Coyotes fans – it’s here. The first home game of the season has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the first-ever NHL game at Mullett Arena.
Tired of jokes about other fan bases yet?
I think you are. You probably got there, about three seconds after the whole plan was announced. It definitely arrived as soon as we found out that the place was going to be called Mullet. Work in the front, party in the back, am I right? (Tumbleweed strikes.) Thanks, don’t forget to send a tip to your server.
And sure enough, you knew it was coming. It’s not an ideal situation, to politely describe. The Mullet Arena has a capacity of 5,000 people, which is ironic for what is supposed to be a major league venue. After decades of ring drama that this franchise can’t shake, this feels like the saddest chapter of them all. Even if it’s only temporary, isn’t that embarrassing?
Can. But here’s a secret some laughing fan base doesn’t want to talk about: You’re not alone. The Arizona Coyotes are far from the only franchise to play NHL hockey in an unusual setting. Sure, old school hockey fans love to talk about the greatness of the forum or the parks or wherever, and those buildings were really cool. But they’re not the whole story, and the NHL has a long history of playing hockey in unusual places under less than ideal conditions.
Fortunately, Stranger Things in the Ring are my kind of thing. So for today, let’s remember some of those buildings that hosted NHL hockey, and maybe even see how they stack up with the great Mullett.
Building: Ottawa Civic Center, home of Senators for the first four years of their existence.
The good: Unlike some skating rinks in Ottawa that I could mention, it was relatively easy to get to.
not good: It held about 10,500, but if you’re watching on TV, it probably looks like a full-size NHL arena. This is because it was built on the side of a football stadium, which meant that the roof was sloping. On the one hand, you had plenty of room to pack them up. But on the other hand, there were only a few classes. The whole thing was a very strange experience. Then again, so were senators in the early ’90s.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: Perhaps, just because it can accommodate twice as many fans. The name isn’t anything but a lot of fun, although “Civic Center” is the most Ottawa name you could come up with.
Here’s a look at the first game of the regular season, featuring wrestlers, snowboarders and a mysteriously recognizable young lady singing the anthem.
Building: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, home of the islanders from 2015 to 2020.
The good: Opened in 2012, this arena is by far the most modern arena on our list and certainly the best, assuming you’re looking for a place to watch a basketball game, a concert, or something other than hockey.
not good: Oh, do you want to watch hockey? Yes, that would be a problem. The building wasn’t designed for that, so fans who wanted to see the islanders had to put up with the obstructive views around the rink. And I don’t mean just an occasional prism that blocks your view – whole bits of ice that can’t be seen from certain seats.
My favorite part of the Barclays era was when their CEO was asked about all the obstructed viewing, and he patiently explained that fans could only “watch the game on your mobile device”. It’s an innovative solutions provider, that’s.
Also, there was an SUV parked in one corner for some reason and we kind of went with it.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: In general, sure, but for hockey, it may be soon. Put it this way, when the arena makes you think “You know, maybe we’d rather go back to Nassau Coliseum”, it’s not cool.
Building: Cow Palace, home of the San Jose Sharks from 1991 to 1993.
The good: Built in 1941, the stadium was still standing, in the strict technical sense, functional when it was asked to host NHL hockey half a century later.
not good: First of all, it was called The Cow Palace but there weren’t any cows walking around on the ice, and I feel like this is a case of setting unrealistically high expectations. Also, the actual rink was the wrong size and only seated 11,000 fans. But perhaps the best part of Cow Palace’s history is that the NHL considered the building too small and outdated for the Golden Seals in the ’70s, but seems to have changed their minds two decades later for the Sharks. A little tip for your kids out there: When something is deemed unworthy of being associated with the California gold seals, that’s a bad sign.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: I might call this a draw, although if they stuck with the original name – California Livestock Pavilion – it would definitely win.
Building: The Montreal Arena, home of the Montreal Wanderers and the Montreal Canadiens, two of the original four NHL teams in its inaugural season.
The good: After its opening in 1898, the arena was considered one of the world’s first major hockey rinks. It had already hosted the Stanley Cup, when the Habs won it there in 1916 during its pre-NHL Challenge Cup days. With a capacity of over 7,000, he had the honor of hosting the first game in NHL history in December 1917, and could also score the first goal in league history. Honestly, the arena was beautiful.
not good: A few days after that first match, the arena burned to the ground and the Wanderers were forced to withdraw.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: In short, yes. All in all, we’ll have to wait and see, but let’s check back in a few weeks and make sure Mullett is still there.
Building: The Springfield Civic Center, home of the Hartford Wailers for part of the 1979-80 season, was their first in the NHL after moving from the WHA.
