Thursday, 4 December 2008

Goodbye old girl

Tonight is the end of an era. 

Tonight is the last game for the Windsor Spitfires at the venerable old barn - The Windsor Arena, and I can't go. All I've wanted since the announced move to the new WFCU Centre on December 11 is tickets for just one more Spits game in one of the worst arenas ever built, and it happens tonight without me. With everything going on around here lately we just couldn't pull it together to run down there and get tickets for at least one final game, even though the place is only a couple of kilometres from here. 

I grew up going to the barn for games, the smells, the crowded concourse, the bad food at the concessions, cramped seats (when you could get one, most times we were relegated to the benches in the nosebleeds), dreadful acoustics, so on and so forth. The place was terrible, but the games were great! The arena only seats 4,400. It's small enough to watch a game in an intimate environment while at the same time big enough to feel like you're at a big time game. It was amazing as a kid there even if you had to look around the support beam you got stuck sitting behind! We chased the players down the corridors vying for their autographs behind the hoards of other kids. It became a game on some nights. I can't ever remember who's autographs I got all those years ago, but I can tell you that I was chasing Joel Quennville, now the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. I also grew up watching Keith Gretzky, Steve Ott, Marcel Pronovost, Jason Spezza, Cory Stillman, Jason Ward, Kyle Wellwood, Roland Melanson, Ed Jovanovski, and more. These guys are all my childhood, most of whom still have their careers in the NHL followed closely by my own children.

My son has sang the National anthem with his class at the barn, as well as taken a shot on net to win a prize. I still have the video of him at 5 years old, standing in the middle of the ice in a crowded arena lining up the puck on an empty net; the whole while the thousands in the stands yelling CLOSER! CLOSER! The team official kept shuffling him up until the crowd was satisfied he wouldn't miss. He did anyway, but it didn't matter, I don't know who was more pumped that day, my son or me. I was enjoying the moment and will always remember it. I wanted my kids to have the same childhood experiences of that old place that I did. Up to the last game we saw in the Spring they did. They even got the autographs of the teams current owners, all NHL alumni themselves.

We've been complaining about this decrepid old arena in this town for years. We have needed a replacement for years. I lost count the amount of times we have come close to replacement over a twenty year period. From the Western Super Anchor site, to the Jebb Proposal featuring Wayne Gretzky as a partner, and so on, and on and on. There have been so many. The underlying reason none ever came to fruition was the cost, nobody wanted to cough up the $20+ million or $30+ million to build it. Every proposal got more expensive until it seemed like it would never be. The barn, built in 1924 and long since inadequate, was here to stay. All that changed a couple of years ago when council finally decided enough was enough and signed the deal for a new 6,500 seat arena with an adjoining community centre featuring 2 standard rinks, a full gymnasium banquet hall, community meeting rooms, and so much more. A steal at a mere $65 million. (Pause for effect).

The city was finally at the point where the cost didn't matter. Just build the damn thing and get on with it. We needed the investment in our sports community. There was really nothing here in terms of training. No sports facility worthy of hosting major sporting events that could bring notoriety, prestige, and of course, money to Windsor. Hopefully the new WFCU Centre will do that.

What the new place can't bring, is the history of the barn. The memories, the smells and sounds, the intimate crowds, even that burnt out light in the rafters they never really got around to fixing. 

Tonight they will lower the banners and dim the lights on the Windsor Spitfires old home for the last time. Guests of honour will speak of fond memories and probably bore the crowd, who with all the pageantry, are really there to see a hockey game. The team will take to the ice for the last time at the old barn and given their number one standing in the OHL, will probably win. Next week they will start anew at a new home. Bigger, better, roomier, brighter, cleaner, more comfortable, more parking, just plain and simple a better facility. But none of that matters. Die hard fans follow the team anywhere; new or old they follow the players. But there are many of us who will not take well to the changes. The price of progress. We need this. 

But the food will still suck.


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