April 14, 2015
In 2015, I took a trip of a lifetime, seeing an NHL game in every rink, and all 30 teams, 30 days in a row. (I’ve since watched a game in Las Vegas, so all 31 NHL teams, and all 31 NHL arenas.)
I’m still amazed that I was able to make every game (and every puck drop). When you think of the number of flights (over 30, including connections), there were a lot of things which could have gone wrong. But luck was on my side – the grand total of flight delays amounted to 3 1/2 hours combined over my 30-day trip.
The trip was a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish, and I was able to raise over $45,000.00 on this self-funded trip. Thanks to Molson Canadian and Honda Canada (amongst others) for their generous support. Here are a few highlights of my trip, including favourite rinks, favourite memories, etc.
Oldest arena: Technically Madison Square Garden is the oldest arena, but it underwent a $1 billion renovation in 2011-2012, so it doesn’t really count.
The three oldest arenas visited were Nassau Coliseum (Islanders), Rexall Place (Oilers), and the Joe Louis Arena (Detroit). The Islanders have since moved to Barclays Center (in Brooklyn, where the New York Knicks play), the Wings have moved to their new arena (Little Caesars Place), and the Oilers now play at the beautiful Rogers Place, catapulting the Oilers from near worst arena to one of the most beautiful arenas in the NHL. T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas ranks up there too, an arena I visited in their first NHL season.
So with the Oilers, Islanders, and Red Wings now in new buildings, the Calgary Flames hold the distinction of playing their hockey games in the oldest arena in the NHL; the Scotiabank Saddledome which was built in 1983. There’s talk in Calgary about building a new arena, but with the drop in oil prices (and the affect on the Alberta economy), plans are on hold for now.
To follow, is my report from April 2015 of arenas visited, and impressions of each building, their fans, and experiences along the way.
Newest arena visited: Consol Energy Center where the Pittsburgh Penguins play (now called the PPG Paints Arena), which was built in 2010. Absolutely gorgeous facility!
Most seats: United Center (Chicago) with 19,717 seats, and 22,428 capacity with standing room.
Least seats: MTS Centre (Winnipeg), with 15,016 seats, which probably explains why it’s so hard to get a ticket to a Jets game.
Loudest arena (fan noise): Four-way tie between Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets. (Rogers Place, in Edmonton, and Bridgestone Arena are the loudest arenas in the playoffs.)
Quietest fans: Buffalo (But this may be due to the tough season the team had in 2014-2015.)
Best fan celebration after a home team goal: Chicago Blackhawks – there’s nothing like hearing the fans sing the Chelsea Dagger song. Winnipeg and Nashville are up there too!
Best Jumbotrons: New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers. (The Edmonton Oilers, at Rogers Place, now have the best Jumbotron in the NHL, but I hear the New Jersey Devils new Jumbotron is bigger and better.)
Largest Jumbotrons: Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay showed the biggest, but since my trip, the Edmonton Oilers built a Jumbotron equally as large, stretching from blue line to blue line. Most recently, Detroit Red Wings (Little Caesars Arena) built one even bigger, but the New Jersey Devils just installed an even bigger Jumbotron at the Prudential Center, making it the largest Jumbotron in the NHL.
Brightest ice (yes, brightest ice): Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have the brightest ice. It’s amazing watching a game in these two cities. It’s like watching a game on HDTV.
Coolest lighting feature: Vancouver Canucks. They were the only arena with fibre-optic lighting on the partitions between the glass. Very very cool! (Since then, the Penguins and Predators have added this neat feature.)
Coolest 3D effects for puck-drop countdown: Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Favourite anthem singers: It’s a three-way tie between Lauren Hart (Philadelphia), Rene Rancourt (Boston) and Sonya Bryson (Tampa Bay), but in fairness, I didn’t get to see Mark Donnelly from Vancouver, who had the night off when I was there. (Donnelly is the operatic singer who took a tumble when he donned skates to perform the Canadian anthem at a Canucks game in 2014-2015.) I also missed seeing the lovely and talented Pia Toscano, who usually does the anthem at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Loudest fans singing the national anthem: Montreal. They’re loud in both of Canada’s official languages, and in-tune too!
Best chants during the singing of the national anthem(s): Chicago for their deafening cheers during the singing of the national anthem, Dallas fans for shouting out “Stars,” Flames fans for shouting out “See” (C), when “O say can you see” is sung, and Jets fans for chanting “True North” when this phrase is sung in the Canadian national anthem. Very very cool!
Best location for an arena: Nashville, right in the heart of downtown, in “The District” area. And Columbus for their “Arena District” too!
Best pre-game experience: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Nashville and Columbus. So much going on before and after the games, all within walking distance. Lots of areas outside their arenas for food, drink and entertainment before the game. (I have to give New York honourable mention. Madison Square Garden is located in the middle of Times Square after all.)
