Friday, November 18, 2005


HOCKEY FRIDAY, featuring....

print of Olympia Stadium by Daniel John Campbell


As the mood strikes me the next few weeks, I'll be talking about great hockey venues, including the old buildings of the original 6. Today we start with the temple where I spent many a night worshipping as a youth.

The Olympia Stadium in Detroit first opened in 1925, and remained the home of the Red Wings until 1979. It was a red brick building affectionately called the "Old Red Barn". Situated on the corner of Grand River Ave. and Grand Blvd., it was a stately building with a very warm, inviting look, especially at night, when the city lights gave the red brick a soft glow. The building had two decks, plus a mezzanine at one end. The mezzanine was my favorite place to view a game. You could really see the play unfolding from up there. And the acoustics of the building were such that the voices in the mezzanine could be heard over the din of the rest of the building. And the din!

Ask any oldtimer the biggest difference between the old arenas and the modern ones, and the first thing they'll talk about is the volume. The old arenas were LOUD. And among the original 6 temples, only Chicago Stadium rivaled the barn on the boulevard for decibel levels verging on torturous. Joe Louis Arena, the Wings current home, has the reputation of being among the leagues loudest arenas, and trust me, it is not close to the Olympia. The first game I saw at the Joe was a New Years eve game against the Blackhawks around 1983. The first thing my Dad commented on was how quiet it was. Which amazed my then 6 year old son Sean, who thought it was the loudest place he'd ever been.

My memories of the Olympia are numerous and grand. The legendary Canadians tough guy John Ferguson backing down from a fight with Gordie Howe. The fluid, almost mesmerizing skating of Delvechio and Gadsby. The unbelievably loud crack made when Bobby Hull launched a slap shot. The acrobatics of Sawchuk and Crozier. But my very best memory came during the 1966 Old Timers game. These games benefited (and still do) Wings Charities. That particular year, the Old Timers, plus Howe, Delvechio, Gadsby and Sawchuk, played the rest of the Red Wings. My mom was in management at Michigan Bell, and she got tickets through their travel agency right behind the Old Timers bench. She had always been a huge Ted Lindsay fan, and in an effort to get his attention so she could get his autograph, she reached under the glass partition with her leg and kinda nudged him. Lindsey got this incredulous look on his face, turned to Bob Goldham, and said "that lady KICKED me"! The look on Lindsey's face caused Goldham to bust out laughing. He turned to me, took my program, and got it signed by everyone on the team. Nine Hall of Famers: Gordie Howe, Alex Delvechio, Terry Sawchuck, Bill Gadsby. Ted Lindsey, Sid Abel, Bob Goldham, Bill Quakenbush, Black Jack Stewert. Unfortunately, the program was destroyed in a flood in 1986. It would probably be worth thousands now. But the memory of the look on Lindsey's face... Priceless!

Last week, I was properly castigated by an anonymous reader for not mentioning the Ottawa Senators. In my defense, I mentioned that before the season started, I had picked Ottawa to reach the Stanley cup finals (only to lose to Calgary). But it is becoming increasingly clear, to me at least, that Ottawa is the class of the league, and should be favored to win it all, with one caveat. That Dominic Hasek stays healthy. The last several years, the Senators have been a goaltender away from being a serious Cup contender. Now they have one of the best in the history of hockey, and who, so far, appears still capable of playing with the elite. Ottawa has been dominating teams with there offense, and surprise, surprise,, playing very solid D. And they are getting great leadership from their Captain, Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson is beginning to remind me of Steve Yzerman; quiet, steady, determined, leading by example. No one on the team will out work him. Willing to backcheck and do the grunt work, while challenging for the league scoring lead. The Sens appear to have matured into a team ready to take the Cup. They are my pick at this juncture of the season!

HOT: Ilya Kovalchuk, 6 goals in the last week.
HOTTER: Calgary 8-1-1 , Ottawa 8-2 in last 10 games
HOTTEST: The "Canes continue to roll, 9-1 in their last 10
COLD: Detroit Red Wings, lose 3 in a row, including debacle in Edmonton last night. They give up 4 straight goals in the third to cough up a 3-1 lead, then score 2 late to tie, only to lose in OT.
COLDER: Kris Draper, 0 goals, 0 assists, -1 in last 5 games.
COLDEST: Florida Panthers 1-9 in last 10 games.
DESPERATE: Columbus Blue Jackets trade for Sergei Federov, then waive Todd Marchant to make room under cap to pay him. Without injured Rick Nash, Jackets are in trouble. Yet, somehow, attendance is still holding up.

