Stadium Journey's 2023 Ranking of the Ontario Hockey League Arenas
Legends have passed through the Ontario Hockey League on their way to hockey immortality in the NHL. Names like Bobby Smith, Larry Robinson, Scotty Bowman, Darryl Sittler, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky are all revered icons throughout the top junior hockey league in Canada, which makes up one-third of the three-pronged Canadian Hockey League.
The face of the OHL has changed over the years. At one time dominated by musty barns that smelled like youth hockey, the OHL now features several shiny, new hockey palaces to give the league a keen balance of old a new.
Stadium Journey has taken to rank the experiences of all 20 experiences in the Ontario Hockey League. The scores are all very close, however, in every case, high marks for Return on Investment are present in each experience. This makes the OHL a prime spot to invest some entertainment dollars and get the most out of that hard-earned money.
Dave Cottenie - The Rangers are a cornerstone franchise in the Ontario Hockey League. The affiliation with the New York Rangers is long gone, but the moniker and colours have remained in Kitchener. The Rangers have enjoyed several league titles in the regular season, four OHL championships, and two times been crowned as Memorial Cup Champions, the top team in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
Home for the Rangers since their inception has been the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. Designed as a mini Maple Leaf Gardens, The Aud remains one of the most unique venues in a league where new venues are becoming increasingly homogeneous. The arena with the main ice is named after the former beloved mayor of Kitchener, Dom Cardillo, making the home of the Rangers the Dom Cardillo Arena at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. The Rangers provide one of the best experiences in the entire Canadian Hockey League and are a must-see for all junior hockey fans.
Dave Cottenie - There are plenty of uniforms from bygone eras that are so gaudy that it boggles the mind that they ever did the job. The “barber pole” version of multi-striped uniforms falls into this category. However, one team that has stuck with the barber pole is the Ottawa 67’s … and it works. The red, black, and white stripes of the 67’s jerseys have been a staple for the team since their inception in 1967.
One of the cornerstone franchises of the Ontario Hockey League, the 67 derives their name from not only their inception but the founding of Canada as an independent country in 1867. The 67’s are one of the most successful franchises in the league, both on and off the ice and are owned by the Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group, who also claim the CFL’s Ottawa RedBlacks as part of their portfolio.
Dave Cottenie - In 1991, with plans to replace the Guelph Memorial Gardens underway, the Dukes of Hamilton, who were formerly the iconic Toronto Marlboros, would be moving to Guelph to become the Guelph Storm. Although not normally considered a cornerstone franchise of the OHL, the Storm have been among the most consistent both on the ice and at the turnstile. The Storm have participated in the Memorial Cup tournament on six occasions and won the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions four times. There have also been several NHL players who have donned the Storm jersey over the years.
Dave Cottenie - If there is one thing above all that the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are known for, it is their connection to the greatest hockey player ever, Wayne Gretzky. In 1977, the Greyhounds selected the slender, sixteen-year-old with the third pick in the midget draft. Gretzky would not disappoint by scoring a Greyhound record 182 points in his only season in the Soo. It would be the Soo where the legend of 99 was born. Upon arriving in the Soo, Wayne was distraught to find his coveted number nine, which belonged to his hockey hero, Gordie Howe, was taken by Brian Gulalazzi. After a few games wearing fourteen, Greyhounds coach Muzz MacPherson suggest that Gretzky just double the nines and the most legendary number in sports was born.
Dave Cottenie - The London Knights were founded in 1965 as the London Nationals in the OHA. Their colour scheme and logo mimicked the Toronto Maple Leafs and their blue and white. In 1968 the Nationals would be reborn as the London Knights.
The Hunters purchased the Knights at the perfect time as the City of London agreed to build a downtown arena to replace the London Ice House. The John Labatt Centre opened in 2002 and helped usher in a new era in the OHL of new or renovated facilities and quickly became the gold standard in arenas in the league.
Since the opening of what was later renamed the Budweiser Gardens, success at the turnstile and on the ice coincided and the Knights, who were also-rans, in the OHL for years enjoyed their best seasons ever. Going from a nightmare to a dream come true has been an amazing ride for the fans in London and there are no signs of slowing down.
Dave Cottenie - Junior hockey in Kingston dates back to the forties with the Kingston Victorias, who were eventually renamed the Frontenacs, after Louis de Buade de Frontenac, Governor General of New France in the 1600s. The current franchise would join the OHA as the Kingston Canadians. They would be renamed the Kingston Raiders for one season before being sold. After the sale of the team, the return of the Frontenacs would usher in a new era for the team.
