- Dave Cottenie
WFCU Centre - Windsor Spitfires
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
WFCU Centre 8787 McHugh St Windsor, ON N8S 0A1
Year Opened: 2008
Tragedy To Triumph
The Windsor Spitfires have endured more than their share of tragedy over their existence. From the 2005 hazing incident which threatened to tear down the entire team to the 2008 death of captain and local hockey hero Mickey Renaud, the Spitfires have repeatedly been forced to deal with adversity. The fortunes of the Spitfires would turn the corner in 2009 when Windsor would win their first ever Memorial Cup. The Spitfires would do the near unthinkable and win a second consecutive Memorial Cup in 2010. The 2017 season sees the Spitfires making a return to the Canadian Hockey League championship tournament as Windsor will host the 2017 Memorial Cup, their first in the city.
Upon their establishment in the OHA in 1975, 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, their ultimate triumph to their previous tragedy.
Food & Beverage 4
Concessions at the WFCU Centre have improved significantly over the years. At multiple concession stands the expected items are available. Popcorn ($5.50/$6), hot dogs ($5), chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, fries, poutine, sausage and wraps are available. There are also temporary carts around the concourses that offer a couple of different options. Armando’s Pizza is available ($6) as are Cin City Donuts, lemonade, crepes and gelato.
Soft drink options are Pepsi products ($4.25/$4.75) as well as bottled water, coffee, hot chocolate and Gatorade. There are a number of different beers available in draft and cans ($6.50/$9). Heineken, OV, Coors Banquet, Coors Light and Molson Canadian are also available. For a local option, the Frank Brewing Co. has both Bombshell and Old Comrade available and are brewed in nearby Tecumseh. For an alternate perspective, the Crown Royal lounge is quite stunning and offers a full bar experience.
The WFCU offers a solid atmosphere for junior hockey. The WFCU seems like a hulking structure from the outside, mostly due to there not being much in the neighbouring area. The exterior is pleasing with greys and beiges as part of the neutral colour scheme. The exterior is highlighted by a few Inukshuks in the roundabout where fans are often dropped off at the door.
The concourses at the WFCU are inviting with a few items of interest. The death of Mickey Renaud is memorialized throughout the building, but the most intimate is the display encased in glass containing some of his possessions and pictures of Mickey, specifically in his Calgary Flames jersey. The concourses are also neutrally coloured. Among the expected advertising and concession stands, fans will notice the large newspaper page reproductions memorializing the great moments in Spitfires history, most notably the two Memorial Cup Championships the team won.
Inside the seating bowl, fans’ attention will be drawn to the numerous honoured members of the Spitfires family. These players are honoured on banners that hang above the south side of the arena. Ryan Ellis, Adam Graves, Bill Bowler, Ernie Godden, Adam Henrique, Steve Ott, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Miller, Marcel Pronovost, Gordon Haidy, Joel Quenneville and of course Mickey Renaud are all honoured with nice banners which include player pictures. It won’t be long until Spitfires alum Taylor Hall joins the twelve members already honoured. The north side of the arena features 11 division, conference, and league championship banners. The highlights of course are the 1988, 2009, and 2010 J. Ross Robertson Championship banners as OHL champions and the 2009 and 2010 Memorial Cup banners as Canadian Hockey League champions.
High above centre ice is an octagonal video scoreboard which is more than adequate for this league. The north side of the arena is where to get the perfect picture of the centre ice logo. The seating bowl is a single level along the east-west oriented ice surface. Maroon, plastic, standard arena seats are found throughout and the east end of the arena seating is much higher than the other three sides. The west end of the arena features restaurant seating.
The game day production at a Spitfires game is about what you would expect from an OHL experience. The Spitfires’ mascot, Bomber, makes his way throughout the crowd and interacts with fans. The Spitfires are prone to using mash-up music during the pre-game.
The WFCU Centre is located in the Riverside neighbourhood of Windsor, east of downtown. There is nothing really in the immediate area save for parking options. There are a couple of pre or post game meal options that are not too far that fans may want to consider. These would include Smoke & Spice Southern BBQ, Michigan Diner, Just Your Average Joe’s Sports Bar and John Max Sports.
Other items of interest in Windsor for fans may include the Tecumseh Mall, which is not too far and is near many of the above eating establishments. Caesars Windsor may also be a spot to hit. As far as sports options, Windsor is also home to the Windsor Express of the NBL Canada and the Windsor Lancers field teams in U-Sports, including football, basketball and hockey. However, the best sporting options are probably to hop the border to Detroit and catch some Tigers baseball at Comerica Park, Lions football at Ford Field or Red Wings hockey at Little Caesars Arena.
Lodging accommodation locations near the WFCU Centre are few. With a little bit of a drive, fans can try the Comfort Suites downtown.
Attendance figures for the Windsor Spitfires took a significant spike when the WFCU Centre opened, which happened to coincide with the best years on the ice in Windsor Spitfires history. Since then, the Spitfires have held steady with the fourth best attendance in the OHL. Attendance figures have been trending down for the few years, but the 2017 season has seen a bit of a spike, which is to be expected with the Spitfires hosting the Memorial Cup. Fans who are in attendance at the WFCU Centre are fairly quiet and reserved throughout the game. When the Spits do something big, however, the fans will respond in kind.
Getting to the WFCU Centre is not overly difficult. Located north of the E.C. Row Highway, getting to the WFCU Centre will require a bit of travel through the city. As with any sporting experience, ensuring sufficient time to get to the arena is a good idea, especially with regards to those city streets. There are over 1,800 free parking spots at the arena for fans to use, another good reason to get there earlier than later.
For those wishing to take public transit to the arena, there is public transit all along Tecumseh right up to the arena along Memorial Cup way. Check the Transit Windsor website for maps, fares and schedules. Also available, is a shuttle from Tecumseh Mall which operates for game days and is free.
The ticketing window is at the front of the building where the roundabout is and lines are not a huge issue. The gates open 60 to 90 minutes before the opening face off.
Getting around the WFCU Centre usually isn’t an issue. The corridors can be cramped during intermission times or just before the opening face off. Also, the WFCU Centre does not allow for 360 degree access. Washroom facilities are adequate for the size of the arena.
Return on Investment 5
The Windsor Spitfires have done a great job in improving the return on investment at the WFCU Centre. Unlike most Canadian Hockey League experiences, the Windsor Spitfires offer a number of price points for ticket sales. Tickets can be purchased for $30, $25, $20, $18 or $14 giving the consumer the ability to choose their price level, comfort level and view. Most Canadian Hockey League facilities offer one price point and that’s all. This range gives the Spitfires both the top end of the league and bottom end of the league as far as ticket pricing goes. Combine the ability of getting a very affordable ticket with concession prices that are not ridiculous and free parking and fans are offered an affordable, family experience. Add to that the high quality of OHL hockey and the product is an extremely attractive return on investment.
An extra mark for one of the best team names in all of sports.
An extra mark for the excellent job that the Spitfires and the City of Windsor have done in memorializing Mickey Renaud.
An extra mark for significant changes the Spitfires have made to the pricing structure of tickets.
The Windsor Spitfires offer a story of triumph to go with their story of tragedy. It is amazing to see how this organization has grown from being one of the also-ran teams in the OHL, playing out of a charming, but truthfully substandard facility to moving into a great facility and hosting the Memorial Cup Tournament. A trip to Detroit should give fans pause to consider heading across the river to check out some real Canadian hockey at the WFCU Centre.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.