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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Columbia IceField Arena - Waterloo Warriors

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Columbia IceField Arena 250 Columbia St. W Waterloo, ON N2L 0A1

Waterloo Warriors website

Columbia IceField Arena website

Year Opened: 1983

Capacity: 680

The Barn in the ‘Loo

In 1957 the Waterloo Warriors took the ice for the first time. The rise of the Warriors brought about the building of their own facility on the growing campus. The Columbia IceField Arena was built on the north end of campus and opened in 1983. Since then the University of Waterloo has grown to over 36,000 students and the Columbia IceField has undergone a number of renovations. Even though the IceField has undergone changes and improvements, the fact remains that the Columbia IceField Arena is a classic Canadian hockey barn.

The Warriors consistently ice a competitive hockey team. The OUA remains ultra-competitive in hockey and the Warriors have been rewarded with the Queen’s Cup as conference champions in 1974 and 1996. The Warriors were also crowned National Champions in 1974. However, it is not the accolades that will bring fans to the Columbia IceField. It is a wonderfully affordable product which is presented in an environment which is a throwback to a previous era. The IceField smells like hockey, sounds like hockey and overall, just feels like hockey.

Food & Beverage 2

A culinary experience will not be found at the Columbia IceField Arena. A throwback to the traditional snack bar that would be found in youth hockey arena, concessions at the IceField are very limited. Chips, popcorn and chocolate bars are what are found food wise. Coca-Cola products are the soda of choice and Powerade and water are also available. However, the cold temperature in the arena makes coffee, tea and hot chocolate the beverages of choice at the IceField. On the plus side, all concessions are very reasonably priced with almost every item priced at $2 or less.

Atmosphere 4

The original Columbia IceField Arena was built in 1983, however the atmosphere harkens back to a previous era. Since 1983, a larger recreation facility has been added onto the arena, to become what is now fully recognized as the Columbia IceField Athletic Centre. Immediately west of the indoor recreation centre is Warrior Field, home of Waterloo Warrior football.

Entry to the Athletic Centre is off of Hagey Boulevard. A sharp right, past the ticketing desk, will bring fans at the entry to the Columbia IceField Arena. The small, black and gold themed entry is full of pieces of Warrior history to see. Framed pictures of Warrior alumni who have gone on to play professional hockey will keep fans interest for a few minutes. Above the coach’s office door are framed pictures of Geoff Ward, Karl Taylor and Don McKee. All are Warrior coaches who have gone on to coach in the professional ranks. The entryway also features a framed number 16 jersey of Tyler Norrie, a Warrior rookie who died suddenly during the off-season.

Inside the arena itself, there are a number of features that are striking to fans. Probably first and foremost would be the temperature. The arena is definitely a cold one. The second feature that fans will no doubt take in is the beautiful arched, hardwood ceiling and the unique architecture of the arena. Unlike any other, the Columbia IceField Arena provides an awe-inspiring ambiance simply with the structure of the roof. Finally, the small size of the arena will jump out at fans. There is not a ton of room in the arena itself. The ice surface runs east-west and fans are relegated to the northside, bleacher seating or standing along the glass by the east goal. The new bleachers on the northside are three rows of contoured plastic benches. Fans do not have much choice but to be at ice level. On the south side of the arena the McArthur Family Media Box is tiny and it is entertaining to watch the various Waterloo media personnel squeeze and duck into the box.

The northeast and southwest corners of the arena have new scoreboards, which are pretty simple, but good for the conference. A number of banners hang above the ice surface including division championship banners from 2013 and 1996. Banners also hang for the 1996 and 1974 Conference Championships as well as the 1974 National Championship. The Warriors have also honoured the numbers of Ron Hawkshaw, John Wynne, Mike Zettel and Dopn Langlois. This is an unusual practice in USports but undoubtedly a welcome one. The east side of the arena also features team photos of the championship teams that the Warriors put on the ice.

The game day experience at Columbia IceField is fairy simple. With a lack of space, there isn’t too much in the way of promotions happening during the game. Intermission shootout promotions are there which is good for the kids. The Warriors take the ice to “Enter Sandman” and through a large inflatable tunnel. Music played in between plays is generally hard rock and heavy metal, but there are not a ton of stoppages anyway. It is the arena itself that really improves the game day atmosphere. With the close proximity to the game it is a much more vivid experience. The players seem bigger. The play seems faster. The hits are louder. It is a pretty pure hockey experience.

