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Molinari: New Arenas Lack Personality; Remembering Great Hockey Homes

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The Pittsburgh Penguins play their home games in one of the NHL’s nicest venues.

PPG Paints Arena has clean, wide, well-lighted concourses, as well as comfortable seats — with cup-holders, no less — and an enticing selection of food vendors for those with healthy appetites. (And bank accounts to match.)

It opened in 2010 and already has undergone significant renovations and upgrades, giving it all of the amenities a patron could reasonably expect.

But there is at least one thing the building lacks: The personality and quirks that used to be an integral part of just about every NHL arena.

Sometimes, those features were exceptional. (You might recall, for example, that the Penguins’ original home had a one-of-a-kind roof.)

Others were less spectacular, like the striking mix of green. white and gold seats at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn.

The point is, there was a time when every NHL rink had qualities that simply aren’t found in contemporary, cookie-cutter arenas.

If you saw chest-high boards, you knew you were at the Corral in Calgary. Same with being lost in the labyrinth (or so it seemed to occasional visitors) of ice-level corridors at the St. Louis Arena/Checkerdome.

And then there was the novel lighting at the Capital Centre in Landover. Md., where the playing surface was brightly illuminated but the seating area was so dark that it seemed to be designed for the benefit of bats, not ticket-buyers.

Almost everywhere, buildings were smaller than those in the current iteration of multi-purpose arenas, but consequently, they were more intimate. And often louder, presumably because of less-restrictive fire codes when they were constructed.

That all began to change in the mid-1990s, when venues like Boston’s Shawmut Center/FleetCenter (now TD Garden) and CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia opened.

That generation of arenas — and those that have followed — came with plenty of creature comforts, but precious little character, and there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.

That’s progress, sort of. It also is unfortunate. The game just seemed more intense, — maybe even more important — when it was contested in places the ones below.

Montreal Forum

Those who don’t believe in ghosts might have been tempted to rethink their feeling after visiting the Forum, because the presence of long-ago greats from the Canadiens’ past was almost palpable.

The seats were wooden and the corridors cramped and crowded, but the atmosphere was always charged — and even more so on Saturday nights. And there was an exotic quality to it all for Anglophone visitors, because French was the predominant, though not exclusive, language for conversations in the hallways and public-address announcements.

Which often were passing along details about another Canadiens goal. And might well have been followed by the arena organist pumping out a chorus of “Les Canadiens sont La.”

The Forum’s rafters were awash in banners celebrating the franchise’s 24 Stanley Cups and the legends like Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz and Maurice Richard, whose numbers had been retired after their runs in the bleu, blanc et rouge had ended. Indeed, Montreal’s locker room was so hallowed that it has been recreated at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hockey is — or, at least, it used to be — the unofficial religion of La Belle Province, and the Forum was, without question, the game’s foremost cathedral.

Chicago Stadium

It was known as “The Madhouse on Madison,” and that might have been an understatement.

The neighborhood around it was so dangerous at the time that security personnel would encourage reporters who stayed to write after the game to wait for a cab inside the building at Gate 3 1/2 rather than risk standing by the curb.

And things were almost as menacing for a lot of visiting teams.

The ice surface was undersized, which was legal in those days, and its ceiling was low, so crowd noise — and there was plenty of that — was amplified. Visiting players got a good workout before the game even began, because the locker rooms were located below ice level, which meant they had to climb a flight of stairs before every period.

The Stadium was the last NHL building to use an analog, dial-type timeclock, and any visit was sure to include several renditions of “Here Come the Hawks” on the arena’s massive pipe organ.

All of which made any time spent at Gate 3 1/2 a reasonable price to pay.

Boston Garden

Ken (The Rat) Linseman spent part of his career here, but he might not have been the largest rodent to spend time in the building along Causeway Street. Every now and then, one would be spotted that looked as if it might be waiting to be saddled.

The building’s most memorable feature was the parquet floor on which the Celtics played, but it had a few others that made life unpleasant for Bruins opponents.

The ice surface was shorter and more narrow than usual — a particular advantage for Boston during its Big, Bad Bruins days — and the visiting team’s locker room was tiny and lacked air-conditioning, which became an issue as the playoffs ran deeper into spring.

The press box was a favorite among many reporters because it afforded a superb perspective on the ice, but there was a catch: People sitting there had to navigate a low, short tunnel under the seats to reach it.

Because of the unmatched view, getting there was worth the trouble for them. Which was more than many visiting teams — including the Pittsburgh Penguins, for a lot of years — could say.

