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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is a premier league for young up-and-coming talent, as well as a hotbed for hard core hockey junkies. You can expect to find some of the most knowledgeable fans in hockey when you attend an OHL game, whether you are in Ontario, or visiting one of the three US-based teams.
Plymouth, Michigan is just a stone's throw north of Ann Arbor and a half hour west of Detroit. It is in Plymouth, at Compuware Arena, where you will find one of the two teams in the state of Michigan offering OHL games during the winter months.
Compuware Arena is one of those great little hockey arenas, perfectly sized for an OHL game. The Plymouth Whalers were originally known as the Detroit Whalers, but changed their name a year after the move to Plymouth. The Whalers won the OHL championship in 2007, their lone title in 20+ seasons of existence.
The team is owned by Peter Kamanos, who is also the owner of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. The team can boast to have sent 48 players along to the NHL. You are bound to see some future NHL talent when you attend a Plymouth Whalers game.
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".
There's nothing fancy or unexpected when you look to the concession stands at Compuware Arena. Hot dogs ($4), kielbasa ($4), nachos ($4), cheese bread ($4), pizza ($3.50), cheeseburger ($4), and chicken sticks ($4.75). Nothing exciting, but at least the prices are affordable.
To drink, you can grab a LaBatt, or Blue Light ($5, or $7). Pepsi is the cola choice ($2.75, $3.50). Hot beverages are available for only $2 per cup.
There are three concession areas and only occasional, manageable lines during intermissions. With all of the concessions on the wide and open concourse, you won't find a need to miss at hockey while grabbing a bite.
When you walk into Compuware Arena, you'll immediately see the ticket windows. Off to the side is the "Whale Call" (Will Call) with a nearby trophy case, housing the accomplishments of the Whalers over the years.
With ticket in hand, you move into the arena. Your seat will be a blue plastic seat with a back. The legroom is less than average, and there is no cup holder. Ushers do a good job of minding each aisle to limit movement while the puck is in play.
You can expect to hear both the American and Canadian National Anthems before the game begins. The scoreboard is rather basic, displaying only the critical game information. In each corner you'll find a red tinted display board, showing only dull graphics that don't add to the experience. It would be best if they weren't there at all.
I ended up in section 113, row M, seat 1. If I could do it again I would try to sit in that exact seat. You are right at center ice on the aisle and best of all, the visiting team's radio play-by-play announcer is behind you. It is a fantastic accompaniment to the game. If you aren't able to find such a specific seat, rest assured that you will have a great view of the action from anywhere in the building.
Compuware Arena is located just off the highway, M-14. There's your typical mix of fast food, chain restaurants, and gas stations in the immediate vicinity. Luckily, right next door is CJ's Brewing Company. They offer up sandwiches, tasty burgers, pizzas, salads, and appetizers. Better still, they have at least 6 beers for you to try. There's nothing better than a local beer to go with a local sports experience.
The fans at a Plymouth Whalers game are knowledgeable, but a rather quiet lot. It's not that they don't appreciate a good hit, fight or goal. There was a reaction to every play that indicated that they were intently watching the game. I also heard several fans around me and as I walked around the concourse, talking about the players as if they knew them well.
Parking is $5, and there is plenty of room in the lot. There was a slight line-up getting in, and it took about 15 minutes to get out after the game. This was perhaps more aggravating than I expected, but the proximity to the highway certainly helps to get you on your way relatively swiftly.
Inside the arena, concourses narrow somewhat behind each goal, and the concourse is extra wide in the corners to help accommodate any lines that form near the concession stand.
Center ice seating is $16. If you can find the seat I described earlier that is definitely worth the money. In most cases actually, I would recommend sitting near the top and close to the center of the ice. The second price tier moves you away from center somewhat and costs $12 per seat. They also offer $5 Fridays, which is a fantastic deal. Even at the expensive end for parking, a ticket, beer, and a kielbasa, the cost is only about $30. It is worth the investment.
Shooter, the Whaler's mascot, does a wonderful job of having a presence on the ice between periods, as well as walking the concourse and interacting with all fans, especially the kids.
The pro shop is stocked with hockey equipment and Whalers gear. I especially liked that they stocked pucks for every team in the OHL, and several NHL teams as well.
OHL hockey is a great experience whether you are in Ontario, Michigan, or Erie, Pennsylvania. If you have never been, then go. If you've already been, then go again.
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