goes to that neat scene of fans standing at the end behind the glass, with their Tim Horten's coffee cups sitting on the boards. Just like Saturday morning, minor hockey.
An extra mark for the Brock Badgers boosters, who travelled from St. Catharines for the game being reviewed. The boosters bumped up the excitement level of this game creating a healthy and fun "back-and-forth" between the Brock University students and the University of Waterloo students.
Waterloo Warriors hockey is not going to blow your mind. It is a simple presentation, in a simple, yet alluring setting. It is well worth your time and effort if you happen to be in the area during Warrior hockey season. If you can make it, break out your black and gold, and travel to this ol' barn and catch some darn good hockey. You may even start to hum some Stompin' Tom Connors while you're at it!
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170 University Ave W
Waterloo, ON N2L 3E9
160 University Ave W
Waterloo, ON N2L 3E9
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