Ontario Hockey League: Plymouth's Compuware Arena

Plymouth, Michigan (Map)

Winter 2014


I decided against giving my mom yet another ceramic angel or tree ornament for Christmas this year. Especially with living away from home, the gift of time seems more important than another 'thing' for the house. I miss my folks & it seems like they miss me too, so I set aside a day for us to head over to Michigan.

Once on our way, I found it funny that a day spent like this would be much more normal if I had a girlfriend and/or wife and kids. Being single for the past 5 years in Corner Brook0, there's a feeling of a shrinking family and being outcasts versus the normal families. Then again, my family is in this situation partly because I choose not to be in a relationship in Corner Brook.

These feelings of strangeness in spending time with family needed to be ignored. I'm valuing and savoring family more as I get older. The fact is I know plenty of people who'd love for a parent to still be around for a similar afternoon.

0 - There was one girl I hung out with 4 or 5 times & watched game shows/football.
I consider it a relationship after you discuss "what you have together",
but if you have a number of hang outs as a benchmark, well there ya go.

With my love for travel & covering large distances, I initially threw out a much bigger trip than what 90% of people would want to tackle. After lobbying for Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne or Toledo, we settled on Plymouth mostly because of the instability of wintertime skies. Plymouth, a town about halfway to Ann Arbor from Detroit, is home to the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers.

The only other time I had been to Plymouth was when U.J. had to pick up last minute items before our Route 66 trip, and that was only to her house on the outskirts of town. Today we'd drive right down a boulevard of stately old homes; changing my vision of sprawl & suburbia that I thought was the entirety of Plymouth. The town square also varied from what I had pictured, where everything was more like Texas, where sure there's the awful plazas and big box stores by the highway, but there's still a charming town square as well.

I have to say I like the rugged town squares of Texas better though, as the Plymouth downtown felt so wholesome that it was like being in some heartwarming, family-oriented movie on The WB.

I only had a few minutes to run around Kellogg Square, so I hurried over and snapped a picture of the Wilcox House, saving the Panera Bread in its glorified suburban townhouse for next time.

I'd cut through the square with its Christmas trees and snowflake lights, also passing on taking a picture of tonight's restaurant. It was neat to be down here in the epicenter of Plymouth and I had picked out Box Bar & Grill for that reason, but a somewhat recent renovation left a brick with bland cornice front that looked like it belonged back in any of the countless plazas along the highway out here. I almost confused our restaurant for an Applebee's, but Applebee's have more exterior architectural flare than the Box Bar.

I have to give the Box Bar some credit for saving their old neon sign and putting it at the bar, but that's about it. The interior was nice, the beer selection was good & the food was fine.

The Plymouth Whalers play hockey 3.4 miles away from downtown Plymouth out at the Compuware Arena on the other side of M-14.

It would seem that the same guy who designed the Box Bar exterior and Panera building, must've also designed the bland Compuware Arena. There was one thing I liked & that was the strange bridge from the parking lot to the rink. Trying to take a passable picture using the edge of the walkway, I looked down to see thick bushes and a marshy area. And apparently if I would have looked over the other side, I would have found a pond as well. It being January, the area looked especially odd & barren, this dead & forgotten space somehow included in the plans of a modern arena.

Wondering why they would have built a pond in 1996 when rushing to build Compuware, I see from a 1973 aerial image that the pond has always been there! Well then.

As I mentioned, the Compuware Arena was built for the Whalers, after their 1995-96 season ended. By then, they had enough of splitting their home games between the tiny, neighborhood Oak Park Ice Arena & the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The lobby felt like most other lobbies of this age, with bland colours and enough space for everyone to move freely. The only difference in this arena was the presence of a large sports bar directly to my right, which many reviewers say to be the only decent place to eat near the arena if you don't want Ruby Tuesdays or McDonald's.

We actually went into the sports bar because the Czech World Juniors were being played and I was dying for an update on the score. It's here that I learned everyone must know this sports bar as the place to frequent before the game, because not only were we not getting a seat, it was hard to even walk around amongst the throngs of people. And because it was so packed, we stood there and watched some of the game. (I was ready to check the score and leave, but Mom said, "watch the rest of the period, they're too busy to notice.")

Another thing I can give the Box Bar is that they were fast. Even with stopping at a grocery store and also at the arena sports bar, we were still really early for the game. We were actually so early that some of the Saginaw Spirit were playing soccer in the wide concourses of Compuware.

While wide concourses make you feel like you're in a CostCo instead of a hockey arena, at least they let you pass by Dylan Sadowy and friends playing some futbol, I guess.

(I don't know if it was actually Dylan Sadowy, I don't pay enough attention to the Saginaw Spirit to know their players in street clothes.)

Plymouth used to come up a lot during road trip discussions because of how close it is to home & how the Whalers always seemed to be playing around Christmas/New Year's. This would lead to Roachie scoffing and telling his favourite story about how he got suite tickets here & how the suite had a swinging, screen door like you would find on a cabin in northern Wisconsin. The only redeeming feature for him was the discount jerseys they offered & that being the reason he now cherishes a beloved Tyler Seguin Plymouth Whalers' jersey in his closet.

(You can see 2 of the 4 suites in the above picture. They're the two square structures above the players' benches.)

I have to admit that the Whalers jerseys are pretty nifty, but visiting the pro shop I wondered why I'd spend the money here when I should have spent it in Chicoutimi (if anywhere). Instead, I mostly gawked at this Sidney Crosby Rimouski Oceanic jersey, which Plymouth had hanging from the pro shop ceiling for some inexplicable reason. I laughed at the thought of how amused my friend Steve1 would be in this spot.

1 - Steve loves Crosby.

Saginaw ended up destroying Plymouth, taking the crowd out of the game and making for a quiet experience where the fans couldn't bring much atmosphere to Compuware.

The two of us couldn't even really get into the game because the seats were unacceptably close to the persons ahead of us. Where nowadays I'll go out of my way for an aisle seat to manspread out in comfort, I don't know what I would have done otherwise. Even sitting up as straight as possible, there was still a pressure on my shins as they squeezed into the back of the seat in front of me. This is something I expected at Fenway, but at an arena built in 1996?

I guess it's not something I have to worry about anymore. After the 2014-15 season, the Plymouth Whalers were finally sold after many rumour-filled years. The new owner moved the team up to Flint to become the Firebirds. Compuware Arena would be bought in 2015 by the US Hockey Foundation to host tournaments and the National Development Team.

Regardless, if I was going to resign myself to watching hockey in a modern shell, I'd now go to LaSalle or Leamington and at least have a comfortable seat.

In the end, I thought it was a nice way to spend a Christmastime Monday that I would otherwise have spent lounging about. In fact, there was a similar trip during Christmas 2015 & I wholeheartedly plan on another for Christmas 2016.


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< Older Update:
Detroit Winter Days 2014: Hosmer Branch, 7th Precinct, Scripps Carriage House, Dome House


Newer Update: Saginaw &
Central Michigan Wandering Part 1

1 - USA Hockey Arena - Wikipedia
2 - Plymouth Whalers - OHL Arena Guide

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