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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Sun Life Financial Arena - Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey.

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Sun Life Financial Arena at Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex 101 Father David Bauer Dr Waterloo, ON N2J 4A8

Year Opened: 1993

Capacity: 4,400

The Return of Hawkey

It is hard to argue that there has been an organization harder hit by the Coronavirus pandemic than university sports in Canada. USports saw the championships in 2020 cut short and the entire 2020-2021 seasons cancelled across all sports. The 2021-2022 seasons have been modified and quickly changed to adapt to various provinces adapting measures to combat the virus, which include pauses on sport and reduced capacity at sporting events.

After battling with the Ontario government over “elite” status in the early months of 2022, the Ontario conference of USports, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) is continuing their sporting seasons in February, heading towards provincial and national championships. Among the men’s hockey teams that are taking the ice again are the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. Established as the Golden Hawks in 1973, they were previously known as Waterloo College and Waterloo Lutheran University. Their moniker, the Mules, or Ice Mules in the case of hockey, was retired in 1960. Hockey history can be traced back to the 1920’s and Waterloo Lutheran entered conference play in the 1960’s.

The Golden Hawks began playing hockey in the venerable Waterloo Memorial Arena, which would eventually be condemned due to structural issues and replaced with a temporary bubble behind the original facade. In 1993 the City of Waterloo opened a new 3,400-seat arena as part of a new recreation complex. The arena is currently named the Sun Life Financial Arena, after the insurance company with a huge presence in Kitchener-Waterloo and is part of the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex.

Food & Beverage 3

One of the measures for combating COVID-19 in Ontario has been the restricting of selling food in public venues, such as hockey arenas. The rating for the FOOD category is based on the concession options of years past and what is currently advertised as being on the menu.

The two concession stands in the Sun Life Financial Arena have changed since the Golden Hawks played previous to the pandemic shut down. Usually only the east side concession is open. There is also a concession in the concourse that services the pool as well. Items that are advertised for sale include fruit and fruit cups, hummus, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and sandwiches and wraps. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, Gatorade, milk and bottled soda are also advertised. In previous seasons, beer was available that could be consumed in a designated area. Prices are not overly expensive as advertised.

Atmosphere 3

The Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex is currently experiencing a significant renovation and there is plenty of construction at the facility. The exterior of the complex is attractive with light coloured brick. The main entrance features plenty of windows and leads to a vast lobby which divides the Sun Life Financial Arena with the Swimplex. Fans are greeted by the unique art in front of the box office, “Etched In Memory”. The Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, like the Waterloo Memorial Arena before it, is a living memorial to those Canadians who gave their lives in the service of their country in both of the World Wars. Past the box office, down the concourse there is a display commemorating this memorial.

Upon entering the Sun Life Financial Arena, fans will immediately notice the running track that surrounds the seating bowl. This is perfect for young children who are unable to sit still through an entire hockey game or for those fans who feel the need to walk around during intermissions without the hassle of crowded concourses. The ice surface is Olympic-sized, which offers the Hawks a bit of a home ice advantage as not all OUA hockey facilities have the width of an Olympic ice surface. The seating bowl is simple and surrounds the north-south ice surface with 12 rows of plastic stadium seats. Above centre ice is a simple score clock and to either side are the championship banners of both the Golden Hawks men’s and women’s hockey teams and the banners of the Waterloo Siskins Junior B team, which date back to 1945. The single men’s banner shows Queen’s Cup victories as OUA champions in 1983, 1989 and 1990.

The north end of the arena features the original Memorial Arena sign from the old Waterloo Memorial Arena to go along with a historical plaque. The Waterloo Hockey Wall of Fame is right beneath the Memorial Arena sign. Local legends like Don Beaupre, Bill Goldsworthy, Ron Smith and Steven Rice are joined by Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Bauer and Father David Bauer. Former Laurier coach Wayne Gowing is also a member of the Wall of Fame and a banner commemorating his 25 years coaching the Hawks hangs at the north end also.

The gameday production is fairly simple. The expected music is played before the game and during breaks. The production is primarily student run. The on ice shootout happens during the first intermission and chuck-a-puck happens during the second intermission. The Laurier PA announcer, Chris Povey, has a massive voice and does a phenomenal job. Not much in the way of excess at Laurier.

Neighbourhood 4

The immediate neighbourhood around the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex is fairly residential. A short walk will provide access to some food and accommodation options, however, hopping in the car for an extremely short drive is what most will do. The closest food options are the Proof Kitchen and Lounge and Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar. Both are more on the upscale side and can be found on Erb St. W. However, a two minute drive will bring fans to Uptown Waterloo on King St. S., which includes a plethora of options. Famoso Pizzeria, Beertown Public House McCabe’s Irish Pub, The Huether, The Works and the new location for the Duke of Wellington are all excellent choices.