Current owner Doug Springer would purchase the team in 1998. Although the Fronts have not enjoyed a ton of success on the ice, with only two East Division Championships to show for their efforts, the Frontenacs experience has improved significantly and remains a great option for sports fans.
Dave Cottenie - One of the cornerstone franchises of the Ontario Hockey League is the Oshawa Generals. For many years, Oshawa, Ontario was the Canadian incarnation of the Motor City, with General Motors having a massive presence in the city, including the Canadian headquarters.
The Generals moniker, therefore, has no link to the military, but to the car manufacturer. The current home of the Generals was also originally named the General Motors Centre. With a lineage that goes back to Oshawa’s favourite adopted son, Bobby Orr, the Generals are one of the most successful teams to ever take the ice in Ontario.
The Generals hold the record for most J. Ross Robertson Cups as OHL Champions, with 13. The Generals also boast an impressive five Memorial Cups, which is also more than any other current Canadian Hockey League franchise. The Generals were founded in 1937 and were forced to take a hiatus in the fifties when their home arena burned down. The Gens resurfaced in 1962 and are currently owned by Rocco Tullio.
Robbie Raskin - Niagara Region, to the south of Toronto, offers a huge number of delights for visitors; the iconic Niagara Falls, sun-splashed wineries, the historic charm of Niagara-on-the-Lake, beaches, fine dining, and just about everything else needed for the perfect holiday. But for locals, the crowds of Niagara Falls and high prices in Wine Country are not what brings together the nearly half-million-strong region, especially in the depths of winter. In the midst of all these tourist draws lies the locals’ favourite activity – the Niagara IceDogs.
Robbie Raskin - The American Hockey League eventually opened up in Hamilton, first with Vancouver’s farm team, then Montreal’s. Finally, the Bulldogs, as they were known, won the 2007 Calder Cup. However, the carousel continued as the club moved to Laval, Quebec, to be closer to their NHL parents.
Instead, the storied Belleville Bulls OHL team moved to Hamilton (itself replaced by Ottawa’s new AHL farm team, the Belleville Senators). And once again, a championship banner will rise at the Coliseum (now named FirstOntario Centre). The Bulldogs – as an OHL club – are the 2018 Ontario champions.
They now compete for the Memorial Cup and a shot at national glory but as the famous black-and-yellow colours associated with the city have achieved newfound success, the hopes for some stability rise, and the dream for the eventual return of NHL hockey continues.
** The Hamilton Bulldogs will be relocating to Brantford, Ontario for the 2023-2024 season **
Dave Cottenie - The Sudbury Community Arena is in the twilight of its Ontario Hockey League life, and fans need to take advantage of the opportunity to see this facility host the Sudbury Wolves while they still can. The expected opening of the Kingsway Entertainment District, which will provide a new event centre home for the Wolves, is not far off, in 2025. There is understandable excitement for the new arena by the locals, but it will be sad to see the Sudbury Arena close its doors to junior hockey for the last time. Simply put, the Sudbury Arena is an old-school hockey barn.
Dave Cottenie - Upon their establishment in the OHA in 1975, the home for the Spitfires was the venerable Windsor Arena. It was truly a Canadian hockey barn if ever there was one. The Windsor Arena was beloved by fans and players alike, but far from an acceptable venue for OHL hockey based on current expectations.
In 2008, the City of Windsor opened the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre, the new home for the Spitfires, securing their existence in the border city for seasons to come. Hosting the Memorial Cup would have been impossible at the Windsor Arena. Led by the ownership group of former NHL players Bob Boughner and Warren Rychel, along with their partners Stephen Savage, John Savage, and Brian Schwab, the Spitfires are experiencing an era of prosperity on and off the ice.
Patricia Beninato - If you’re a hockey fan, an Erie Otters game is fun and relatively inexpensive, even if you throw in a hot dog, a beer, and a t-shirt. It’s kind of sad, though, that more fans don’t seem to take advantage of the surrounding neighborhood, preferring to get their food and drinks inside the arena and not wanting to hang around before or after games. Maybe it’s not a destination arena, but if you’re in the area and want to see future NHL stars up close and hang out with some loyal hockey fans, you can do worse than Erie Insurance Arena.
Robbie Raskin - The small city of Peterborough sits at the southern entrance to Ontario’s vast ‘Cottage Country’ where farmland gives way to countless lakes and forests. Since 1956, it has been home to the maroon-and-white Petes, and the hockey club has been deeply tied to the city’s sense of identity ever since.
