Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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Top 10 NHL Arenas
Posted Aug 18, 2008 by Erik Erlendsson
Updated Aug 18, 2008 at 12:13 PM
Another Happy Monday to everybody, and happy first day of school to those either teaching or sending their kids to school for the first day. Myself, I had three stop-offs this morning, two to elementary, one to middle school (YIKES) and one to his first day of preschool. It went pretty smoothly, with the exception of the car rider line at middle school, what a mess that was. Took me about 15-20 minutes to travel about 1/4 mile. Guess that’s a combination of the mess with the new bus system and the first day of school. I sure hope that gets better in the next few days!!!
Speaking of getting better, please, everybody make whatever preparations you need to ensure that you stay safe in the next 48 hours with Tropical Storm/Hurricane Fay bearing down on the state. I remember in 2004 when Hurricane Charley was supposed to hit the Tampa Bay area as a minimal hurricane, but blew up before taking a hard right hit the Port Charlotte area. Please, don’t take this lightly and make sure you prepared for the worst while we all hope for the best. Make sure to stay in touch with TBO.com for updates and path projections.
Now, on to my top arenas in the NHL. I look for not only the building itself and how it looks and feels, but the atmosphere inside and out. I’ll even take into account the press box situation (it’s my list and I’m allowed to be a little selfish in my thinking) as it affects how I do my job. Please remember, this is just my opinion. This is not to put down any other city or fan base. I’m not here to pick on anybody, but merely to help you guys pass some of the dog days of August (otherwise knows as the dead days of hockey) to help spark some conversation. I’ll try to be a bit less geographically challenged on this list - hey, at least I knew Lake Louise was a two-hour drive, I just didn’t bring my compass when I drove there in 2004
Here’s my list:
10 Columbus (Nationwide Arena) - Right about now, you’re probably thinking I’m being geographically challenged again, after all, how can an arena in Columbus make a top 10 list? Well, like I said earlier, it’s my list and my opinion and I like Columbus. I’ve only been there a couple of times, including the 2007 draft, but I just like the way it feels. It’s a bit different on the inside, which gives it a touch of uniqueness. The team’s practice rink is housed inside the same building, which is a plus for the Blue Jackets. The fans there, I think, are underrated. For the three games I’ve been there for, the building has been alive, even last year when a blizzard all but shut down the city. Outside there is some good nightlife right next to the arena and makes it more than just a game night for the fans. Nationwide Arena might have ended up higher on my list had it not been for that ear piercing cannon used last year each time the Jackets scored a goal. Can we please just stick with the red light and horn when the home team scores?
9 Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh - Call me crazy (and many have, especially those I live with) but I love this building. It has such great character and the bubble top certainly gives it a unique feel not found in any other buidling in the league. Sure, it’s old, has very little luxury boxes and the bubble roof does give it a bit too much of a spacious feel and that’s a big reason they broke ground this month on their new arena. But I still like this building. The fans are great, especially the past two years when the Penguins broke through to become a playoff team again with Sidney Crosby. And who doesn’t think of the movie Sudden Death when looking at the roof of Mellon? OK, not that many, but the fact a movie was filmed there just adds to the character. Press box situation is the greatest and it’s a task to walk through the crowd to the locker room area after a game, but not even that takes away from my feel for this building.
8 HP Pavilion, San Jose - If I had spent more time covering games here, it might be higher on the list. But you can see it on television, especially during the playoffs, how electric the building gets with a full house. The crowd just always seems to buzz during a game here and there is an intimate feel, which is tough to do with all the spacious arenas in the league.
7 GM Place, Vancouver - There’s nothing that really jumps out about the home of the Canucks, but there’s nothing bad about it, either. What makes the experience here memorable is the crowd. While all crowds in Canadian buildings are passionate, the fans at GM Place are behind only Montreal when it comes to making their presence felt when the team is doing well. And there are quiet times when you can tell, they are watching the game and not there just to be seen.
6 St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa - Sure, you can accuse me of a little bias on this one, but in terms of atmosphere inside, it’s got to be up near the top of non-Canadian buildings. When the crowd gets going, this is one of the loudest arenas in the league even though it’s one of the largest in the league. I still recall the game during the 2003 season when the Lightning came back from a 3-0 deficit against Colorado, the noise after Fredrik Modin’s winner gave me chills!!!! Now, if they could just do away with so many thunder stick giveaways and let the fans create the noise, it would be even better.
5 Saddledome, Calgary - While the horseshoe shape and rickety, overhanging pressbox make it look like it was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics. But the atmosphere inside is what makes this a great place to watch a game. Sure, it’s a Canadian city and we all now how passionate Canadian fans are when it comes to hockey, but walking around the outside of the building during the 2004 Stanley Cup final was a treat. Looking around and seeing all the red jerseys just adds to it all. The only drawback is sitting up in the press box, which literally hangs over the ice, with the pair of flame throwers that burts out everytime the Flames score. You can actually feel the heat from the press seating area. Fortunately, I wasn’t covering the game back in the day when Calgary put a 10-spot on the board.
4 Madison Square Garden, New York - I debated with myself where I should put MSG, or if I should put MSG on my list. But the history of the building, the end zone press seating (which can be a hinderance when action is at the opposite end) and the passion elicited from the fans forced me to rank it in the top 10. I love the “Whoa, Ohh, Ohh, Ohhhhhhhh’’ after the Rangers score a goal and I love how the Rangers stand at center ice and salute the crowd with their sticks after every game. Sure, you can always smell the elephants from the circus no matter the time of year and the ice surface is normally one of the worst in the league, but there just seems to be something special about seeing a game here. Throw in the fact it’s only a 10 block walk (and about five Starbuck’s locations) from Times Square, and MSG ranks high on the list.
3 Rexall Place, Edmonton - This building might be in need of an upgrade or two, but I think it’s the most intimate setting in the league. The fans look and feel like they are right on top of the ice and they make their presence felt. Though I wasn’t there during the 2005 final, hearing the crowd singing the Canadian national anthem gave me chills. The press box, although a hike to get to, is another one of the Canadian gondolas that hangs over the ice, giving a great view of the action. And I love how the home team walks past the fans underneath to get to the locker room.
2 Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota - There’s nothing bad about this buidling. In fact, there is plenty to like. From the internal design, the standing room only areas, the concourse and the press box area - all top notch. As you walk through the front gates, it opens into a spacious concourse with the jerseys of the high school teams resting on the walls, which is a nice touch that shows the history of hockey in Minnesota. The fans, as would be expected, are tremendous and show a lot of support for the team from the opening faceoff to the end of the game. It’s just a fun atmosphere to watch.
1 Bell Centre, Montreal - There’s really no competition when it comes to this list. Montreal is the place to be, from the buzz around the building before the game, the pregame show with the images on the ice, the music, the fans - it just doesn’t get any better. You really feel the game when you watch the Canadiens’ play as the crowd just seems to be an extension of the players on the ice, reacting to everything and anything that takes place during the game. And the press box is tops in the league, again a gondola that hangs over the ice giving just a great view of the action. If you ever get the chance to catch a game at the Bell Centre (easier said then done) you need to experience it. The second round playoffs in 2004 was perhaps the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.
So there you have my top 10 list of the best areans in the league.
Among those I’m not crazy about -
National Car Rental Center (is it still called that?) too many names, too many bad nights here
TD Banknorth Garden - it just has a feel of a buidling that is much older than it really is
Joe Louis Arena - I appreciate the history, I do, but like Boston, the arena just has the feel like it’s older than the Olympia
Ottawa - it’s a nice arena and good atmosphere, but why is it so far out of town? It’s like having the Lightning play out in Lakeland!