Most enjoyable hockey game during my 30games-30nights trip: The Senators-Capitals game in Ottawa on April 4th. Both teams needed the points for playoff position, and Ottawa jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Washington tied up the game in the third period, and Kyle Turris scored a beauty for the Senators to win the game in overtime! Great game!
Lowest priced beer: $8 at First Niagara Center (Buffalo).
Favourite beer: Molson Canadian – hands down!
Favourite arena food items: Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia of course), Pyrogy Dog (Vancouver), Jumbo Jet Dog (Winnipeg), and a Reuben (Ottawa) were my favourites! (I usually only ate half or less of any of the arena foods suggested by fans, sometimes only a few bites.)
Favourite Mascot: Sharkie from San Jose! I was not feeling very well for this game (which was #20 of my trip), and while it’s hard to believe, a visit by Sharkie absolutely lifted my spirits! Howler from the Arizona Coyotes was great too. He actually sought me out for a photo.
Favourite Cheerleaders: The Ducks gals were awesome – very sweet, and they knew their hockey! Honourable mention to Arizona, Washington and Tampa Bay. I was originally very tentative to cozy up to any of the team cheerleaders. If you look closely at the picture of me with the Tampa gals early in my trip, my hands were behind my back. Through encouragement back home, I loosened up a bit in future encounters.
Best arena experience: Verizon Center (Washington). I was given a tour of the building, joined season-ticket holders for a Q & A with the “Goalie Whisperer” Mitch Korn, met Caps owner Ted Leonsis (in his suite) and chatted with Caps head coach Barry Trotz after the game. Thanks to Peter Robinson from the Caps and Baltimore’s amazing media guy Nestor Aparicio for their hospitality and kindness!
Best overall experience: Stop #30 in Toronto. I attended the morning skate, and was given a special Maple Leafs jersey. Met legendary HNIC play-by-play announcer Bob Cole, and Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. Received a tour of the NHL offices, including the “Situation Room” where disputed goals, etc. are determined. (Kris King was one of the nicest guys I met in my travels. He made sure to get me a game-used puck from every NHL team.)
I had a private tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame (first time touching the Stanley Cup), and a cheque presentation by Honda Canada to Make-A-Wish. Thereafter, a tour of the Hockey Night in Canada studios, and a visit to the HNIC set. Cheque presentation by Molson Canadian for their #anythingforhockey campaign. Presented with a special customized “30games-30nights” Molson Canadian beer fridge. And finishing up this special day, I caught the final regular season game between the two most storied rivals in hockey history – the Habs and the Leafs.
Best fans: I know this is going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s a 30-way tie for me! The fans in every building were amazing, some coming up to ask me about my trip, some who want to take their picture with me, and many who made a donation to Make-A-Wish! And so many who offered encouragement and support throughout my journeys!
Friendliest fans: The fans were great everywhere, but Winnipeg was just a notch above. Very friendly people in Manitoba – maybe that’s why it’s on their license plates.
Most generous fans: Edmonton. My home town was great with their support from the day I left to the day I returned from my trip! Take a bow Edmonton!
Most generous teams: New Jersey Devils ($3,500.00), and the Ottawa Senators ($2,200.00) were very generous with their support of Make-A-Wish! They also provided me with signed jerseys, which I donated to be auctioned off for Make-A-Wish.
Most expensive ticket: $250.00 in Chicago – row 3 at the corner near the goal line. I was able to see Brent Seabrook skate by for a touching hello to his young son during the pre-game skate. (Average price paid for a ticket during trip: $120.00.)
Cheapest ticket: $55.00 for the best seat in the house at the first Niagara Center in Buffalo – just a bit right of centre ice, and row 14. I actually like to sit a bit higher, between rows 18-24 for the best view. Some fans prefer to be in the first or second row, right up against the glass, and many rinks charge the most for these seats.
Favourite interview: I probably did over 60 media interviews over my trip, and the media deserves a lot of credit for promoting my trip, and encouraging donations to Make-A-Wish. My favourite interview was with Luke Fox from Sportsnet. (Pictured on the left in the first photo below, and waiting patiently as I’m chatting it up with a couple of fellow hockey fans.) Honourable mention goes out to Dan Murphy (Vancouver), Dave Maetzold (Columbus), the nhl.com network, the gang in Nashville, and last but not least, Lauren Howe (Toronto).
Biggest 50/50: Edmonton Oilers: $51,165.00 (That’s the winner’s take, and that’s a below average amount for Edmonton.) Ticket sellers in all cities are volunteers. Here’s Maddie from St. Louis.
Smallest 50/50: New York Islanders: $1,515.00
Closest call missing a game. Game #29 in Columbus. It was a tight travel day – leaving Montreal, I had to catch two flights, which meant a stopover in Toronto. My plane had maintenance issues (that’s the culprit below), so I did not arrive in Columbus until 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. Close call, but I made it, and I can accurately state that I made every opening face-off for all 30 games. In fact, I made every pre-game skate!
