First Visit: February 3, 2023
CHL Arena: 70
WHL Arena: 14
This website, or at least the original one of the three I run, was originally conceived as a travel guide to the OHL. I thought that there was a need for a one-stop shop for directions, ticket prices, photography and writeups about going to road games, so as one did back in those early days of the internet, I made such a website and put it online. In the original 2003 guise of the site, I tried to write as dispassionately as possible, like a Fodor's guidebook. As I finished the OHL all 20 and then did the same 20 again and again, I started losing interest, and by 2009 or so the original, phase one of the site had more or less ended. I had no interest in spending weekends and money going back to Barrie or Kingston over and over and over again just to change a few sentences here and there about some team buying a new video board, and for several years it looked like this site was going to eventually disappear like so many Geocities blogs.
I got back into junior hockey again in a big way in 2016 after spending the 2009-16 years prioritizing getting a significant chunk of the NHL done, and I started thinking about going to games more as one-off experiences than as a means of maintaining an ongoing travel guide. I was travelling farther than ever, seeing games in every province in Canada, and gradually working towards the goal or all sixty CHL rinks. As such, these pages gradually shifted to become more and more personalized, with arena reviews containing my own musings and stories, rather than trying to write like a robot. But the thing about the way this site's goal has shifted is that when you're flying into a new place and only going to one game there, as opposed to trying to keep it current, it skews your perspective somewhat. You never quite know what you're going to get, and one game is a really poor sample size for judging a team, an arena, and a city.
So when I say I had a blast in Lethbridge and it instantly became one of my favourite rinks in the CHL, I do mean it, even if I acknowledge that I saw a rare Hurricanes sellout against Connor Bedard's Regina Pats, and a great, close game to boot. Am I favouring Lethbridge because I saw the game of the season there, or because it's a great barn, or both? I genuinely don't know, but I had a wonderful time at the Enmax Centre in February 2023, and this is my website, and if I call the Hurricanes' arena one of the best in the CHL, it's because I truly believe that it is.
Enmax Centre opened in 1974 as the Canada Games Sportsplex in the south end of the city. It's surrounded by parking lots and a big box development, and parking appeared to cost money, though we stayed at a hotel within walking distance and went on foot to the game. The arena itself has a big, modern new lobby on the front of it, much like buildings of similar age in Prince Albert, Owen Sound and Rimouski, but if you go off to the side a little, the original concrete brutalist facade still exists on the flanks.
Once inside the arena, the new lobby surprisingly isn't particularly well laid-out, with a lot of what feels like wasted space, but from there the building opens into the concourse. Lethbridge has the best concourse in the entire CHL. The arena is on two levels in a U-shape, with the concourse halfway up, but unlike nearly every other one in hockey, Lethbridge's is completely open. Getting to one's seats, there's no ceiling overhead apart from that of the arena itself fifty feet up - the concourse sits behind the lower bowl and in front of the upper one, so views from there are terrific. I had tickets in the first row of the upper deck, and I can also vouch for those seats being excellent as well - high but still close and on top of the action.
The twin U's are flanked on both sides by private suites and the press box, and there is a restaurant and party space behind the one net. At the top of the U is, essentially, wasted space - the building has curtains hanging in that end and another party space as well as a video board, but should demand warrant, there wouldn't be any reason they couldn't install seating there in the same way that North Bay and Belleville have done.
Lethbridge does a lot of little things well, too. I thought music and sound system volume was close to perfect, and I enjoyed how the team uses twin video boards (one at centre and a long, narrow one in the ends) to great effect. My only real complaints about the building, like washroom lines, were probably a product of the sellout crowd, and I don't believe they'd be much of an issue with more normal Hurricane crowds present.
The pre and post-war generation of arenas in the WHL have all disappeared. While a few former such buildings remain standing while not in current major junior use, the Dub is the league of the three in the CHL that embraced new construction early and often. I've really enjoyed seeing games at that older generation of arena in the O and the Q, but by Dub standards, Lethbridge's middle-aged 70's rink is one of the oldest in the league. Other buildings of that age have their strengths and weaknesses, but thanks to careful maintenance and thoughtful upgrades, the Enmax Centre does a lot of the new building things really well while also having character, atmosphere and intimacy. I very much enjoyed my visit there, and even if it was a particularly good one-off game to go to, well, I had a great time nonetheless.