There are a number of other sporting options in the area for fans wishing to take in more options. Sun Life Financial Arena is shared with the Golden Hawks Women’s Hockey team and the Junior B, Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins. Laurier also fields other teams, including the football team, which plays at Knight-Newbrough Field and the basketball teams which play on campus at the Athletic Complex. The neighbouring rival Waterloo Warriors also play hockey at the Columbia IceField Arena, basketball at the Physical Activities Complex and football at Warrior Field. Fans can also head across town to Kitchener to take in the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium or the NBL Canada’s Kitchener-Waterloo Titans.

Waterloo Park can be found immediately on the opposite side of Father David Bauer Dr. Although many of the park’s features are closed for the winter months, there are plenty of walking trails available for a little exercise. The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery is also on Father David Bauer Drive. In Uptown Waterloo, Waterloo Square has an ice rink for skating in the winter months and a large gathering space is there also. For a little night life, The Jazz Room at the Heuther and the Duke of Wellington provides weekend live music.

Fans who wish to stay near the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex can choose the Delta by Marriott Waterloo, which is a short walk away.

Fans 2

Although the pandemic has kept students away from campus, the effect on Laurier Hockey attendance has been minimal. In 2021-2022, the Golden Hawks have continued to draw between 100 and 200 fans per game. With the removal of special events for the season, like the Battle of Waterloo, usually played at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, attendance figures have not received their usual bump. Getting students to Sun Life Financial Arena has consistently been a challenge since the venue is off campus. Combined with the fact that the venue is significantly oversized, Laurier does not overly benefit from a home ice advantage.

Access 5

Getting in and around the Sun Life Financial Arena is not very difficult. The Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex is located on Father David Bauer Drive, just off of Erb Street. This is significantly southwest of highway 85. If you are coming to a game from out of town, you will have to do a bit of driving through the city. Usually this is not a huge issue, but Waterloo is full of construction due to the new light-rail transit and can cause some travel issues.

Although there is no public transit that runs on Father David Bauer Drive, the Grand River Transit Authority does offer buses on both Erb Street and Westmount Road which encompass both ends of Father David Bauer Drive. The Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex is also nestled between the Waterloo Square and Laurier/Waterloo Park stops of the ION light rail system. A short would be necessary to get to either of these stops from the Rec Complex. Check out the GRT website for schedules and maps.

Construction continues at the Rec Complex to add different features. As a result, the main entrance may not be in service, however, the construction is not a huge hindrance to accessing the Rec Complex. The box office in the Rec Complex is in the main lobby. There are rarely lineups and there is plenty of room. Tickets are not sold at the top of the stairs entering the arena, so make sure you purchase your tickets before heading up to the seating bowl.

Getting around the arena is no problem at all considering the number of fans in attendance. The track is very spacious and washroom facilities are more than adequate for the number of fans at the games.

With the pandemic protocols in flux as the City of Waterloo and the Province of Ontario continue to make changes, it is important for fans to make sure they check the Laurier Golden Hawks website before heading to the game to be completely up to date on what is expected of fans.

Return on Investment 5

Taking in a hockey game at Sun Life Financial Arena is an extremely affordable endeavour. Adult tickets run for $10 a piece and students and seniors go for $7. Laurier students get in for a mere $2 and children under 12 are free. Parking on site is free and concessions, when available, are very affordable. The oversized arena for the crowds does take away from the atmosphere and Laurier not having that rabid fanbase can leave a bit of a flat experience, but the reality is that there are few things possible for less money. Even a movie at the theatre is more expensive. Laurier hockey is the perfect experience for young children. There is plenty of space to be able to spread out and the cost is so low that an early exit does not feel painful. The running track is the perfect outlet for kids with way too much energy and doesn’t disturb fans watching the game.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the maintaining of the heritage of the Waterloo Memorial Arena with the original sign still hanging.

An extra mark for the event being run by students, including the video production for streaming complete with play by play, colour analysis and camera work.

An extra mark for the family friendly nature and the perfect opportunity to introduce young children to spectator sports.

Final Thoughts

Laurier Golden Hawks hockey is a great way to spend an evening, offering high quality hockey action on the ice at an extremely affordable price. Hawkey live may not be the most well-known sporting endeavour, but it is well worth the time and money. It is a great way to spend an early Saturday night, leading right into what could be an excellent Waterloo night!

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

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