Neighbourhood 4

The surrounding neighbourhood near the University of Waterloo offers a ton of great options. The Columbia IceField Arena is located at the north side of the Waterloo campus, on the north side of Columbia Street. A short walk through campus will lead to University Avenue, where there are a bunch of options for pre or postgame meals. The University Shops Plaza has a number of choices including East Side Mario’s, Mongolian Grill and Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub. Mel’s Diner is just on the other side of Phillip St on the way to King St, which offers many more options. Smoke’s Poutinerie, Frat Burger and Morty’s Pub are great alternatives. A short drive down King Street will lead to Uptown Waterloo and even more selections.

For fans looking for other entertainment options, Uptown Waterloo offers a few including live music at the Jazz Room at the Huether Hotel. Fans in Waterloo during October will want to consider participating in the Oktoberfest activities, Canada’s largest Bavarian festival. There are also other sporting events in Waterloo. The Waterloo Warriors field a full complement of athletic programs including basketball at the Physical Activities Complex and football at Warrior Field. Just up the street is Wilfrid Laurier University, where the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks play football at University Stadium, basketball at the Athletic Complex and hockey at Sun Life Financial Arena. Junior Hockey can be found just over the Waterloo border in Kitchener at the legendary Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, home of the Kitchener Rangers.

For fans staying in Waterloo, the Comfort Inn and The Inn of Waterloo are close and offer decent accommodations.

Fans 3

There is not a massive following for OUA hockey. That being said, the Waterloo Warriors make the most of their small arena. With an extremely small capacity of under 700, the IceField feels pretty full with the couple hundred fans that show up for Warrior games. The Warriors average around 200 fans per game, which is about average for OUA hockey. Fans in attendance are definitely supportive of the Warriors and the close quarters makes for a more vocal and excitable crowd than in many OUA buildings.

Access 3

Getting to the Columbia IceField Arena is not too difficult. Located at the north side of the University of Waterloo campus, the IceField is easy to get to by major Waterloo streets including Columbia Street and University Avenue. The IceField is a fair distance from highway 85 and fans will have to drive a bit through the city to get to the arena. Parking is available for free on weekends and in the evening behind the optometry building on the other side of Hagey Blvd, opposite the arena. There are also cash lots in the Columbia IceField Athletic Centre lot and across Columbia Street on Ring Road.

For fans wishing to take public transit, Grand River Transit buses stop along Columbia St and at multiple points on the University of Waterloo campus. Check out the Grand River Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.

The ticketing booth is immediately inside the Columbia IceField Athletic Centre entrance from the cul de sac off of Hagey Blvd. Cash and credit cards are accepted.

Getting around the arena can be a chore. With such a small space, a decent crowd can jam up the works quickly. The entryway in the arena is not huge and a logjam trying to get in or a lineup at the concession can slow things up significantly. There are two small washrooms in the entryway of the arena, one for each gender. Even a crowd of a couple hundred fans can put a real strain on the facilities.

Return on Investment 5

Waterloo Warriors hockey offers an excellent return for the sporting dollar. Warrior tickets are priced at $10 for an adult with discounts for students, seniors and children. Waterloo students and children under 5 enter for free. Combine great ticket prices with good concession prices and free parking and fans have a really cheap investment. Warriors hockey is high quality and the Warriors are traditionally a competitive program. The return far outweighs the investment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the rivalry the Warriors maintain with the Laurier Golden Hawks.

Another for the great job the Warriors do of putting their history on display with banners, photos and murals.

Finally, for the investment the University of Waterloo made in the Columbia IceField Arena, making it a little more comfortable for fans.

Final Thoughts

Although it may not be the highest profile hockey, the Waterloo Warriors are an experience worth checking out. The Columbia IceField Arena is a unique venue and provides a great atmosphere for hockey. A throwback to those youth hockey venues of the past, the IceField amplifies the sights and sounds of the game and is a unique spot. The Old Barn awaits!

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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