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Martin
Martin
1 month ago

At one point the Civic Arena was considered antiseptic and cookie cuttered compared to the old arenas. Later on as Mellon Arena it was considered n old time arena. Funny how perspectives change.

Chris R
Chris R
1 month ago

That applies everywhere, not just to arenas. With all the new development, U.S. cities have a ubiquitous look. Ideas are copied ad infinitum, and nothing arises organically anymore. It’s hard to mistake a luxury condo for anything other than what it is. It’s all so visually boring and sterile, and not particularly user-friendly, e.g., hostile architecture. This country’s been on a makeover kick across many venues for several decades.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Bigger isn’t always better. You were considerably closer to the ice in the upper levels. Actually F level hung over the goals and the view was great. Even though PPG holds more fans the walking area, especially in the upper bowlisas crowded as the Igloo was during intermissions. Lines for food are as long and the massive scoreboard is not so big in the upper bowl. Entry to the arena talked too long, and on and on. I for, one miss the Igloo, it was unique and should have been a landmark. The site still has not been repurposed.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

Wish there was an edit key. Typos are a killer

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
1 month ago

Don’t forget that at Boston Garden the team benches were across the ice from each other and the penalty box was right next to the Boston bench. Made it super easy for them to swap a player when a penalty ended.

Dorothy Tecklenburg
Dorothy Tecklenburg
1 month ago

I suggested to Penguins’ management that they create one wall where fans can write their hopes and dreams for the season. Fun to do, connects fans with arena and costs almost nothing. They said “hmmmmmm” and nothing else.

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Pens should have a hall of fame in PPG.

Dan N
Dan N
1 month ago

Dave how about the Hartford Civic Center …in the mall no less…classic…After Eddie Johnston became their GM he had my son and I up for a game…I just couldn’t believe the building…or the fact he traded Ron Francis Ulf Samuelson and Grant Jennings to us shortly thereafter…Great guy though

Dan N
Dan N
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Ya…I was being a littLe tongue in cheek…What was the name of the arena in Cleveland where the Barons played ? Great bar hamburger joint down the road..I think it was called Whiteys Westlight

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago

You forgot about the best of them, the old Hershey Park Arena that doubled as a fall out shelter during TMI. Walt Chamberlain made history in that building, it was practically home to Frank Matthews. Presidents held rallies and events like Eisenhower’s birthday. Completed in the mid 30s, it was one of the first rinks in Pennsylvania. No posts, no obstructed views. Still standing and used for college hockey and other events.
https://youtu.be/6Pf5ivWU-kk

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Frank Matthers…hate auto correct.

Dan N
Dan N
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Saw the great Mitch Lamareaux play his first game there…

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

I’m impressed you know who he was. Frank Mathers, Ron Francis, and Adam graves, are 3 of the most underrated players in my mind. I would definitely love to read an article on who you think are the most underrated players of all time. yari Currie and Gilmore who played for Canadians would make my list…

Alan Smith
1 month ago

Igloo was fine by me! Went to watch NHL hockey and that was always rewarding! Always bought a ticket outside from sales people! $20 bucks went a lot further than today does!

Reggie Dunlop
Reggie Dunlop
1 month ago

Totally agree. Maple Leaf Garden and the Olympia in Detroit are a couple of other venues that will never be duplicated. With the cost of tickets today, I wouldn’t expect that they’d ever cut back on “creature comforts”, but how about a game or two each season where they play NOTHING but organ music during breaks in play? Personally, I think the fans would love it.

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
1 month ago

Dave how about the AUD in Buffalo, right on the water. Many a freezing nite, but what a barn to watch a game!

Joe
Joe
1 month ago

The cold, musty, and dank smells have been replaced by relatively clean air. That’s what I always seem to notice most.

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago

The original Civic Arena ice surface was actually larger than all NHL rinks. I think it was 210 by 90. The team shrunk the size to league standards in the 70’s to put more glass area seating. BTW Montreal had seating near their bench while the patrons actually walked thru the bench area to get to seats.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

I still remember and sense the atmosphere of the Pirates Forbes Field when you walked into it. Remember going to Bat Day giveaway and never knowing what player’s Signature you were going to get and also sitting in the Bleachers for One Dollar in the late 60’s and seeing all the greats like Clemente Stargell and other teams players like Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax to name a few, Was lucky enough to sit in the dugout Pre-Game watching the players practice and sitting by Danny Murtaugh in 1970..Never will forget that day! Still have the photos of that day… Read more »