DID YOU KNOW? The largest crowd ever to see a hockey game was last years outdoor game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Over 76.000 fans were in attendance! And Minnesota has the nerve to call itself the State of Hockey. Guess that makes Michigan the Center of the Hockey Universe!

Not all the best places to watch hockey are in the NHL. Some are, for sure, but there are also some great minor league and college venues. Here are some of the best:

10. MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton MI - Home of the Michigan Tech Huskies, it is said to have as good an ice surface as to be found in North America. Hard ice surface insures great, fast skating games.

9. War Memorial Coliseum, Ft. Wayne IN - home of the Ft. Wayne Komets of the UHL, The Coliseum was originally built in the early 50's for the NBA's Pistons, who a couple of years later bolted for Detroit. The arena originally held about 7,000 for hockey, with probably 1,000 being obstructed view. I first went to a Komets game way back in the early 70's, but hadn't been to a game there in about 10 years. So imagine my amazement when we returned last year for the Michigan/Notre Dame hockey game. Talk about an amazing remodeling job! All the old post seats are gone. They raised the roof and added a whole second deck. You enter through a beautiful glass atrium very similar to the Palace of Auburn Hills (ironically, home of the Detroit Pistons). The place now holds about 10,000 for hockey. It's loud, proud, and just a great venue. And the brats are great!

8. Mathews Arena, Boston MA- Home of the Northeastern University Huskies, it is said to have an ambiance like no other rink in America. Built in 1909, it has the charm of another era. Coaches love the feeling of history you get there, players and fans love the intimacy.

7. Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI - Home of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, it is another old stadium that has gone under an amazing makeover. It is very similar to the Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, but in one of America's best downtowns.

6. United Center, Chicago, IL - Great sight lines, comfortable seats. Not near the ambiance of the old Chicago Stadium, but built on the same great site, close to all the fabulous dining and nightlife of Chicago. Too bad the hockey team has a dinosaur for an owner and a consistently bad team. Cause it's a great place to see a game!

5. Marriuci Center, Minneapolis, MN - Home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Beautiful building, fabulous sight lines, and an Olympic sized ice surface. A number of the newer NHL arenas have been modeled after this one. Seats 9,700, always a sell out.

4. Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI - One of the first of the modern hockey palaces, and still one of the best. Great view from every seat in the house. Great location with fabulous view of the Detroit River and the Windsor, ONT skyline! Quick hop to fabulous Greektown, or run over to Corketown and have a cheeseburger at Nemo's or the legendary Hoot Robinsons.

3. Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH - The best arena in the NHL! We had a ball when we went there a couple of years ago! Fabulous Arena in a even more fabulous downtown. Go next door to Boca De Beppo for pizza after the game (the kitchen is so clean they take you on a tour of it on the way to your table). Or walk two blocks to the Flat Iron Grill and try the Pulled Pork with the Carolina mustard bbq sauce. Columbus' other hockey venue, Ohio State's Schottenstein Center, college hockey's largest arena with a 17,000 seat capacity, deserves an honorable mention.

2. Ralph Englestad Arena, Grand Forks, ND - Home of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Finest arena in college athletics, period! $100 million, 11,500 seat arena features solid granite concourse floors, and all seats are cherrywood and leather. Olympic sized ice surface. All games a sell out.

and the best place in America to see a hockey game is.......

1. Fielding H. Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI -
Welcome back to a different era. Yost Arena, home of the #1 team in the country, harkens back to a different place in time. Think of the old Butler Field House in the movie Hoosiers. In fact, Yost Fieldhouse is where Michigan's basketball games were played before they built Chrylser Arena in the late 60's. Intimate and just oozing in history and charm. Only holds 6,700. The U of M could build a new arena and easily sell out twice that many seats, but Michigan fans love Yost so much they wouldn't hear of it! If you are ever going to be in Ann Arbor, be sure to go on Ebay and bid on tickets. I guarantee you'll fall in love with both Yost, and downtown Ann Arbor.

