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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
London, Ontario is the home of Western University, formerly The University of Western Ontario. Western was established in 1878 and has amassed a strong athletic program amidst its beautiful campus and strong athletic facilities. Western joined the OUAA in 1971 as the newly formed Ontario Conference in what would become Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). Since then, the Mustangs have been fielding great teams in a number of different disciplines. The Western Mustangs hockey team was established in 1937 and claim three Queen’s Cups as Ontario Champions and one University Cup as National Champions.
Home for the Purple Ponies is Thompson Arena. The arena is on the campus of Western University and part of the greater Thompson Recreation & Athletic Centre. The Centre opened in 1974 and is also the main recreation home for Western students. The arena is multi-functional, also serving as home for the women’s hockey team and figure skating team, as well as the indoor season for the track and field team. It is named after Col. J. Thompson. Thompson Arena is an excellent facility for university hockey and Western does a pretty good job utilizing it.
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 Thompson Arena are fairly limited.
The main concession stand is at the east side of the arena. Before entering the arena itself, there is a Booster Juice smoothie bar which may be of interest to you. The main concession stand within the arena has fairly limited options. They sell popcorn ($2), chocolate bars, candy and hot dogs ($2.50). In the eastern concourse there is also a temporary Domino's Pizza tent.
There are a few beverage options at the Thompson Arena as well. The main concession stand offers Coca-Cola products ($2.50) along with coffee. There are also vending machines in the eastern concourse. Inside the arena, there is a licensed area behind the south boards. The beer garden offers limited alcoholic selections that may only be consumed in the licensed area and not brought into the seating area or concourse.
Compared to other CIS Hockey venues, Thompson Arena has a pretty good atmosphere.
The exterior of the Thompson Recreation & Athletic Centre is fairly non-descript from the street. Clearly a building that has been added onto over the years, the newest section appears to be the student rec centre which offers large windows from the main entrance from the parking lot to the northeast. The entrance is fairly spacious and splits with the rec centre off to the left and the arena straight ahead. Inside the arena you will be sticking to the east concourse which is decorated with large banners of current Mustang hockey players. A large trophy case holds some Mustang achievements. The exterior wall is also being prepped for a future Mustang Hockey Wall of Honour.
Inside the seating bowl, the east side features plastic stadium seats in purple with more than enough for the number of fans in attendance. The west side has wooden bleachers that can be pulled out for really big crowds. At ice level, an indoor track surrounds the ice, leaving plenty of space for other activities when the bleachers are away. The north and west sides feature inflatable fun for the young kids in attendance. The score clock at centre ice must be the original from 1974 and is still in good working order. However, it does lack other information usually found at hockey games, including shots on goal. North of the score clock are the banners honouring past Mustang teams including the 1995, 2005 and 2009 OUA Conference Championships and the 2002 National Championships. Other honours for figure skating, women's hockey and track and field are also here. The arena, overall, features plenty of purple and lots of Western markings. There is no mistaking that this is the home of the Mustangs.
The in-game production at a Mustangs game is better than most CIS hockey experiences. As with most other OUA arenas, the majority of the production is handled by students. For the most part the presentation is fairly simple and what you would expect from a CIS experience. The music is the usual mix of pop and classic rock, however, unique for this venue is the presence of the Mustang band behind the visitor's bench. Off and on throughout the game the band plays a variety of tunes but especially the Mustang fight song. Just before the teams enter the ice the theme from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" is played, a definite play on the Western school name. Play is started with the typical Western horse whinney.
The seating area is divided into an upper and lower area, with the upper area featuring permanent seating and the lower featuring moveable bleachers with backs. Since the east side is the one that is normally open, your seat selection will probably be limited to that side. The upper section offers the better sightlines and more comfortable seating and if you must have that picture with the centre ice logo looking just perfect, then the east side is where you want to be anyway.
Thompson Arena is located fairly centrally in the Western campus. There are a few interesting places that you may want to get to.