Weight gained/lost over 30 days. Hard to believe, but I lost 8 pounds over the course of my 30-day trip. Here’s me at game #1 (New York Islanders), and thereafter, in Toronto for game #30. Can’t really tell the difference actually. By the way, that’s Alex Forani from Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment beside me, just prior to the start of the Leafs-Habs game that night. I met thousands of awesome people during the course of my trip , but Alex was tops!
Heaviest Security: New York and Boston. (Understandably.) You have to pass through a metal detector, then a wand detector, and then a frisk. All three steps mandatory. In Edmonton, where I share a pair of season tickets, they randomly frisk the odd fan, and that’s it. I have not been frisked once this season. (It’s all changed since my trip. Everyone arena has enhanced security, including metal detectors.)
Most starstruck encounters: Bob Cole and Brendan Shanahan, who I met in Toronto on the last day of my trip. And Phil Esposito in Tampa Bay, who I met early in my trip! I really admired Phil’s speech after game four of the ’72 Summit Series. I was only 11 years old, but it really made an impact on me! And it seemed to turn things around for the Canadian team! I also met up with Bobby Orr, well his statue, but it was still a special experience.
Favourite keepsake: I did not take this trip to amass memorabilia or gain free hockey tickets. In fact, I purchased tickets for all but 6 games, and for tickets donated, I made a donation to Make-A-Wish reflective of the value of the tickets provided. But one keepsake I will keep is a sterling silver puck which was presented to me by the NHL. Andrew Kavanagh made the presentation at the conclusion of my tour of the NHL offices, and insisted that I keep this memento as a thank you from the NHL for the passion and love I have for the game!
And last but not least, my rankings (subjective of course) for the top 20 arenas in the NHL. For criteria, I considered the building where they play (arena amenities) and arena location the highest, entertainment features, fan support, and to some extent team history. I didn’t highly consider team performance, otherwise my list may have just been the top 16 teams who made the playoffs. It was very very close between most of these positions, so the difference between “finishing tenth” (for example) instead of 5th or 6th was very tight.
#1. Nashville Predators (Bridgestone Arena)
#2: New York Rangers (Madison Square Garden)
#3: Columbus Blue Jackets (Nationwide Arena)
#4: Winnipeg Jets (MTS Centre)
#5: Tampa Bay Lightning (Amalie Arena)
#6: Chicago Blackhawks (United Center)
#7: New Jersey Devils (Prudential Center)
#8: Minnesota Wild (Xcel Energy Center)
#9: Montreal Canadiens (Bell Centre)
#10: Washington Capitals (Verizon Center)
#11: Arizona Coyotes (Gila River Arena)
#12: Los Angeles Kings (Staples Center)
#13: Toronto Maple Leafs (Air Canada Centre)
#14: Pittsburgh Penguins (Consol Energy Center)
#15: St. Louis Blues (Scottrade Center)
#16 (Five-way Tie): Dallas (American Airlines Center), Vancouver Canucks (Rogers Arena), Philadelphia Flyers (Wells Fargo Center), Boston Bruins (TD Garden), Colorado Avalanche (Pepsi Center)
This leaves ten arenas off the list, and five of those teams have plans to either move into a new arena soon, or talks are underway for a new arena development. Once again, these are my rankings, based on my experience the past 30 days. I did my best to examine all areas in and around each arena I visited to give each arena a fair assessment.
To those arenas who made my “top 5” (or even “top 10”), congratulations! And to those arenas which did not “make the mark,” don’t take it personally.
And now let me tell you why Nashville made #1 on my list! Bridgestone Arena is a modern arena, with wide open areas in the concourse levels, and with plenty of food and drink options for fans. The arena location is downtown Nashville, adjacent to “The District.” There’s live music, a variety of restaurants, pubs and saloons (a real club scene) where people can enjoy themselves before or after a hockey game. Getting back to the arena, the Predators fans were about the loudest fans I encountered on my trip, and they’re knowledgable and passionate hockey fans. Their puck-drop countdown is loaded with excitement, and the fans stood up when the players came out (through the open jaws of a giant tiger), and they remained standing (and cheering loudly) through until the singing of the anthem. The Predators are one of the top four teams with fans wearing their home team jersey. (Chicago, Washington, and Calgary are the other three teams.) While team performance is not high on my criteria level, it certainly helps that the Predators enjoyed a very successful regular season. And lastly, the media interest was near the highest for my visit, more than most of the “original six” teams, with the exception of Toronto. The fans in Nashville could certainly identify with a guy seeing a hockey game in 30 different rinks, and in 30 consecutive days! The fans were absolutely awesome! Well done Nashville! (In 2016, I was invited to attend the NHL All-Star game in Nashville, and wow, were they great hosts!)