Here in Toronto, the old Maple Leaf Gardens still sits empty at Church and Carlton, while the leafs play down the road at the Air Canada Centre. Not even the name of the place is as good. The ACC was once the Postal Delivery Building, known to postal employees as simply 40 Bay. When they turned it into an arena, they basically gutted the place (and a venerable old building it was). The best part about the building now is that they saved the wonderful relief carvings, all on transportation themes that exist all around the structure.
Do they use the old Gardens at all? I thought I read somwhere that they were using it for junior hockey.
As far as I know, it is mostly in disuse. I believe they filmed a chunk of Cinderella Man in there, though. There was talk of turning it into an enormous grocery a Home Depot for food. It sits in a very interesting downtown neighbourhood, on the edge of the gay village. Plus there is what I guess you would call a red-light area right there - you see both female and transvestite hookers across the street from the old Gardens if you drive by late at night.
8. Mathews Arena, Boston MA- Home of the Northeastern University Huskies, it is said to have an ambiance like no other rink in America. Built in 1909, it has the charm of another era. Coaches love the feeling of history you get there, players and fans love the intimacy.

Used to be Boston Arena. And seats about 7,000, and is the world's oldest ice arena. Also, the Boston Olympics, minor league hockey team, used to play there.

Located on St. Botolph Street at the edge of Boston’s Back Bay, the Boston Arena was built by the City of Boston in 1909 and opened it doors in 1910. The building’s original facade was in the elaborate Art-Deco style with a dramatic archway, connecting twin capped towers and a gilded Victorian lobby.

The first event held was an ice carnival, and the facility has the distinction of being the world’s first artificial ice rink.

The Boston Arena long served as Boston’s major ice sports venue and is still home to ice hockey games and figure skating competitions and performances.

The facility has served as the home ice for the Boston Bruins, the New England Whalers and of many Boston-area collegiate hockey teams.

Major ice skating competitions and performances have graced the Arena and greats such as Sonja Henie and Dick Button have awed its crowds.

The Boston Arena is Boston's oldest multi-use athletic and special events facility. Almost from its opening, it hosted world class boxing, including fights with such legendary pugilists as Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, and Gene Tunney. As a forum for oratory and politics, the rafters of the Boston Arena have rung to the voices of such American leaders and politicians as Teddy Roosevelt, James Michael Curley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

The Boston Arena has also had a longtime connection with its neighbor, Northeastern University, and was purchased by Northeastern in 1977 and renamed the Matthews Arena in 1982.
Mister A - I certainly hope they find a way to save this historic building! It would be a shame to lose it. Wonder if anyone lives in Harold Ballard's old apartment suite?

Isabella - So I take it you concur with it's inclusion on the best of list!
I have learned more about hockey from GWB than anywhere else...ever. Seems to me there would be a way to save the historic place.

Hockey has not been very popular here until the last decade or so. Went to one game that I won hot tub seats to about ten years ago, that was nice. They even gave us a puck from one of the goals made.
Jed - nw ould be a great time to pack up the kids and take a drive to Nashville. The Preds are a very good, fast team and play really exciting hockey. My grandaughter loves to go to the hockey games. Kids have an affinity to it because there is constant action, not the large amount of dead time in baseball or football.
I don't know anything about hockey but there is this guy on the Dallas Stars that will be my next husband if mine ever drops from a heart attack.
Does that count?
I am looking forward to reading your posts about the old hockey arenas :)

I agree that the United Center is a great place to see a game, but I miss Chicago Stadium something awful. Even though the seats were uncomfortable, the bathrooms were awful, and not all of the seats were great, the building just had character. And it was loud. I was amazed the first time I saw a game at the United Center. There were 3000 more people in the building, but it was so much quieter than the Stadium. So sad.
Alekx - its a good start!

gympumpkin - Next to the old Olympia and Yost Arena, I think the old Chicago Stadium was the best place Iever saw a game!
Yeah, it was a wonderful place.

I just heard about Jiri Fischer. I'm glad he seems to be okay. Scary.
yeah, I was listening to the game online when it happened. I had flashbacks.
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