The campus pub at Western is The Wave. If it is a place that you are considering then make sure you do your research and consider the limited hours that they are open. The Barakat Restaurant is located to the west of the arena on Western Road. If you head north of the arena, the best choices can be found. You may want to consider the Waltzing Weasel Pub or Beertown Public House.
The campus of Western is located northwest of downtown London. There are a number of other food options there, but you will also find some more hockey options, specifically the OHL's London Knights at Budweiser Gardens. Other sporting options on campus include Mustangs football at TD Stadium and Mustangs basketball at Alumni Hall. If you want to do some shopping, then check out Masonville Place, which is also close by.
There are a few places to stay around campus. Windermere Manor offers something a little out of the ordinary and may be worth a try. If you are looking for something a little more mainstream, then head downtown for a more recognizable chain.
Attendance is very difficult to gauge at CIS hockey games. Often times attendance goes unreported and there are few resources to compare attendance figures.
Attendance at CIS hockey is usually measured in hundreds as opposed to thousands. That being said, Western has a fairly decent following for hockey. Games will usually draw between 250 and 500 fans. The crowd in attendance is fairly laid back and reserved. They do get excited upon a Western goal and remain silent during opponent goals. There are some students in attendance, but there is no significant student presence that would manifest itself in a specific section that you would see at an American university.
Getting in and around the Thompson Arena is not difficult at all.
Thompson Arena is located at the corner of Western Road and Philip Aziz Avenue, at pretty much the centre of the campus at Western University. Western's campus is located a fairly significant distance from highways 401 and 402, which would be the major arteries in and out of London. Western Road is a large road that moves fairly quickly, but if you are coming from out of town to Western, you will have to do some significant driving through the city. Entry to the arena is from the centre of campus, the north side of the arena, which can be accessed from the Huron Drive parking lot or from the main entrance to the university at Lambton Drive.
Public transit is available that travels on Western Road and Sarnia Road. London Transit Commission buses stop right at the arena. Check out the LTC website for rates, schedules and maps if you are interested in public transit.
There is plenty of parking on the Western Campus. Parking is free on the weekends, when lots are unattended. The most convenient lot would be just north of Thompson Arena and can be accessed from Huron Drive.
The entry for the arena is spacious enough for the needs of Western. Do not get confused with the arena ticketing area and the recreation centre help desk. Go past the rec centre desk to the box office for Thompson Arena to pick up your tickets in person. Tickets are also available online.
Getting around the arena is no problem considering the number of patrons that are in attendance. The east concourse may be a bit squishy if there is a capacity crowd, however it is not an issue normally. Washroom facilities are more than adequate in the east concourse.
Mustangs hockey is a great event to catch for a pretty small investment.
Tickets for Mustangs hockey go for a mere $8 a person. There are also discounts for seniors, non-Western students and youth. Kids 5 and under are free. Combine the low ticket price with free parking and decent concession prices and you have a recipe for a very affordable brand of entertainment. CIS hockey is fast-paced and tends to play a little smaller than the professional ranks. There is hitting, but league rules prohibit fighting so there is just the right amount of rough stuff.
An extra mark for Mustang Days. Mustang Days are a celebration of Mustang athletics with as many athletic events packed into one weekend as possible.
An extra mark for ample opportunity to pair Mustang hockey with Mustang basketball for an awesome CIS doubleheader for little money.
An extra mark for distinguished Western alumnus Steve Rucchin. Rucchin played for the Mustangs from 1990-1994 after playing high school hockey in London and Junior D hockey in Thamesford, Ontario for only a couple of games. Usually, CIS players come from Junior A or B ranks. Eventually Rucchin would go on to play for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim from 1994 to 2004. Steve Rucchin's path to a significant NHL career was unorthodox to say the least.
The Western Mustangs are continuing to do their best to provide an athletic experience that is closer to their NCAA cousins rather than their CIS brothers. Western hockey is a fun experience with a few extras that you may not expect. The price is absolutely right and seeing the Purple Ponies on ice will not be a disappointment.
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1149 Western Rd.
London, ON N6G 5R8
1324 Adelaide St. N.
London, ON N5X 1J9