In 1967, Canada celebrated its Centennial and the town of Swift Current, Saskatchewan marked the occasion by building the Centennial Civic Centre to house a new Western Canada Hockey League franchise, the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos left town for twelve years in 1974 and during that time the rink suffered through a number of problems, including severe damage from a windstorm that resulted in several renovations.
The Broncos returned to the Civic Centre in 1986, a year marred by tragedy when their team bus crashed when leaving town on a road trip, killing four players. The team finished the season and won the Memorial Cup two years later, but the accident still hangs over the town and the rink. There is a memorial banner inside the rink as well as a plaque in the lobby, and the team jersey sports a patch with a four-leaf clover enclosing the four numbers of the deceased.
In 2006, the city began extensive renovations on the venue, including an increase in capacity, new seats, corporate boxes, and an additional skating rink and curling rink among other changes. At this time the rink was redubbed the Credit Union i-plex. Those renovations turned the rink into one of the better stops in today’s WHL, with great sightlines and loud fans making for a memorable visit.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The main concession stand is in the lobby just inside the main entrance and offers typical arena fare, including poutine, a Canadian tradition of french fries with cheese curds and gravy. Hot dogs and smokies are fairly average, I would advise to try the chicken strips, a bargain at $5 for five large pieces but make sure to ask for the sauce tray from which you can choose one or two packages. There is also a concession stand on the upper level behind the corporate boxes which sells ice cream and is very popular with the kids. Beer is also sold on the concourse level with one stand on each side of the rink.
Cowbells are the must-have object for fans here and they use them often, which really makes the place rock when the Broncos score a goal. The seating bowl is compact and there is not a bad seat in the place. As you enter the barn (an apt name as the roof resembles that of a barn), you will find yourself in the aforementioned lobby area, where many fans spend the game standing as you can get great views right at the glass behind one of the goals, a unique spot that is worth checking out for a few minutes if you can.
A few mascots roam the rink keeping kids entertained which allows Mom and Dad to focus on the game.
The i-plex is located two kilometers south of the TransCanada Highway just off Highway 4 with little of note in the immediate vicinity. The highway is surrounded on both sides by service roads that hold most fast-food restaurants and hotels and this is where most visitors will spend their time outside the rink.
During the game, fans pay attention and get behind their Broncos, with many wearing team jerseys or other paraphernalia. The cowbells are constant, and these people know their hockey. They don't get up and down during the game, and are supportive from well before puck drop. The game I saw went to a shootout and when Swift Current scored, the place went crazy, and only got crazier when the visitors missed each of their attempts.
As is usually the case with junior hockey rinks in the WHL, parking here is free and plentiful and leaving the parking lot after the game is no problem. We were back on the highway less than five minutes after the game ended.
Inside, there is a concourse that surrounds most of the seating bowl and is large enough to walk through without too many problems. This concourse has standing spots that are marked and are used by many fans to watch the entire game, but they don't block your way as you move around.
The lobby area is also very spacious and there are plenty of people helping at the concession stand, so you really never have a problem waiting or getting around here.
Tickets are $17 and I'd recommend the top rows along the boards as the best option, or the standing area mentioned above. This is a great deal for a great product, but if you happen to be in town on a Tuesday, the team offers Two Two Twosdays where tickets are only $2 as are burgers and sodas (beer is $2.25), an unbeatable price.
Perhaps the only negative is the scoreboard, which is very small due to the limited space in the roof, and doesn't carry live action or highlights, instead cycling through the same four ads.
The team warms up to very loud music and then skates out onto the ice through a small inflated log cabin, called "The Stable", which is also the name of the team store.
There is a Wall of Fame on the wall next to the main entrance, which includes stars such as Joe Sakic, who played two seasons here including 1986, leaving the year before the team won the Memorial Cup.
There are team pictures from the second inception of the team in 1986 that are along the back of the corporate boxes.
Sadly for the town, the bus crash was not the only terrible event to befall the Broncos. Graham James, now a convicted sexual predator and perhaps the most hated man in Canada, was their coach from 1986-94 and was secretly abusing several of his players during that time. The story is very well documented in Canada and is a truly disgusting tale that cannot be ignored in this venue as James is in those team pictures as well as a plaque commemorating the Memorial Cup. There has not been much media coverage south of the border, but this older ESPN article by Gare Joyce covers both subjects in detail and is a good if rather depressing read.
The team has done a good job to ensure that the tragedy of 25 years ago is not forgotten and though some say more can be done to remember the four players who passed away; I think the banner, plaque and jersey patch are enough. Rather, I think the team needs to remove the presence of a convicted pedophile from the arena as his name and picture are far too prevalent.
The Credit Union i-plex is one of the best I have seen for junior hockey but these two tragic stories cannot be ignored during a visit here, nor should they be. You can still enjoy the game and the rink while keeping in mind that sometimes life is inexplicably cruel.
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