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  • Dave Cottenie

Dom Cardillo Arena at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium - Kitchener Rangers

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43

Dom Cardillo Arena at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium 400 East Ave Kitchener, ON N2H 1Z6

Kitchener Rangers website

Dom Cardillo Arena at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium website

Year Opened: 1951

Capacity: 7,777

One of the Last Hockey Shrines

The landscape in hockey has changed over the years. Gone are the hockey shrines of old that would just ooze history. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Forum. Boston Garden. Chicago Stadium. All abandoned in favour of luxury and the hope of dollars. However, if you step down a level in hockey, there are still a few hockey shrines around. One of those can be found in Kitchener, Ontario.

The Dom Cardillo Arena at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex was built in 1951 as a memorial to those who gave their lives in World War I and World War II. A classic arena, many have commented how The Aud was built as a mini Maple Leaf Gardens.

However, it would not be until 1963 when local legend Eugene George would essentially give the community the Kitchener Rangers and a hockey dynasty was born. George purchased the team from the parent New York Rangers for $1 and then give them to the subscribers in a unique community ownership situation similar to the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

After numerous renovations over the decade, the original arena was named after longtime, beloved mayor Dom Cardillo. The City of Kitchener-owned arena has been brought to a standard which places them at the top of the Canadian Hockey League. Although maintaining the history and classic nature of the arena, The Aud features a host of modern amenities which are equal or better than every comparable arena at this level.

Food & Beverage 5

The Rangers provide a great culinary experience. It begins with the lower concourse, a perfect place to meet friends and family. There you will find Roasters. Supplying all three rinks inside the Auditorium Complex, Roasters provides Tim Hortons coffee as well as a variety of other options.

Upon climbing the stairs, past the ticket takers, fans are immediately struck with the smell of fresh Oktoberfest Beer Nuts. The stand is right there, and selecting warm pecans, almonds, or peanuts in the bag is a great idea. Fans looking for something a little more hearty will not have to stray far until they hit Smoke’s Poutinerie. The fast-growing franchise providing Canada’s National Food offers a variety of fries and different takes on poutine. Alcohol and other beverages are also sold at this location.

The other main concession locations are run by Pizza Pizza. Pizza slices ($4.50), burgers, hot dogs ($4.50), chips, popcorn ($5), Grain Harvest Pretzels, fries and poutine are all available here. Combos are available to ease the cost a little. The Candy Counter also offers popcorn as well as milk shakes, sundaes, ice cream, candy, and chocolate.

The main beer selections at the Dom Cardillo Arena are not over the top, but do offer some local flavour. Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Molson Canadian, and Molson Canadian Cider are all available ($9). For some local flavour, try Waterloo Dark or Waterloo Grapefruit Radler, brewed locally at the Brick Brewery.

For those looking for a full fledged bar experience, the main bar offers a vast array of wines, cocktails and spirits. Be aware that if you want to use plastic to pay, then the bar is probably where you want to be. Many beer stands are cash only. Soft drinks are provided by Pepsi ($3/$5). Tim Hortons coffee, hot chocolate, and French vanilla cappuccino are also available.

Atmosphere 5

There are not too many spots like The Aud anymore. The original facade from 1951 can be viewed from the East Avenue side of the building. It is worth a peek for first timers, since most people enter from the opposite side of the building, where the parking is. The grey stone still brings something to the ambience. The East Avenue side of the building is oddly on the west side of the building, but most fans will enter from the north or south.

A breezeway joins the Dom Cardillo Arena with the other ice pads on the east side of the building. It is in the breezeway, near the ticketing windows that fans will find a display near and dear to the hearts of Kitchener residents. The famous Kraut Line of the Boston Bruins all got their start in Kitchener and there is a nice display honouring Bobby Bauer, Milt Schmidt, and Woody Dumart.

The breezeway also features historic banners and wooden plaques from events that have been held at The Aud, including the World Junior Hockey Championships, University Cup, and Scott Tournament of Hearts. Upon ascending the stairs to the ticket takers, fans are welcomed to the Dom Cardillo Arena featuring a nice mural of the late mayor above the stairs.

Be sure to leave plenty of time for exploring as first time fans could miss the entire game while exploring the main concourses. The walls are plastered with various murals. There are a whole host of team pictures from every season the Rangers iced a team. There are also a number of murals highlighting big moments from each decade of the team’s history. Championship teams are highlighted. An interesting mural honours Gabriel Landeskog and Jeff Skinner, both former Rangers who won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in back to back seasons. The Rangers use every inch of space to their advantage. Even the diagonal i-beams feature the names and numbers of prominent Kitchener Rangers from seasons past.

Inside the seating bowl, fans are immediately greeted by the most state-of-the-art video board outside of NHL venues. It is bright, crisp, multi-layered and the Rangers use it throughout the game. LED ribbon boards are also along the long north and south sides of the arena.

Also above the ice surface, the ceiling of the Dom Cardillo Arena is littered with championship banners and honoured player numbers. Bill Barber, Larry Robinson, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Paul Coffey have all had their numbers honoured as members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gary Crosby and Jim McGeachie are honoured as their lives came to tragic, premature ends. The Rangers also hang banners for Dwight Foster as the team’s all-time leading scorer, and Andre Benoit as the team’s all-time leading scorer for a defenseman. Of course there are also a number of league, conference and division championship banners. The Rangers have won the J. Ross Roberson Cup as OHL Champions in 1981, 1982, 2003 and 2008. They also went to the next level and won the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League Champions in 1982 and 2003.