The Petes’ alumni roll is a laundry list of great players and managers over the decades, including seven Hall of Famers. They’re the oldest continuously-operating team in the OHL and have won the league nine times and the national Memorial Cup championship once. Frustrating to their fans is that the only team with greater success is their hated rivals, the Oshawa Generals.
Dave Cottenie - The Sting has been a consistent team in the West Division for the majority of their duration in Sarnia. In 2015 the Ciccarellis sold their stake in the Sting to a pair of former NHL players, Derian Hatcher and David Legwand. Both now have active roles in the team, with Hatcher also acting as head coach.
Despite their consistent success on the ice, the Sting are still looking for their first J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions. Despite the lack of championships, the Sting have produced several 1st round draft picks for the NHL including Trevor Letowski, Nail Yakupov, Mike Van Ryn, Alex Galchenyuk, and their favorite son, Steven Stamkos.
Dave Cottenie - In 2013 the Ontario Hockey League made a triumphant return to North Bay, Ontario. After the North Bay Centennials had their run from 1982 to 2002, they left for Saginaw, Michigan under a cloud of mistrust and bad feelings. The hockey light would shine again in the Gateway to the North after the local fans provided next-level support for the Nipissing Lakers, a newly formed university team.
Brampton Battalion owner and Trivial Pursuit founder Scott Abbott would bring his OHL team from outside of Toronto north to the banks of Lake Nipissing in search of greater fan support. Moving the team to a military city like North Bay made the team name and moniker suddenly make a whole lot more sense.
Dave Cottenie - Sadlon Arena offers a solid junior hockey experience that is not uncommon in many other markets. From the exterior, Sadlon Arena has a bit of a barn-like appearance with a rounded, elongated roof, which can be seen from Highway 400. Oriented from west to east, the most eye-catching feature of the arena is the Horsepower Sports Bar, which offers a unique brick facade to the front of the building with awnings.
Dave Cottenie - On the banks of Georgian Bay sits the smallest market in the Ontario Hockey League. In 1989, the Guelph Platers, who had been in Guelph since 1968, made the move north to the Grey-Bruce area of Ontario. The Owen Sound Platers were to be sold to a businessman out of town which would require relocation.
The “Super Six,” would come together to purchase the team and keep them in Owen Sound. Brian Johnson, Dr. Robert Severs, Fay Harshman, Frank Coulter, and Peter and Paul MacDermid, a group of local business owners, would keep that can-do attitude alive in Owen Sound and the Attack have remained viable and competitive in the Ontario Hockey League. The hard work culminated in the Attack’s 2011 J.Ross Robertson Cup as OHL Champions and a berth in the Memorial Cup.
Dave Cottenie - When owner Richard Garber brought the Centennials to Saginaw, it took them some time to get their feet under them as they did not make the playoffs their first three years in Michigan. Success for the Spirit would be challenging as they would boast one lowly division title in their 25 years in Saginaw. Garber would bring in additional ownership including Brandon Bordeaux, Jimmy Devellano, and former Red Wing, Chris Osgood. With a small city population of under 50,000, currently a poor team on the ice, and economic challenges in Central Michigan, the Spirit are having a bit of a rough go. That being said, there is still hope that Michigan’s hockey spirit can continue to thrive in the OHL.
Dave Cottenie - When Peter Karmanos sold the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League to the IMS Hockey Corporation and Rolf Nilsen there were several eyebrows raised. IMS also owns the local arena, which has negotiated a naming rights deal with Dort Federal Credit Union, and the newly crowned Firebirds would be an interesting tenant. There are more than enough doubters when it comes to the Firebirds viability in Flint, but IMS is chugging along and they want everyone to get behind and Believe in Flint.
Dave Cottenie - It was once the house that Don Cherry built. The bombastic, former centerpiece of the “Coach’s Corner” intermission segment of Hockey Night in Canada was bringing Junior Hockey to Mississauga and spearheading the opening of the Hershey Centre.
A decade as the Steelheads has passed and hockey in Mississauga once again is at a tipping point. Owner Elliot Kerr has made public his frustrations with the lack of fan support and mused that maybe the Steelheads should be elsewhere. Home for the Steelheads is the now-renamed Paramount Fine Foods Centre. The arena is similar to other modern OHL facilities and offers plenty to be positive about. However, Junior Hockey in Mississauga is in trouble and the question as to the location of the Trout in five years is a mystery yet to be answered.