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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The new kids on the block in USports hockey are in Oshawa, Ontario. The UOIT Ridgebacks joined the OUA in 2007 and hockey is their signature sport. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology is itself quite young, with the school being established in 2002. In fact, many Canadians outside of Oshawa are unaware that the school even exists.
UOIT is doing what it can to change that. The university is growing at a significant rate, offering a wide variety of programs and a technology focus east of Toronto. UOIT now has an enrollment of over 10,000 students. The premiere athletic team for UOIT is the Ridgebacks hockey team and they are also doing what they can to increase the school's profile. For the first time ever in school history, the 2016 season has seen the UOIT Ridgebacks earn a national ranking.
The home of the Ridgebacks is the UOIT Campus Ice Centre, a facility they share with Durham College, that opened in 2005. In the OUA there are many hockey facilities that look very generic, with an uneducated fan not knowing who is the home squad. The Campus Ice Centre definitely lets fans know that they are in the Dog Pound, and they are in the home of the UOIT Ridgebacks.
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".
The concession selections at UOIT Campus Ice Centre are pretty much what you would expect. There is one main concession inside the rink at the Campus Ice Centre. Fans can find all of the expected items on the menu. Hot dogs ($2), fries and gravy, onion rings, nachos, pizza ($2), muffins, cookies, candy, chips, and popcorn ($2.25) are all available. Prices are definitely on the cheap side.
Coke products are the soft drinks that are available ($2.25). Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cappuccino are also available. There are no alcohol sales within the arena itself.
It is important to remember your wallet and make sure you have cash. There are no credit cards accepted at concessions, or the ticketing desk for that matter. If the concession options are not what fans were hoping for, or perhaps an alcoholic beverage is desired, then the answer may be Shagwell's on the Ridge. The full service bar and grill has window openings that overlook the ice and give fans the opportunity to watch the game from the bar. From above and behind the east net, fans can cheer on the Ridgebacks in a more comfortable setting.
It is easy to say that the atmosphere at the UOIT Campus Ice Centre surpasses expectations. With a capacity of only 550, expectations for this arena may not be very high, but walking in the Campus Ice Centre the low expectations are immediately shot down.
The exterior of the Ice Centre is nothing overly spectacular, but that is not a huge issue and entering at the north side of the building brings the fan into a large atrium with lots of glass allowing for natural light to enter. There is another ice surface at the ice centre so there are other things going on. Guests are welcomed to logos and large banners letting you know right away that you are at the home of UOIT hockey. Fans will take the stairs up to the arena where the ticketing desk can be found. At the top of the stairs to the left is Shagwell's, if that is the desired destination. To the right, fans will enter the rink.
Inside, fans will again be greeted with a number of markings and murals letting them know that they are in "The Dog Pound" and that they are in "Ridgeback Country." The ice surface is in a west to east configuration with six rows of plastic stadium seats on the south side for the seating area. The entire seating area is protected from flying pucks with netting that you would normally only find on the end of the ice surfaces. There is also sufficient standing room behind the seating area.
What is impressive about the Campus Ice Centre is that UOIT does a phenomenal job of showcasing their history, especially considering that they only have a brief history. At the breezeway behind the seating area, the walls are plastered with important moments in Ridgebacks history in glass frames. First goals, first games, first playoff moments, and playing in an outdoor game in Hamilton are all immortalized for fans to see.
The game day production is pretty much run by the students. The music selection is decent and the team enters the ice surface to the sound of a barking dog and "Money City Maniacs." The promotions are what you would expect at an OUA hockey game. Those fans participating in the chuck-a-puck promotion are required to walk down to the ice surface to the north side of the arena and chuck their puck from the bench.
The UOIT Campus Ice Centre is located on campus, which is in the north part of Oshawa, a fair distance from highway 401. The Ice Centre is also at the north end of the shared campus of UOIT and Durham College. In the immediate area, there is not too much that will interest travellers. On Simcoe St, just south of campus, there is a St. Louis Bar and Grill. Fans are better off heading further south on Simcoe Street. Shoeless Joe's and other chain restaurants can be found at SImcoe and Taunton Road.
Being so close to Toronto, there are not a ton of exciting entertainment options in Oshawa. Hitting Simcoe Blues & Jazz for some live music may be of interest. Checking out the Canadian Automotive Museum might also be of interest. The other sporting option in Oshawa is of course to take in an Oshawa Generals game at Tribute Communities Centre.
There is not much in the way of accommodations near UOIT. The best bet for travellers would be to head to downtown Oshawa where there are a few options, including a Holiday Inn Express.
Fans at a Ridgebacks game are fairly average for the conference. Each of the last three seasons, up to the 2016-2017 season, the Ridgebacks have averaged between 200 and 300 fans per game. Although this may sound like a tiny number, it is pretty much the conference average. With the exception of one program, the OUA draws hundreds of fans to hockey games as opposed to thousands. The small capacity at the UOIT Campus Ice Centre makes the crowd feel significant. The fans in attendance are pretty quiet and polite. They are not really over the top, as most Southern Ontario fans are.
The University of Ontario Institute of Technology is located in the north end of Oshawa. Although the campus is not very large, the Campus Ice Centre is at the north end of campus as well, making it easy to find. Essentially between highway 401 and the express toll road 407, UOIT will require a very significant drive through Oshawa to get to campus. The 407 is a better option, but as far as toll roads go, it is very expensive.
There is plenty of free parking available at the Ice Centre. East of the arena there are large parking lots where fans can park for free. For fans looking to get to the arena with public transit, route 401 of Durham Transit brings patrons to the UOIT campus. Check out the Durham Transit website for maps, fares, and schedules.
The Ice Centre can be entered from either the north or south and the atrium is large with plenty of natural light. The stairs to the rink are at the north side of the building and lead to a temporary ticketing table. Make sure you bring cash to purchase tickets as credit cards are not accepted.
Considering the number of fans in attendance, getting around the arena is not a big challenge. The washroom facilities are not huge and can be found behind the seating area in the main arena.
Taking in an OUA hockey game is always good value, and a UOIT Ridgebacks game is no exception. Adult tickets for the Ridgebacks run $10 per person with discounts for seniors and kids. Young children can get in for free.
Concession prices are a pretty solid bargain and parking can be found for free. The level of hockey is solid and gives the fan more than enough of a return on their very small investment.
An extra mark for the original Ridgebacks name.
An extra mark for the UOIT food drive, where all ticket revenue collected on the date reviewed was donated.
A trip to see the UOIT Ridgebacks is a bit of a pleasant surprise. The arena, although small, is a great venue for OUA hockey, and with the Ridgebacks improving on the ice, taking in a Ridgebacks game is fun. The investment is pretty small and the product on the ice is good. If in Oshawa, consider checking out the New Kids in the Pound!
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