The seating bowl offers terrific sightlines. The stands are fairly steep and offer a good view of the ice. At times the legroom can be a little tight. If this is a concern, avoid the corners and last row of gold seats. The new blue section offers fantastic sightlines on an even steeper slope and probably the most comfortable spot, outside of the luxury box or west end restaurant.

Neighborhood 3

The Aud is located just east of downtown Kitchener. For the most part, the Aud is a community arena. There are almost no pre and post game meal options within walking distance. You could hike up Ottawa Street to the Tim Horton’s or Dairy Queen. Strykerz Kitchen and Bar in the same plaza may be an option, but it is pretty small.

Your best bet would be to head downtown or take the highway out to Sportsworld. Downtown, you might want to try The Grand Trunk Saloon, TWH Social, Bobby O’Brien’s or McCabe’s. Out by Sportsworld you will definitely want to hit Moose Winooski’s. If you truly want a genuine Kitchener experience, then you should look into eating a pre game meal at the Concordia Club. Kitchener celebrates the largest Bavarian festival outside of Germany in Oktoberfest. The Friday buffet at the Concordia Club is a great way to experience Kitchener’s German heritage before a Ranger game!

Other sporting options locally would include hopping over to Kitchener’s twin city, Waterloo to catch some local university action. The Waterloo Warriors call the PAC home to basketball, Warrior Field home to football and Columbia IceField home to hockey. The Laurier Golden Hawks play their football games at Knight-Newbrough Field at University Stadium, their hockey games at Sun Life Financial Arena at Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, and their basketball games at WLU Athletic Complex.

Downtown, fans may also want to check out The Museum.

If you are staying in town overnight, downtown is probably where you are going to need to head. The Walper Hotel and Crowne Plaza Kitchener-Waterloo are decent selections.

Fans 5

Friday nights in Kitchener require planning in advance. Ranger tickets are hard to come by without sufficient lead time. Ranger fans are loud and proud. They average over 7,000 fans per game and are consistently second in attendance in the OHL. They also rank in the top five in attendance in the entire Canadian Hockey League. Ranger fans are knowledgeable and can get seriously loud and have a reputation for getting on the referees often.

Access 3

Getting to the Aud is not too difficult. The Auditorium Complex is immediately adjacent to Highway 7 for easy access. Most people enter the Complex from Ottawa Street, right off of the highway. Travelling through Kitchener can be a challenge with construction on the new light rail transit ongoing, but avoiding the city streets and sticking to the highway is a good plan. Parking is free on the grounds in the Ottawa and Stirling lots. With the expansion of the Dom Cardillo Arena, parking has become a premium. Ensure there is plenty of time when arriving or bring friends and park in the carpool lot.

Public transit is available on Ottawa Street for fans interested in bussing it. Check the Grand River Transit website for schedules, fares and maps. Another option may be the Ranger Express. Fan busses which travel to and from restaurants in Kitchener and Waterloo may be a consideration.

The ticket windows are often free of lines as game day sales almost never happen. Enter the Ottawa Street side for ticket windows if necessary.

The concourses in the Aud are unfortunately quite narrow. Travelling during intermissions can be precarious. An entire intermission is probably necessary to do a full 360 degree trip. Washroom facilities are reasonably clean, but are really busy during intermissions.

Return on Investment 5

A Rangers game is a great investment for your sporting dollar. The Kitchener Rangers offer an exciting product on the ice and an environment that is as good as many professional experiences at the fraction of the cost of seeing an NHL game. Ticket prices, although on the high side for the OHL and CHL, cost $22. This is still a far cry from even the cheapest face value NHL tickets. Parking is free and concession prices are reasonable. The formula equals an opportunity to bring the family to a great sporting experience and not drop a mortgage payment.

Extras 5

An extra mark to the City of Kitchener in recognition of the contribution of the late Eugene George. The city has renamed the street travelling to the west of the Aud, from East Ave to Ottawa St, Eugene George Way. His gifting of the Rangers to the subscribers created a unique ownership situation that galvanized the bond between city and team.

An extra mark for the special events the Rangers run, specifically Teddy Bear Toss Night and Don Cameron Potato Night. Seeing thousands of stuffed animals strewn to the ice just before Christmas is an experience in and of itself. Potato Night is a unique evening run by legendary retired Rangers broadcaster Don Cameron where fans bring in donations of bags of potatoes.

An extra mark for the long and illustrious hockey history of the Rangers and the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and the great job the Rangers do of putting that history on display.

An extra mark for the City of Kitchener and the Rangers in not abandoning their classic arena and instead improving upon it to bring it up to today’s technological and luxury standards.

An extra mark for all of the Kitchener Minor Sports history on display at the Auditorium Complex.

Final Thoughts

There is no end in sight for the Dom Cardillo Arena. The home of the Kitchener Rangers seems safe and is one of the best hockey experiences in the world. It is comforting to know that at least one of the hockey shrines will remain intact and a place where hockey fans can continue to pay homage to the game they love.

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

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