The good: Its roof did not collapse. I know that sounds like a low bar, but it was more than we could say at the time for the Hartford Civic center, where the Wheelers were supposed to play.
not good: The rink wasn’t in Hartford or even in Connecticut, but under the circumstances, we probably couldn’t be more picky. The biggest problem was that the arena only held 7,627 fans, which wasn’t much even for Whalers.
Also, this was the building where Bret Hart lost the intercontinental title to The Mountie, which has nothing to do with the NHL but was still a miscarriage of justice to note.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: While it’s true that 7627 is still over 5,000, Bret Hart’s order pushes that into a tie.
Building: Frontier Towns Square in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
The good: We’re going back to 1926 for this one, and this rink was very nice for its time. It was only a few years old, and could hold about 9,000 fans. He was good enough for the NHL, and the rink hosted the first season of Detroit’s new entry into the league.
not good: Hey, the Red Wings just played their first season in…Canada?
Kind of, yeah. They weren’t the Red Wings yet—they were Cougars until 1930—but they didn’t have an NHL rink in Detroit. So they spent their first season across the river in Windsor while they waited for work on the Olympics to finish.
Incidentally, The Barn still exists today, although it no longer hosts hockey. And it looks like it’s trying to fit in with the national ice rinks earlier in the day, because it’s been on fire lately.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: See, Mullett may not be a perfect location, but at least it’s in the right country.
Building: Parking in Las Vegas. As abroad. When the temperature was 85 degrees.
The good: This only happened once, and even this was a pre-season game, so this wasn’t anyone’s full-time home. I mean, come on, hockey in Vegas? As if that would happen.
not good: Oh boy, where do you start? There was not enough space to build an arena of organizational size. They didn’t know how to make blue stripes with paint, so they used cloth, but then the ice melted because they tried to cover it with a heavy cloth. There were no dressing rooms, so the players had to change tents. And late in the game, there was an infestation of bugs, and those bugs got caught in the half-melt ice so players could hear the crunch skating on it.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: Did you read that last paragraph? That sounds great, I wish the Golden Knights would play in the parking lot every game.
Building: The Stampede Corral, home of the Calgary Flames from 1980 to 1983.
The good: First of all, “Stampede Corral” is a great name. It’s much better than the Saddledome, and it’s not a dome, so what are we doing here?
The Corral was the first home of the Flames in Calgary, after the franchise moved out of Atlanta in 1980. It did the job well enough, hosting the team for three seasons until Saddledome was ready.
not good: Its capacity was only 7,424. Wait, a building barely the size of an NHL in Canada? Listening to these guys, you might think that every skating rink in the country has a minimum of 30,000.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: Sorry Arizona, but the naming battle here is the biggest mismatch since Leafs vs. Coyotes. (I haven’t been able to watch that match yet, but I’m assuming the Leafs won in a blast.)
Building: A real prison.
The good: The 1954 Red Wings traveled to Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan to play an exhibition match against a team of inmates made up of assassins, bank robbers, and arsonists, which may have been good training for the team’s eventual move to Norris Division.
Oh, and the prison rink was outside, making it the first outdoor game in NHL history.
not good: This doesn’t really seem like a perfect way to feature stars like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, and Terry Sawchuk. But no one was hurt, even after Wings took an early 18-0 lead (at which point everyone agreed it was best to stop scoring). And it didn’t knock the Wings completely out of their game, as they went on to win the Stanley Cup for what would have been the third of four times in the 1950s.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: I will rely on “no” in this matter.
Building: Thunder dome. No, really, that’s what it was called. It was the home of the Lightning from 1993 to 1996, after they spent their inaugural season at Expo Hall, a converted livestock stand that could have its own place on this list.
The good: We enjoyed a lot of the rinks because of their tiny capacity, but that wasn’t an issue with the ThunderDome. After spending that first season at the Expo Hall, which could barely draw 10,000 fans, Lightning jumped at the chance to play in a bigger venue. They’ve got this and more at the dome, which has over 28,000 hockey venues. Lightning filled it at least a few nights, and he kept some attendance records until the outer age came. However, they still held the record for most fans in a playoff match.
The building still stands today, and has been renamed Tropicana Field and better known as the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
not good: Um, isn’t the Rays a baseball team? yes. yes they are. You see, long before games were made at Wrigley or Fenway, the NHL allowed one of its teams to spend three years playing on the baseball field.
Did you succeed? Not really, although not for lack of trying. The building was too big to look like an ice rink, so the atmosphere was enclosed. When she was full, she was impressive in her own unique way. When it wasn’t – and it usually was – it wasn’t much. Sight lines weren’t great, the audio was a mess, but the team bragged about the big, expensive scoreboard that helped.
All in all, ThunderDome didn’t function as an ice rink, and Lightning moved to the superior Amalie Arena in 1996.
Was it better than Mullet Arena?: Mullet might not be a great hockey rink, but at least it is he is hockey rink.
(Thunder Dome photo: Courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning)
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